If you ask the wrong question, you get the wrong answer

I’m a sucker for a good bit of data visualisation; the way that statistics are brought to life by someone’s creative genius with graphics and illustration, can be incredibly powerful. That’s why I was drawn to Natcen’s recent offering; they have done a great job in jazzing up some fairly depressing stats around childhood, obesity, poverty, health & happiness. I watched it and, with renewed gusto, immediately started to ponder over the things that I could do to contribute to a change. But then with the final slides, I was asked, ‘What does the public think the Government should do to help?’, and I stopped pondering. Suddenly, it wasn’t anything I needed to ponder over anymore. It was for Government to handle. And, according to ‘the public’, Government should:

  • Pay people to change their habits
  • Legislate against unhealthy habits
  • Let people make their own choices
  • Tax unhealthy things
  • Provide information

Ta-dah! As a student of ABCD, I am on a particularly adventurous learning journey that has taken me to different parts of the UK, but has mainly invited me to challenge my worldview (a worldview that wouldn’t have thought twice about the problems with this question and probably would have chimed with one of the responses). And I’m comfortable with that as it has given me the language to use in describing those things that don’t sit so comfortably with me such as the preoccupation with people’s ‘needs’ and ‘problems’; power dynamics between service professionals and clients; and, segregating groups of labelled people from community life. As Cormac has discussed in previous posts, we have created a service-consumer based world in which we look to ‘professionals’ and services to sort out, or take care of, most aspects of our lives and have ‘forgotten the extent to which our own personal, family and community capacities stretch’. Our collective default mode is to look to the marketplace for ‘solutions’ to ‘problems’ with a rare glance to ourselves or each other for a collective response. Over time, we have grown a vibrant ‘service economy’ but this has been at a great cost to our ‘community competence’.

“The more you provide services for things that people can do for themselves, the more you diminish social capital”  (Cormac Russell)

Health and Happiness TeamLast week, Cormac and I had the pleasure of spending a few days with the wonderful Health and Happiness team (pictured here) in the Scottish Highlands. It was during one of our morning conversations that we were discussing this very issue. And in addition, too often, the services that have been created to address the ‘needs’ of particular people – whether that was in sheltered housing, mental health services or substance misuse recovery services – were falling short and failing to meet the outcomes they set out for. Why?

“They’re not getting the outcomes because they’re not theirs to get.” (Cormac Russell)

Now, I didn’t mean to be flippant in my use of the Natcen’s vimeo, but it helps to illustrate the point and highlights the golden rule of ABCD… You should never do for others, what they can do for themselves. We must stop looking to services, Government and other marketplace solutions for things that we can change ourselves together, and should take responsibility for. It could take time for this to become the norm, but this is where organisations – such as Natcen – can help to catalyse the change. How can Natcen use the data to pose the ‘right’ kind of question? Perhaps something like ‘whatever the issue, how can community be the answer?’ I’m sure the responses generated would be far more resonant with ‘the public’ and would lead to far more sustainable change. It’s not for me or this blog post to get into the big stuff like obesity or poverty, but I suspect as we begin sharing the stories, like those gathered with the Health & Happiness team, about where lost community has been restored, we may begin to see how we can move forward, together, and co-produce fulfilled lives for all.

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