For some time, I’ve been fascinated that my most popular post by far is the one from a year ago entitled "adversarial and consensual systems” which has been viewed almost 600 times without any prompting on my part – 130 of these in the last month.
The post actually gives an account of what I would call the "catholicism" of my approach to life (I don’t understand how this word can also have this meaning of "breadth”) - and the number of times this led me into bipartisan activity which never went down well with my immediate political colleagues.
It’s actually highly ironic that, at age 26, I was elevated by my political colleagues to the post of Secretary of the Labour group on the municipality since my commitment (in both practice and writing) to community development challenged the whole edifice of political parties. Two years later I also took the post of Chairman of the recently established Social Work authority – which allowed me to pursue an agenda of what we now call inclusiveness at both a neighbourhood and town level. I suppose they gave me my head since the energy and openness I showed reflected well on a party which had become somewhat moribund.
I used the experience to found a Local Government Unit in the nearby College where I lectured; wrote papers; and organised workshops about the new promise of corporate management and community development. Quite a recipe! And it positioned me well when a large and powerful Region was created in 1974 covering half of Scotland.
By then, my work had made me an interesting and familiar figure to the councillors who made up the controlling Labour group on the new Region – and I was again selected to act as the Secretary, one of 4 leadership positions. Elections to that position were held every two years – and I managed to hold the post until my resignation 16 or so years later. Again I was given my head on matters of social inclusion (we called it multiple deprivation then) and brought a whole new set of community- and policy-based structures into existence – as well as starting the support for social enterprise (community business as we called it).
Those were the days in which national government largely left us alone in local government – and we were left to blaze trails. Local government since then has become very boring in the UK with municipalities press-ganged to serve the latest central government wheeze.
But the power base of the empires of Education, Roads etc was never threatened by all this activity. And I was too much the loner – working with allies in officialdom, community groups etc, writing papers for national journals rather than spending the necessary time in the smoke-filled rooms with indifferent or hostile colleagues who chaired these sorts of committess and were in cahoots with their Directors. A paper on my website summarises the 16-year experience of developing and managing these policies – and the lessons I found myself drawing in the early 1990s (thanks to a fellowship the Glasgow-based Urban Studies magazing gave me in 1996)
And then, one day in late October 1990, I found myself on the North Sea on a ferry to Copenhagen, beginning a completely new life as a technocratic adviser in central europe – supposed to be helping them build up government systems. It would be nice to say that the commitments and insights of my earlier life have informed my new life of the past 20 years – but this has rarely been the case. Although the early work in central europe was with local government systems, I steadily moved to national government issues – particularly relating to the establishment of a more meritocratic civil service. All the time I was learning as mch as advising – particularly about how other European countries operated (fortunately I had developed good European networks in the 1980s). My great success was in Azerbaijan of all places – in setting up a Civil Service Agency which is still going strong.
But the last 6 years have focussed on training systems and programmes. I don’t pretend to be an expert on this subject – but my background has given me the confidence to challenge some of the sloppy thinking I encounter in this field. Recent blogposts have tried to summarise these thoughts – and I am now trying to integrate these with a paper I wrote in 2008. The results I hope to put on the website soon.
So I have been a very lucky man – free (and paid) to pursue my passions. It’s one of the reasons I feel unable to offer advice to young people. Apart from the fact that these are much more difficult times, I just happened to be in (or manoeuvre myself into) the right place at the right time.
This blog has been a useful focus in the past 2 years for my thoughts and reading. But I have probably reached the point when I need to be more disciplined. One of the blogs I admire posts only every Wednesday – and this is perhaps a format I should be thinking of.