I spent two full days in another city, working on some challenges of collaboration and long term vision with clients. Picking up a theme from my notes last week, it messed with my sense of perspective and time. I’ve been more normalised to work from home more than I thought, and it’s going to take a while to get used to what would have been a very normal week for me.

Hackney Empire

Permission and forgiveness

One of the conversations I had on that trip was about authority. It reminded me of when we were looking to establish the City and Hackney Anchor Collaborative, we were asked by stakeholders: “under what authority?”

And the answer to that is tricky.

If you are genuinely interested in creating a place-based approach to something, then you almost certainly don’t have the authority to do it. Nobody does. A local government team can certainly bring a lot of authority given the democratic mandate that they hold. But that’s not everything in a place. Most governance structures in places are structured around organisations and their authorities, responsibilities and accountabilities. In building something that crosses those organisational boundaries, you are building something new.

And as a result, I think that a place-based approach needs to both ask for permission and forgiveness at the same time.

If you are arrogant enough to think that nobody else has done this work before, you won’t think much about asking for permission. You’ll set something up and be very pleased with yourself for being so clever. You won’t have thought about existing work and structures, existing stakeholders and governance, and you probably won’t have thought about all of the different voices and sources of power and identity that are constantly sloshing around a place.

And so you have to start somewhere and ask permission, work with the existing stakeholders and get people on your side.

BUT. If you spend all of your time worrying about permission, you’ll never change anything. You’ll get caught up in the status quo of governance and all of the organisational and institutional inertia that, from a well-meaning starting point, stymies place-based work.

If you’re doing place-based work right, you’re not acting on your own, and you’re not part of the status quo. It means that in the same conversation, you might be asking for permission to do something and apologising for the fact that you’ve already started something else.

Involvement and draining capacity

In conversations about another place-based project, the Southwark Local Access Partnership, this week the tension between ‘nothing about us without us’, and the limited capacity that small, community-based organisations have to engage in long, rules-based processes was highlighted. How do you get involvement, when there is no clarity about how the work is going to come together in the end? What if people engage but then end up feeling like they’ve been used for a process that wasn’t ultimately about them?

In the case of the Southwark LAP, how do we ensure that under-capitalised organisations (run by people of colour and women) are leading conversations about how to get investment to them whilst balancing the requirements of the funds and the fact that it is the capitalised (typically white-led) organisations that have the most spare time to give? I think we’re getting there with the balance, but it’s not easy at all. Some meetings feel extractive, others feel like they haven’t got the right people at the table, and others feel like the balance is being struck. I’m determined that we keep pushing this. It is integral to our understanding of how to make place-based work real and meaningful.

Reading, listening and watching

I took Adam Zagajewski’s poems with me on the train this week, and while I didn’t get as much time to spend with them as I would like, they continue to be worth every second I can spare them.

Also more football.