David Boyle

Newsletter spring 2007

The lunch, the cook and the larder

Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy live in the countryside with an old professor in a worrying place where everything is provided by only one mega-corporation.  But Edmund finds himself in another world where TescoVirgin isn't the only company left.


Who’s the entrepreneur?

The BizFizz programme of enterprise coaching uses a very local, face-to-face model of getting people started in business.  It is the antidote to the tick-box style of business training currently funded by the government, and it actually works.  Who’s the Entrepreneur is the BizFizz book, which I edited, and which seems to me to provide a genuinely local, genuinely revolutionary model of small business start-up.


Power, actually

The Liberal Democrat group on the Local Government Association has published my short book on how Lib Dem-controlled local authorities innovate, on a range of topics from democracy and regeneration to food.  It is also an attempt to use narrative in a political context.


Detrimental effects

Why the Competition Commission has to prove itself by defending local retailing, and why they are not yet taking the variety of needs of consumers – now and in the future – into account, as they are supposed to do.


What does being a politician mean?

A sunny morning in late April, and I am in my suit – a rare occurrence – to give evidence on co-production to the Public Administration Select Committee in Parliament.  I’ve never done anything like this before but, of all the gamut of possibilities, I don’t think I expected the looks of blank incomprehension I did in fact receive.

It wasn’t as if the three of us – Matthew Taylor from the Royal Society of Arts, Sophia Parker from Demos and me – were explaining anything wildly novel.  The ideas behind ‘co-production’ have been in circulation for some time, after all.  But, for some reason, it seems to be particularly difficult for people at Westminster to grasp the idea that people are more than just passive recipients of government largesse.

Since being introduced to the idea of co-production by Edgar Cahn – simply that police, doctors or professionals can make little happen without the active participation of public, patients or service-users – I have become fascinated with its implications for policy.  ‘Co-production’ is a slightly inelegant term coined at Indiana University in the 1970s to explain what was lacking when the Chicago police left the beat and got into patrol cars, and the crime rate went up.

It is a simple idea, but it has major and complex implications.  Quite apart from anything else, it begins to explain why the Welfare State has been so ineffective over two generations at doing what it was designed to do: to slay Beveridge’s Five Giants: Want, Squalor, Ignorance, Idleness and Want.  The reason is that one way provision of services, which people are expected to passively and gratefully accept, do not create social change.  Worse, they may actually inhibit it.

This is not any kind of proposal to wind up or privatise the welfare system.  Quite the reverse.  It is the beginnings of an idea to make it effective, by asking people for something back – both to help themselves and to help their neighbours, often providing services (like a friendly face) that professionals do not do well.  Not so much to reform the Welfare State, but to do what Elizabeth Hoodless of CSV urges: to broaden it and deepen it.

Perhaps we made a mistake, giving evidence to MPs, was straying into their own territory – trying to explain the implications for politics.  How do you explain to some politicians that there is more to the job than simply receiving the supplication of their constituents?

One MP (no names here) refused to accept this idea.  Apparently he saw no evidence that his local people wanted any more from him than to extract more resources from Whitehall on their behalf.

Matthew Taylor explained, and did so very effectively I thought, about how so many local parks had been transformed over the past decade by local people forming ‘friends’ groups and taking some of the responsibility for the state and development of the parks.

“More floral clocks,” said another MP.  I looked at him to see just how much he was joking, and how much he genuinely misunderstood, and I’m still not absolutely sure.

But even the committee chair, the formidably intelligent Tony Wright, seemed a little confused about the co-production agenda – as if it was primarily about paying more faithful attention to people’s needs.  In fact, it is a shift of attention – not instead of their needs – but also to their abilities, their skills, their time, their passions, and the resources they represent.  To what they can do, not what they can’t do, and to find ways to recognise them and ask them for help.  Because in that shift lies an alchemical change that actually makes things happen.

It is a simple but revolutionary agenda for change.  But how do we even explain what we’re talking about to those most locked into the old model of passive recipients?

COMING SOON: David Boyle – the novel:



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title: books by David Boyle
Broke Voyages of Discovery Money Matters Blondel's Song Leaves World to Darkness The Little Money Book Funny Money The Tyranny of Numbers