Published by David Robinson on Medium November 2017. Republished with permission.
The incidence of graffiti has declined in recent years. Why? Because young people don’t gather on street corners anymore. They would rather be at home, online. Is that good or bad? Probably both. Less graffiti is good but choosing to avoid social interaction? So it is with many of the big shifts that we are talking about in this conversation…. • The chances of our recovering well from a stroke are greatly improved by the development of the regional unit that centralises expertise and technology. My dad, however, still talks about the local hospital where you saw the same people every time and they knew you. • The days are gone when most of us would work for the same local employer, attend the same works social club and play for the sports team. The forces that have generated prosperity for many of us have also fractured our communities. • And much though I lament the demise of local shops it doesn’t reduce the allure of the quick and easy purchase on line. When I talk about “fundamentally rethinking” the way we live our lives and making meaningful relationships the “central operating principle” I am not talking about unwinding any of the above partly because we can’t but mainly because we wouldn’t want to lose the good things. However we do need to recognise the scale and reach of these revolutionary shifts, understand the aggregated impact and learn how to benefit from the progress in ways which don’t diminish our humanity but which sustain and enrich it. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has talked about “cultural climate change”. He says “physical climate change doesn’t just make things warmer, it produces more extreme weather conditions. So it is with cultural climate change… Its not just the heat but sometimes it expresses itself in the cold and the wind and the rain. An old pattern is broken”. In rethinking our lives to fashion a new pattern we might continue with allusions to the natural world: Carbon off setting, replacing every uprooted tree with another one elsewhere, has become an established way of accommodating the benefits of progress whilst managing the downside. One for one ensures a steady state, two for one generates net gain. How might we lead a two for one, even many for one, approach on “relational offsetting”? We might begin by thinking about 4 approaches to relational off set. How would these play out in your neighbourhood, work place, school etc? Expanding: Some things. would be proactively prioritised, supported. and promoted. For example I mentioned in blog 2 the use of planning controls to design social connection into every new development and a new “Right to Space” requiring local authorities to provide, or pay for, space for any communal activity where local people. can demonstrate a certain level of interest and open access. Adapting: Some of the new technologies have been designed for a commercial market and without regard to social impact but they could be adapted for social purpose. For example Tinder and other dating sites are essentially tools for matching people with similar interests. Similar algorithms with different marketing could reach a host of other audiences – isolated parents, older people at home on their own, new arrivals etc. How can we adapt the sharing economy into the sharing community? What might be the role of a repurposed TaskRabbit, BlaBlaCar or Future Learn? Segmenting: Big organisations, public and private, invariably prefer the simple and the standardised. Getting my holiday jabs in a big poly clinic. at 7.00am. from a clinician I have never met before suits me fine but if I had a chronic condition, lived alone and seldom talked to anybody I would like a GP who knew the real me. Thus a good health service wouldn’t offer the customised (jabs out of working hours) OR the personalised (the family doctor) but both. Likewise the supermarket with slow shopping sessions on Wednesday afternoons and express tills on Friday evening or the bank with. good old fashioned “local managers” at the Councillors surgery and an all hours call centre. Smarter segmentation, recognising that we go through different stages in our lives and that at any one time we. have different needs, would acknowledge that not every service user wants a meaningful relationship but some want it very much indeed. Inventing: Just as many new technologies are based on new concepts so too must our patterns of behaviour reflect a willingness to defy convention. I was critical in blog 4 of the professional charity sector tendency to reduce the scale of an issue to the dimensions of the funding programme (even though I have done it myself many times.) Such an approach would have led the Airbnb team to open. a guest house instead of building. the relatively light weight central engine that is now providing more beds per night across the world than the entire hotel industry. What would be the Airbnb approach to rethinking the contribution of the voluntary and community sector here. Not another new organisation essentially delivering old services but an entirely different kind of entity that releases more of our greatest natural resource – our love for one another. Of course relationships are not like trees except in one important respect – the sustainability of our world is dependent on them both. The language of relational offset as the new imperative, on a par with tackling climate change, may be fanciful but the principle of recognising, if not auditing, loss and compensating, at first one for one and then stretching the ratio, is very serious indeed.