Thursday, December 22, 2011

Have a Health & Safety, Politically Correct, right on Christmas ......

All persons planning to dash through the snow in a one horse open sleigh, going over the fields and laughing all the way are advised that a Risk Assessment will be required addressing the safety of an open sleigh for members of the public.

This assessment must also consider whether it is appropriate to use only one horse for such a venture, particularly where there are multiple passengers. Please note that permission must also be obtained in writing from landowners before their fields may be entered.

To avoid offending those not participating in celebrations, we would request that laughter is moderate only and not loud enough to be considered a noise nuisance. Benches, stools and orthopaedic chairs are now available for collection by any shepherds planning or required to watch their flocks at night.

While provision has also been made for remote monitoring of flocks by CCTV cameras from a centrally heated shepherd observation hut, all users of this facility are reminded that an emergency response plan must be submitted to account for known risks to the flocks.

The angel of the Lord is additionally reminded that, prior to shining his/her glory all around, s/he must confirm that all shepherds are wearing appropriate Personal Protective Equipment to account for the harmful effects of UVA, UVB and the overwhelming effects of Glory.

Following last year’s well-publicised case, everyone is advised that Equal Opportunities legislation prohibits any comment with regard to the redness of any part of Mr R Reindeer. Further to this, exclusion of Mr R Reindeer from reindeer games will be considered discriminatory and disciplinary action will be taken against those found guilty of this offence.

While it is acknowledged that gift bearing is a common practice in various parts of the world, particularly the Orient, everyone is reminded that the bearing of gifts is subject to Integrity and Hospitality Guidelines and all gifts must be registered.

This applies regardless of the individual, even royal personages. It is particularly noted that direct gifts of currency or gold are specifically precluded, while caution is advised regarding other common gifts such as aromatic resins that may evoke allergic reactions.

Finally, in the recent instance of the infant found tucked up in a manger without any crib for a bed, Social Services have been advised and will be arriving shortly.

(with thanks to RuSource!)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The speed of light is slower than you think...

I was reading recently about a new radio telescope that will be able to see the light generated by the first stars in the universe when they originally formed. It’ll have taken several billion years for us to be able to see this event, even though it’s been travelling at the speed of light!

Very often we expect instant results – if we register a company, we’ll instantly be awarded contracts; or, if we form a charity, we’ll instantly be awarded a huge grant from the Lottery. We’ll be able to generate a surplus within the first year, we’ll be supporting scores of people into employment by this time next month ... But invariably this doesn’t happen. Because things take time.

We increasingly assume (consciously or otherwise, and likely because of ‘encouragements’ we receive from other agencies and bodies around us), that every action and decision we make will generate an immediate re-action. But we forget that actions and reactions, by their very definition and nature, will change accepted norms. We’re creatures of habit, drawing comfort and reassurance from those things that are familiar and therefore comfortable (even more so in these turbulent times). New things will take time for people to get used to them. Your new enterprise will need time to be understood and accepted by the wider world before commissioners award it contracts, or it’s successful in its bids for grants.

So – just because you feel you’re moving at the speed of light, remember that the rest of the world needs a bit of time to catch up with you; try and be patient...

Friday, November 25, 2011

It's great to be proved wrong (really!)

I offer support to social enterprises through a variety of means – one of which is as a mentor through the Unltd Connect programme.

Recently I was 'paired' with One&Other, a new media enterprise in York that’s seeking to use news channels and digital publishing to share good news and build communities rather than simply 'telling tales' to make money.

They've already attracted a lot of initial interest from within this industry, and one of the topics that I wanted to explore with them (as well as everything on their 'wish list') was that of their legal form – they incorporated as a CIC and I wanted to explore with them why they'd chosen this structure given my experience of this form: briefly, I'm skeptical of the tangible benefits that being a CIC might offer based on published research and my own experiences, but am always open to being proved wrong about that.

I think it’s important that I remain open in this way, seeking opportunities to be proved wrong in my understanding and stance on all sorts of issues, because if I don't I risk become an entrenched cynic and it also offers me new opportunities to further enhance my own knowledge which can surely only be a good thing for everyone?

Anyway – their experience of being a CIC is fantastic! It's allowing them to achieve one of their principle aims: creating opportunities and generating invitations for them to explain and explore what social enterprise is within an industry that's largely unaware of it and the potential it can offer, because when they meet people as say 'we're a CIC' people are invariably asking 'what's that then?'

So thank you One&Other for proving me wrong – I hope to be able to return the favour someday ;-)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Charities now being created at more than 1 every hour!

The charity commission published its annual survey of what’s happening on the Charity register recently, and I think it makes for slightly concerning reading.

With 3,003 new charities being ‘approved’ in the last year this means that charities are now being created at more than 1 per hour! (assuming 252 working days and 8 working hours a day).

What’s more, the median income of these new charities is less than £30,000 – suggesting that they’re what I refer to as ‘pet’ charities.

In an age of austerity measures, when resources for charities are getting harder and harder to come by, why are so many people feeling the need to form new charities, rather than engaging with, and supporting, exiting ones who are crying out for new blood on their boards and struggling to raise sufficient finance. Surely we need to be better educating people who are thinking of setting up a new charity to encourage them to consider carefully if their energies wouldn’t in fact be better used in supporting those that already exist; or perhaps, as I’ve argued before, charity legislation isn’t flexible enough to reflect our changing society and so people are being forced to create new charities to continue to meet the needs of those most vulnerable in our communities?

Monday, October 17, 2011

All things to all people (why co-ops will never succeed in changing the world)

Indulging myself in some co-op history recently, I found myself reading an article in the Society of Co-op Studies' Journal from 1981 by Harold Campbell titled 'Unity amongst co-operatives'.

Indulging myself in some co-op history recently, I found myself reading an article in the Society of Co-op Studies' Journal from 1981 by Harold Campbell titled 'Unity amongst co-operatives'.

In it, Harold showed the plurality of the co-op model and movement in how it's defining values and principles were identified with by all manner of political bodies, philosophies and movements:

- to socialists, co-ops offer social ownership and democratic control

- to conservatives, co-op offer an expression of self-reliance and self-help

- to liberals, co-ops offer a grass roots democracy

- and so on...

But I wonder if this apparent ability of co-ops to be identifiable with by everyone is also the reason why the co-operative movement will always struggle to realise its full [political] potential in reshaping the economy and society as whole? The movement is so large and multifaceted in that people see in those things that they hold to be most important to themselves only, and in doing so, re-enforce their prejudices about other political philosophies who also see the same movement as being entirely sympathetic to them.

It's a bit like the story of 3 blind men who, upon encountering an elephant for the first time all believe its something completely different to each others' perception of it because they only experience one part of it in isolation from the wider whole, and in doing so, all miss the bigger picture.

Perhaps we therefore need to agree a simpler strategy for the propagation and propaganda of the co-op movement and its ideals – we need to all agree on a single, over-riding issue or message about what co-ops are about, and then encourage all co-operatives to consistently relay this to their respective audiences. Maybe then, when everyone outside of the movement agrees on what co-ops are about on the terms of the co-op movement (rather than their own), we can get on with the more important business of fixing the world.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Why I don't do conferences (usually...)

I find myself increasingly uninterested in attending conferences (unless invited to attend in the guise of a speaker), and it’s not because of the content, materials or speakers that's on offer (although that last one on that list is sometimes debatable...); no – the reason I don't really do conferences is because of me.

Over the years I've come to better understand myself – what excites me, how my brain ticks, and so on; and what I've come to realise is that I don't learn well by sitting in a room or up to 2 hours at a time listening to people talk at me. I get bored (maybe that's why I struggled so much at school, but went on to gain a raft of post-graduate qualifications?), and as a small business having the time of my life, I can't justify investing my time in something that generates little (if any) immediate and tangible benefit for me.

But don't fret, I still reflect on my knowledge and seek to further build upon my skills, it’s just that for me its best done in other ways: journals, podcasts, action learning and peer reflection (the latter being best done when staged in a pub!) In fact I value my ongoing learning and development so much that I report on how much I 'do it' as part of my annual social impact/accounts.

So, chances are you won't see me at the conferences that you might expect me to be hanging out at (unless I'm on the speakers list), but that's not to say that I've become arrogant and don't think there's anything more for me to learn – it’s just that I learn better in other ways...

but if you find that you just can't get out of going to them, this piece from Blue Avocado might offer a life-line...

Friday, September 16, 2011

How many people does it take to adjust a PC monitor?

OK, so this post is based on the running gag of changing light bulbs, but a Health and Safety (H&S) notice I recently read at a government building really does stagger belief and illustrates not only how bonkers H&S can get, but also how government really is wasting money.

So - the answer? By my reckoning, at least 8 people are needed in this government establishment to adjust a PC monitor.

And the reason for this is the following policy procedure that staff should follow if they feel that their workstation screen needs adjustment:

1) request an assessment from the Health & Safety office (1 admin person to take the call, 1 assessor to come out)

2) If there is found to be a need, this is reviewed by Occupational Health (1 admin person to take the call, 1 assessor to come out)

3) A request for the adjustment is then submitted by your line manager (1 person) to the IT department (1 admin person to take the call, 1 technician to come out)

4) The diversity officer should also be informed (1 officer to file a report)

Is it any wonder then why governments take so long to do anything and it costs us so much for them to do it when they do?

Monday, September 5, 2011

What Web 2.0 can learn from medieval co-ops

There seems to be an ongoing proliferation of e-commerce sites offering bulk-purchasing services (and savings) to small businesses and individuals (groupon, anyone?) – made possible thanks to the blessing that is the internet and social media (I thought I'd try one out – co-deal).

But do we really need so many? There are various trade bodies that already exis
t that have negotiated discounts on core services for their members (the Institute of Consulting can get you cheaper professional indemnity insurance, Co-operativesUK can get you free banking, and so so) – a model which is largely based on the old Medieval Guilds (an early co-op model).

And in the 1970s there was a surge of interest in people forming food buying groups, from which many worker co-ops were 'birthed' – a trend that's captured peoples' imagination again today.

Ultimately, all these bulk purchasing schemes (whether they be for small businesses like me, or householders – also like me!) are based on a co-op model and exhibit co-op values – empowering individuals to achieve together what they could not alone.

But the co-op model fell out of fashion during the 1970s and 1980s and is only really just starting to come back into mainstream society's consciousness – so I hope that all these new and emerging group buying schemes recognise that they're using a co-op model and look to this proud and historical movement for guidance in building new sustainable businesses that offer economic benefit to their members and users.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

a birthday cake for one...

This year, I shall be mostly spending my birthday on a train - travelling to a client to support them resolve some partnership issues. I'll get to see my 2 boys for a few minutes in the morning (when they're usually only interested in breakfast and morning TV than anything else).

So maybe I'll
be celebrating over the weekend instead? No. I'll be travelling back from working with an emerging co-operative enterprise on friday evening, and then over the rest of the weekend my wife is running market stalls and I'll be pitching in with our adopted town of Todmorden's launch of a new pilgrimage.

Why am I sharing this? Well, it's not to elicity sympathy (as I'm OK with it), but as a moral encouragement to everyone else who finds themselves in a similar time of their lives. The world doesn't owe us anything and we're not automatically entitled to big parties and celebrations (as much as we might wish otherwise...)

So, as the poet Andrew Marvell put it "take your pleasures where you can", 'cos the harsh reality of the world means that you can't always indulge yourself in things you want. And that's a hard truth which many people don't want to accept - but maybe if they did, then we'd all get along a lot easier...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Why it’s good to indulge yourself in (unjustifiable) luxuries

I've recently taken out a subscription (posh word for membership) to the Portico library in Manchester after I was invited to lunch there by a colleague and saw, and was allowed access to, their 'members room' (which is highly reminiscent of a bygone age of gentleman's clubs...)

Ultimately though, the Portico is a library (albeit one of great historical interest) so why pay the membership fees to indulge myself in this way when I could still visit and enjoy the rest of it for free as a visitor?

Well, it’s because I think it’s good to reward yourself from time to time (after all, not everyone will thank you for what you do), it's given me a new perspective through having a different context to sit and think and talk with people I wouldn't otherwise meet, and it’s also given me pause to re-consider what I place value on (and why...).

So – it could be a slice of cake, or a new tie, but every once in a while you need to treat yourself.

Who knows, maybe your treat will be a membership to the Portico as well and I'll see you in the member's room sometime...

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Big Society will lead to Anarchy!! (and why that's a good thing...)

Anarchy is a phrase that’s often mis-understood – people associate it with lawlessness, chaos and disorder; with fear and unrest. But it’s exactly what will increasingly happen as the Big Society show trundles on...

You see, Big Society is all about us as ‘mere citizens’ taking ever increasing amounts of control and responsibility over things that affect our lives and upon which we depend – public services, for example. And a chance comment at a recent Co-production seminar in Manchester made me realise that this means we’ll be moving to an ever increasing anarchistic society.

We were discussing how coproduction will see the traditional ‘powers that be’ and commissioning bodies become ever less powerful and loose their control over how individuals decide upon how they want the social and health services they access look and feel. “It’ll be madness – a free for all – pure anarchy!” was the comment made in semi-jest...

But actually anarchy will be a good thing to happen – because anarchy isn’t about the breakdown of society and law and order, it’s about the absence of government control over our lives; it’s about us as ‘ordinary citizens’ coming together voluntarily and co-operatively to decide and agree upon the type of society that we feel it most appropriate and just. And coproduction may offer us the best framework/model by which to achieve this.

But if nothing else, isn’t it therefore about time we starting talking not about the Big Society, but the Society of Anarchy? (who’d have thought it – David Cameron: the anarchist!)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

When is the Big Society NOT the Big Society? (when it’s the co-op movement...)

The Big Society rumbles ever onwards, and there still seems to be widespread confusion about what it actually is. However, the Commission on Big Society have produced this handy definition, which has since been adopted by national sector bodies Locality and ACEVO (amongst others):

"A society in which power and responsibility have shifted: one in which, at every level in our national life, individuals and communities have more aspiration, power and capacity to take decisions and solve problems themselves, and where all of us take greater responsibility for ourselves, our communities and one another"

All sounds very noble, but it’s also a definition of the co-operative movement (you know, that things that’s also been rumbling along for a few centuries now!)

Let me illustrate by mapping the defining Co-operative values and principles against this definition:

"A society in which power and responsibility have shifted: one in which, at every level in our national life, individuals and communities have more aspiration, power and capacity to take decisions and solve problems themselves (self-help, democracy, equity), and where all of us take greater responsibility for ourselves (self-responsibility), our communities and one another (social responsibility, caring for others, concern for community)"

This apparent ‘hi-jacking’ of the co-op movement to support the Conservative Party’s ambitions doesn’t stop with defining it's Big Society. Remember when they also launched the Conservative Co-operative Movement, apparently oblivious to the pre-existence of the existing wider co-operative movement...?

So – when is the Big Society not the Big Society? When it’s a political attempt to claim credit for others hard work and efforts over the last few centuries... So is it time to reclaim the Big Society as the Co-operative Society yet?