Geoff Mulgan’s Spring Conference 2006

Linked with Geoff Mulgan – England, with Demos, and with Background-Report on Cities in Transition.

Published on Policy (not dated).

Excerpt: … I think all of our parties and think tanks and so on need to become much more focused on how practical innovation on the ground, involving social entrepreneurs and communities and others is in fact the key way to re-energise our politics, not to see it in a very top-down way as all about abstract ideas and words and arguments.

There is also a very important aspect of this for public service reform. Too often, we believe reform is something you impose from top-down, even when it hasn’t been proven and tested, and the logic of social innovation is whatever your new ideas, try them out in a small way first, don’t try them out on whole populations at once when the costs of putting them right will be so much higher than otherwise.

Interestingly, we published a thing a few weeks ago on this called Social Silicon Valleys, published in parallel in Chinese in China because they completely got what this was about as they try to reshape their economy and their government to cope with a century in which they want to be very strong, not just in hardware but also in social solutions.

So those are four sort of themes, I think, about how we respond to challenges and four of the barriers which perhaps sometimes get in the way of renewal, the barriers of myopia, of lack of empathy, of perhaps doubtful integrity, and failure to innovate. And perhaps one of the tests of all of these is a question about truth, which John Reid talked a fair amount about. Schopenhaur once said that every truth at first is ridiculed, then violently opposed, and then becomes self-evident. And although I wouldn’t advocate that all parties should deliberately go out to find ridiculous ideas or ones which are violently opposed, if you’re not in your discussions having any of those ideas and concepts then that’s probably a good sign of a movement that is beginning to stagnate.

All of this is an era which should be very proprietous for social democrats. The case for good government is stronger than ever, an amazing piece of research done a few years ago by the Canadian academic John Helliwell studied levels of happiness in many countries around the world, looked at all the indicators which might be explaining people’s happiness and found that the quality of government was far and away the most important explanation of levels of happiness, overrode income, health, education and so on, which in themselves were directly related to quality of government, but that quality does of course include the capacity to reform, to change and to adapt.

My final point is this, and this in some ways comes from the experience of being within a government for many years. I think the paradox of government power is that it’s best used when it’s not too familiar, when people feel the sense of their rulers still being servants, not masters, still with some of the ethos and culture of outsiders rather than insiders, and the best test for this – and it’s a test, I think, for all organisations and for politicians, is the balance of time they spend talking versus listening. Just as it for every individual public service, how much of its energies go into marketing, and how much go into empathy, listening and responding to the public. And if it’s all just talking and repeating and no listening and no adapting, then probably that’s a sign that it’s time to hand over. (Read the whole long on Policy

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