Carry on Councillor

by Bryony Rudkin

December 26th. What else to do but slump on the sofa and watch a Carry On film? For those not well versed in 1970’s UK cultural history, these are some 30 odd films characterised by innuendo, slapstick and farce and not well known for referencing local government. Until it seems 1973 and Carry On Girls. I sat there, small sherry in hand, entranced to see the inner workings of Fircombe Council portrayed in technicolour, with Councillor Fidler and his plans for a beauty contest robustly argued against by ‘feminist’ Councillor Prodworthy. Suffice to say, the plot descends into chaos and civic dignity is in short supply. 1970’s comedy has enough to make us wince without poor representation of local governance but it did make me think what other role models I grew up with.

I’ve been a councillor for over 20 years but rarely see myself or my colleagues represented realistically on screens small or large or in print. I worked in local government before I was elected. In the early 90’s we avidly watched Alan Bleasdale’s GBH and gathered round the fax machine (no water coolers yet) to discuss dramatic representation of life in and outside a not so fictitious northern town hall. We recognised some of the extreme behaviours of councillors depicted, but not much of the daily slog of casework or policy deliberation. UK soap operas offered a few select examples. According to one internet fan site, in ITV’s Coronation Street , Alderman Alf Roberts served for over 30 years in the borough of Weatherfield and Sally Metcalfe was the directly elected Mayor for a year before resigning in a fraud scandal. She’s currently in prison. Hope Andy Burnham has visited over Christmas.

So not much inspiration thus far. The printed word offers better examples. Winifred Holtby’s South Riding is a wonderful evocation of 1930’s Yorkshire. Her mother, Alice, was the first Alderwoman on East Riding County Council. Sadly this book was published posthumously and Holtby’s work has arguably been eclipsed by that of her good friend Vera Brittain, despite screen adaptations. More recently, J K Rowling set her first work post Harry Potter in a rural community with a dysfunctional parish council. Plus ca change. If it’s local, it can’t work. Radio is no better. A colleague offers the view that “they never get planning right” in Radio 4’s long running drama (sic) The Archers.

So is there any cultural representation of civic life that rings true to someone who knows what it might be like? Peter Flannery’s 1996 epic Our Friends in the North is a magnificent thinly veiled account of local – and national – politics in the north east. The scenes set in the council chamber in the 1960’s were filmed in Islington Town Hall in the early 90’s (I took the call from the production company: “We’re doing a film about corruption in local government. Can we come round?”). But it’s not the shenanigans the big men of the city got up to that strikes a chord. It’s the quiet work of central character, Mary, dancing with the children at a party for striking miners’ families, sitting late at night with the paperwork. Not a Carry On. Just quietly carrying on.

bryony talkingBryony Rudkin is a PhD student at INLOGOV, Deputy Leader of Ipswich Borough Council and Portfolio Holder for Culture and Leisure. Bryony also works with councils around the country on behalf of the Local Government Association on sector-led improvement, carrying out peer reviews and delivering training and mentoring support.

 

All views in this blog are those of the author and not INLOGOV or the University of Birmingham.

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How the City of Aalborg in Denmark reduces social isolation of people with learning disabilities

When Peter turned 18, he got approval from his local Social Services Department to draw a disability pension. Like others with learning disabilities, Peter lived in a residential care home, not in work and spending his days in a community activity centre (all of which involve high costs for the taxpayer). Peter felt socially isolated, bored and with low expectations of what his life could entail.

However, Peter’s life took a turn for the better. He has the good fortune to live in the municipality of Aalborg (213,589 inhabitants) in Denmark. Aalborg promotes the vision that everyone should feel that they are important to others. To this end the municipality has launched a new service to help people with a disability pension to find what they consider to be meaningful work – called Aalborg AKTIV. The service is non-statutory but people with disabilities are encouraged to call, e-mail or simply drop by the Aalborg AKTIV house to learn more about the programme – users only join Aalborg AKTIV if the user gives their permission. Service users are helped to locate and contact relevant communities, employers and support organisations.

Peter contacted the service and is now working at a construction firm on a subsidised salary. He reports that each morning he goes to work with a bounce in his step and greets his work colleagues with a smile – he feels that he is doing a good job and that his work makes a difference. And in Aalborg Peter is typical, not an exception.

What a difference to the UK! Prof. Sir Michael Marmot argued, as reported by BBC news, that people with learning disabilities in the UK are ‘failed by society’. He said that society needs to take action and points to the need to improve social integration and provide work programmes for people with learning disabilities. Prof. Marmot also identifies social isolation as one of the main reasons why people with learning disabilities die 15-20 years earlier than the general population.

As Peter’s story shows, Aalborg Municipality appears to have found a sustainable way to do what Prof. Marmot suggests. It interacts with its service users as co-producers and builds on their skills and assets to develop their self-confidence. In particular, it helps them realize that they have a place in society and an important contribution to make.

The Aalborg service is part of the municipality’s broader strategic vision for improving the quality of life of people with disabilities. Since the service opened in March 2017 it has helped approximately 250 people with different disabilities to find ‘meaningful work’, such as volunteering at an animal shelter or working a few hours at a café, rather than doing fabricated ‘activities’ in community centres, which for some can feel trivial and demeaning.

Moreover, Aalborg Municipality believes its approach will not only help overcome the social stigma experienced by those with learning disabilities but also contribute to their integration into society, overcoming their social isolation and adding quality years to their lives. Peter’s story is based on a real person, but his name and details has been changed for purpose of this article.

The Aalborg project is being closely monitored in research at Aalborg University, the results of which are expected to be published in 2020. Ph.D. Student Nanna Møller Mortensen from Aalborg University investigates how complex outcomes of co-production initiatives can be evaluated. She is undertaking action research with staff, managers and people with learning disabilities from the aforementioned service as well as other co-production cases in Aalborg Municipality. The aim of her study is to develop a tool to monitor co-production processes and outcomes at a local governance level. Nanna has been visiting INLOGOV since September to exchange findings and research. During her stay she has started working on a comparative study with researchers from INLOGOV, as well as contributed to INLOGOV teaching modules concerning co-production.

nannaNanna Møller Mortensen is a PhD student at the research group Capacity Building and Evaluation, at The Department of Learning and Philosophy, Aalborg University. You can get in touch with her via email: nannamm@learning.aau.dk

Her doctoral dissertation is part of the Industrial PhD program funded by the Innovation Fund Denmark and the project host, Aalborg Municipality.

World Forum for Democracy: “Gender Equality: Whose Battle?”

Bryony Rudkin

Strasbourg, November 2018

Arriving in Strasbourg on a Sunday evening in November I was surprised to learn the power of the Academie Francaise is not what it used to be, with every shop window declaring both ‘Black Friday” and “le Christmas shopping” alive and kicking. I was there for neither. Instead I was there for the World Forum for Democracy, hosted annually in the city since 2012 by the Council of Europe (C0E), bringing together politicians from all tiers of government, civil society practitioners, academics, media and business representatives. I’m a member of the local government arm of the Council (known as the Congress), nominated by the Local Government Association as part of the UK delegation. The invitation to attend the Forum had interested me as the theme this year was “Gender Equality: Whose Battle?” and the format was that of an academic conference rather than the political bunfights that are my daily fare. The reality was somewhere between the two however…

world democracy forum flyerDay one was given over mostly to introductory speeches from ministers (France and Spain), the Secretary General of the CoE, regional and local dignitaries and a cultural offer which baffled as much as it entertained. In amongst the usual pleasantries some markers were laid. The Secretary General spoke of how the introduction of gender quotas had changed the culture and behaviour of politics in his native Norway. Personal testimony from a Japanese journalist about rape and violence brought the packed hemicycle to total silence. A Canadian academic spoke of her personal experience of LGBTI, faith and politics. Powerful stuff which set the scene for the debate to come but, in the reaction from some, demonstrated a lack of universal agreement on what issues mattered most and what language to use in explanation and dialogue.

The following day brought academic presentations and debate in a series of labs. The one in which I was a discussant posed the question “What if she runs? Better representation through higher participation in elections”, with representations from a project in India supporting women in engaging in local decision making and one in Albania seeking to tackle the issue of family voting in rural areas. The level of debate and questioning was rigorous, although not entirely academic in focus, and the breadth of experience on the panel and in the room was refreshing. Twelve labs in total throughout the day showcased a great deal of work and it was a little disappointing there wasn’t more feedback other than a vote on the last day for a democracy innovation award, although everything was webcast so opportunities for catching up later. What was good however was the interaction with presenters and fellow panelists…not least over mispronunciation of our names!

So was it worth it? You bet. Some great discussions and contacts made – a joint German/Israeli project supporting refugees in Berlin, meeting up with an old friend from Prague attending the Forum with fellow political studies students, a British/Polish colleague running an integration project in Italy. Just a few of the connections made. And as for academic dialogue versus political debate? The closing session was enlivened by a protests over the operation of local government in Georgia and demand for a debate on the situation in Ukraine. An apparently infuriated chair reminded the chamber the theme of the Forum was gender equality not national sovereignty. It seems even posing the question is still a work in progress.

bryony talkingBryony Rudkin is a PhD student at INLOGOV, Deputy Leader of Ipswich Borough Council and Portfolio Holder for Culture and Leisure. Bryony also works with councils around the country on behalf of the Local Government Association on sector-led improvement, carrying out peer reviews and delivering training and mentoring support.

 

All views in this blog are those of the author and not INLOGOV or the University of Birmingham.

 

Scrutinising Diabetes: It’s more than just about the numbers!

By Cllr Ketan Sheth

This month we will be celebrating World Diabetes Day. We are all familiar with some of the frightening numbers around diabetes: more people than ever have diabetes and are at risk of type 2 diabetes. If nothing changes, warns Diabetes UK, more than five million people will have the condition in the UK by 2025. Also, the costs to the NHS of treatment and care are rising.

So, how do elected members on overview and scrutiny committees get to grips with understanding the situation which in many areas is daunting in scale and complex? Well, recently my committee did just that and I want to share with you what I learned.

Firstly, I found out that Brent is at the sharp end of the problem. Prevalence of diabetes is higher than the national average: recent estimates suggest that about 8.5% of the population, or 25,000 people, have type 2 diabetes in Brent, with the national average being around 5.82% of the population. Public Health England estimates that there are approximately 7,500 undiagnosed patients in Brent, who do not even know they have the condition. Part of the underlying reason for the high numbers is that there are many people in the borough who are in high-risk groups. So, the situation in Brent is frankly very challenging.

When we discussed the situation at committee I wanted to bring together everyone involved in treating, diagnosing and preventing diabetes. That included clinicians from the CCG, the Director of Public Health, and general practitioners. We also had input from Brent’s cabinet member for public health. The clinicians and director of public health were excellent and I think we were able to have a discussion in which everyone could be frank about the scale of the problem and allow the members to unpick how different parts of the ‘system’ work together around prevention and treatment. The discussion was wide-ranging from food and exercise to Brent’s prevention programmes such as Slash Sugar, which raises awareness of hidden sugar in food. It was clear to me that diabetes is an area of collaboration between the local authority and the NHS. So, my next learning point was that at committee there has to be input from the local authority and the NHS when discussing this complex topic.

However, I also wanted to widen the discussion to hear from those directly affected by the condition. Some members may have their own personal experience of diabetes or have been made aware by friends and family who have the condition, but many do not have firsthand experience. In Brent there is a project called Diabetes Community Champions, run by the council’s Public Health team, which works to promote awareness about diabetes at the grassroots. The community champions go out and about, talking to people, and giving out information, and Brent now has 40 community champions from a wide range of backgrounds. So, I invited two of them to the committee meeting. I have to say that it worked extremely well.

Everyone is aware of the numbers, but as a member there’s nothing like being able to take on board firsthand testimony alongside the data. It was absorbing to hear one of them describe her personal experience of being diagnosed with borderline type 2 diabetes and how she works to share her knowledge of the condition. We also heard from Charlotte Summers, the chief operating officer of diabetes.co.uk, a website which supports people with the condition. Again, it was interesting to hear what they are doing. So, my third learning point is that for this type of scrutiny topic, I think that if it is being discussed at committee you need that firsthand testimony to help the members make sense of it all.

At scrutiny, members are often told about ‘triangulation’ or to put it simply, comparing and weighing up different pieces of evidence as a whole rather than separately. So, I would say that what I learned above all is that triangulation is more than just weighing different datasets, as important as they are. It is also about listening to people whose firsthand experiences make our understanding of a condition like diabetes real and tangible.

ketanCllr Ketan Sheth is Brent Council’s Chair of the Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee and an Ambassador for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Diabetes.

 

A Tale of Social Accountability in Barranquilla, Colombia

Adrianna Algarin Castillo

“For things to remain the same, everything must change

Giuseppe Lampedusa

I am currently at the end of my first year as a doctoral researcher at INLOGOV where I am researching the implementation of social accountability, understood as a relationship between citizens and representatives, in Colombia. Social accountability entered into the public discourse at Colombian national level in early 2000. From there, its implementation at the local level has been promoted, with public audiences as one of the means to do so. Despite the law, policy and guidelines promote social accountability as a relationship that requires information, dialogue and incentives. Governments rely heavily on public hearings or audiences as the means to operationalise social accountability but these activities can feel like tick box exercises. The public audience methodology is criticised because the format tends to be unidirectional, with officials presenting information through monologues in a technical and complex language. The events therefore arguably enable accountability to be demonstrated at a superficial level but with no real accountability in place.

Public Adudience photo

A public audience in Barranquilla. Picture from @alcaldiabquilla.

For example, earlier this year (April), Barranquilla Mayor’s Office organised several sectoral meetings and a big public hearing to give account to citizens about its 2017 performance. Since 1998, when the law made public audiences mandatory, most local governments (and public authorities for that matter) use this space to provide information about what they did the previous year. The public audience acts as big public meeting where mayors invite councillors, programme beneficiaries and citizens to present their most important accomplishments. The exercise has been criticised because instead of working as a space for deliberation, mutual engagement and citizen participation, it has been used as a stage where public officials present what is convenient for their image. Thus, citizens do not get a real opportunity to engage with their representatives and hold their public officials accountable.

This way of presenting information hampers citizens’ ability to engage with and reflect on public performance, and reward or sanction representatives. For example, a 2018 hearing took more than three hours in which one by one, different officials of the Mayor´s Office presented the achievements of 2017. Because of time constraints there are no in depth explanations of what has been done or not. Curiously, being such a long event, most public’s focus is lost after the first hour. This occurs even when an annual report was shared beforehand on the Mayor’s Office website; a person attending the event may expect the report to be mentioned or go deeper into it. However, who accesses those spaces (the website and the public audience) may not be the same people.

Reflecting upon this, several analysts (academics and Civil Society Organisations) suggested that rather than holding just one big audience, smaller meetings should also be held by sector. So when this year, local government decided to go with this new strategy, the change was welcomed by CSOs who saw it as an opportunity for Barranquilla’s government to have meaningful engagement with citizens and consequently, to be accountable. Moreover, not everyone cares about the same topic. Some want to know more about culture programs, others about how much was invested in infrastructure, or why a park was constructed in x neighbourhood and not y. However, old habits endured even with the new format. The meetings were still unidirectional, with handpicked guests and without deliberation or discussion. What is more, the big public audience then became a show where public officials no longer presented information or explanation but instead where beneficiaries of programs just thanked the Mayor for what he had done in the past year.

Thus, despite the innovation -which by itself is an advance- the main problems with public audiences (big one or by sector) as a space to operationalise social accountability remain. First, the information shared beforehand does not say much about what it is that government did in the past year and therefore undermines citizens’ capacity to question it. Second, participants are handpicked and an open call to attend the meeting is deficient because is not properly advertised (among others), so instead of actively participating citizens, the meetings are more an applause committee. Third, the unidirectional focus and the use of the space to celebrate what governments consider its achievements without self-reflection and critique on what can be done better undermine their democratic and representative character.

What I have learned so far is that governments are not enthusiastic about providing information or providing explanation, when it means discussing failure or error. Nevertheless, as much as we expect representatives to be accountable, we have to hold them accountable as well. I know it takes more than the desire or will to do so. Active and meaningful citizen participation and social control also depend on context, opportunity and capacity. Still, in the context of Colombia, where the law places the responsibility of social accountability on governments, more needs to be done for them to foster a meaningful, engaging a permanent accountability relationship with citizens.

Adriana-AlgarinAdriana Algarin C. is a Doctoral Researcher at the Institute of Local Government (University of Birmingham).  She also has experience as a research assistant at Universidad del Norte (Colombia) and her research interests include social accountability, local governance and political representation.

 

 

All views reflected on this blog are those of the author(s) and not those of INLOGOV or the University of Birmingham.

Squaring the circle: Facing the challenges of local government transformation in the Philippines

Mendiola Teng-Calleja

Transforming local government is critical to developing countries like the Philippines. Local government units (LGUs) grapple with problems related to poverty, peace and order, social vices, as well as environmental change and natural disasters. Many LGUs are burdened by bureaucracy or red tape, limited financial and human resources, as well as corruption. On top of these, apathy from external (community) as well as internal (employees) stakeholders continue to challenge the LGUs. These daunting problems gathered through interviews with leaders and employees in our multi-case study of nine local government units (LGUs) in the Philippines that have undergone successful transformation served as impetus for change.

How did the LGUs transform themselves?

The transformations of the LGUs appear to have been catalyzed by three inter-related elements: vision, LGU leadership, and citizen engagement. The LGUs developed a vision that was typically articulated first by the governor or mayor (local chief executive/LCE). In turn, these leaders engaged and rallied the citizens around this vision of change.

Leadership played a critical role in initiating and sustaining transformation across the LGUs.  Aside from having a clear vision for the local government, the LCEs likewise demonstrated competence in driving the program of government; showed effective management skills especially in planning, systematizing work and monitoring output; was visible and accessible to the citizens; as well as modelled credibility and ethical behaviors. The local government leaders in the nine LGUS were also risk-takers that demonstrated political will and courage in upholding the common good.

The LGU leaders ensured the success and sustainability of their change initiatives by ensuring citizen engagement. The local governments instituted mechanisms to counter apathy and promote participation by citizens. These included consultative planning, community consultations through public hearings and feedback mechanisms, volunteer involvement in LGU projects, as well as forming sectoral organizations and alliances. One leader shared that their roads “…were mostly rough roads.  So when there was a road project, we called on the neighboring barangays who would eventually benefit from it to work on the project…  They were the ones who constructed the roads while we provided them food.  The money intended to pay for labor was reallocated to buy materials. So instead of constructing a one-kilometer road, we were able to build longer ones because we did not have to pay for labor. It’s the people who did it.”

In line with the leaders’ and the citizens’ vision of change, the LGUs in the study focused their efforts on transformation or reform in the following key areas: improvement in systems and organizational structure, culture-building, human resource development, as well as policy and program development.  Ensuring that transformation initiatives will be institutionalized entailed reorganization and the creation of new units and positions. All nine LGUs engaged in efforts to improve processes and procedures by enabling equal and efficient access to government services mostly through information and communication technologies. To address corruption and red tape as well as promote transparency in service, the LGUs instituted systems for results-based performance management. There were also deliberate and regular efforts to monitor and assess projects.

Leaders in almost all of the LGUs mentioned culture-building as critical in managing and sustaining change. As such the leaders engaged in efforts to promote a culture of service, professionalism, discipline, continuous improvement, and pride among LGU employees. Changing the culture was not only necessary from within the LGU. It was also critical to change the mindset and behaviors of their citizens. One of the LGU leaders expressed that “The greatest challenge is (changing) the mindset.  Culture is one of the most important things in getting what we want to achieve and in going to our chosen path.  Culture resets the perspectives of people”.   

Infrastructure development (such as building farm-to-market roads) was among the main priorities of the LGUs. This was supported by numerous programs to spur employment, livelihood, and other economic activities. The reforms as well as new projects/programs were backed by ordinances and executive orders to make sure that these would be continued by future leaders.

Although the LGUs’ context and priorities varied, the changes reported by the various LGU informants suggested common outcomes related to local governance (transparency and democracy), quality of life (social equity), and citizenship (sense of pride). Aside from heightened engagement and vigilance among the people, success is seen in the remarkable reduction in poverty incidences and the productive economic life of the community. There was also an increased sense of pride among the citizens.

Transforming local governments in the Philippines seemed like squaring a circle. Yet the stories of the LGUs illustrated how the confluence of vision, leadership and citizen engagement can make it happen.

Proposed Model for transforming Local Government Units:

transforming government units figure

This post was based on a journal article titled “Transformation in Philippine local government” written by Mendiola Teng-Calleja, Ma. Regina M. Hechanova, Ramon Benedicto A.Alampay, Nico A. Canoy, Edna P. Franco & Erwin A. Alampay published in Local Government Studies, 2017. The paper was commended for the Local Government Studies 2017 John Stewart Prize.

CORD_Joy_3 (002)Mendiola Teng-Calleja is an Associate Professor at the Psychology Department of the Ateneo de Manila University. She is also the Director for Organization Development and Human Resources Solutions of the Ateneo Center for Organization Research and Development. Her research interests include organization psychology, organization development, and humanitarian work psychology.

 

The views represented in this blog are those of the author(s) and not those of INLOGOV or the University of Birmingham.