Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Behaviour change, my arse Well here's a little entertainment. Matthew Taylor, for whom I have enormous respect but who in my opinion is visibly in the wrong place, takes issue with Dave Clements on the Joe Public blog for the way he challenges 'nudge theory' and the whole morally-suspect 'behaviour change' approach promoted by what is still known as the 'government'. He describes Dave's post as a 'predictably tendentious and intellectually second rate contribution'. Well ok, the post looks a little hurried and not as well under-pinned by supportable assertions as we might like, but hey, it's Joe Public. And all credit to Dave for putting his hand up to challenge the snide 'behaviour change' rhetoric. I'd like to extend the challenge to some of the piffle about 'innovation' that comes out of our tired, wretchedly tired, think tanks. I really don't care about intellectual rates, whatever they are, and I doubt that Dave does either. What I'd like to hear of is some thinking about what comes after the think-tanks, partly because some of them seem to be running on empty, and partly because as a consequence there's a serious danger of this government doing yet more of its own thinking. How scary is that? About a year ago, before I took this stab at the lamentable pomposity of the RSA, I wrote that: 'Part of the difficulty is that many London-based suits don't speak to people who have the dirt of estate life under their fingernails, unless for a photoshoot and through an interpreter. They meet together in London events to problematise the issue as 'out there', thus ensuring that they do not see themselves as part of it. 'One of the consequences is that any action to be taken becomes the subject of organisational management (control) rather than local networked response.' I don't think that's far from the point that Dave Clements is making. Because these policy approaches have too arbitrary or fanciful a connection with the reality of so many people's lives, it's hard for them to be anything but coercive. I see no sign of this state of affairs improving, and 'behaviour change' and the fashionable rhetoric about getting ordinary people to 'learn to innovate' etc seems to confirm that decline. Perhaps the time is right to hear the regal opinion of Jim Royle: 'innovation my arse'. Whoops, I think I just slipped a few more places in the intellectual ratings.
Local online network supports co-production: 'we don't expect to have to do this on a regular basis' Hugh Flouch and I have been doing a routine for some time now talking about the way local online networks help residents to co-produce the quality of their local environment. Now here's a little gem of an example, from Harringay Online, the site which Hugh set up four years ago. On April 18 at 14.13 Darrell Osbawn posted the following message: 'Fairlands Park is in a bit of a state. The Council knows about it and is organising some staff to come and empty the bins etc. However, there is a lot of small litter spread across the grass areas and rocks/sticks all over the play areas which the Council probably won't get. Is anyone interested in meeting at the park sometime in the next few days to spend an hour of so to help sweep the play areas and pick up the loose rubbish? If so, please send me a PM on here and we can organise a time to meet and clean.' Less than two days later, thanks partly to the way social media helps people to organise informally, eight residents had turned out, filled ten bags of rubbish, notified the council to pick them up, and the job was done. Follow up is here. Note the observation: 'We don't expect to have to do this on a regular basis. It was only necessary because the Council has/had not emptied the bins for 2 weeks.' Subsequently it has been noted that due to recent public sector funding cuts the Parks Hygiene Team has been reduced from 15 to 5 persons; and the question raised: 'How can a borough be covered by 5 people, bins & litter picking?'

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