To risk or not to risk (part 2)

| Helen Sharp

I use a film in training which features co-production in action and includes an interview with the fantastic Jo Kidd, formerly of Skillnet CIC. In the film she describes how difficult it can be to show commissioners and funders that the community isn’t a dangerous place.

“If everyone viewed the community first and foremost as a safe place – transforming the public sector would be a whole lot easier.”

I was reminded of this recently while training a group of community development workers in asset-based community development. One of the core principles of this approach is the role of the worker as catalyst, constantly stepping back and letting go to allow space for the community to drive their own activity. One of the questions that regularly popped up from the workers and their commissioners was the notion of their duty of care. What about the risk? What about safeguarding? Where was the accountability?

Aside from the fact that if you allow the community to drive the activity, they are the ones that are accountable, it became clear to me that Local Authorities tend to start with a resolute view that the community is an unsafe place. This is hardly surprising as so much of their activity concerns safeguarding and it’s imperative for many reasons that they get this right. However, it is from this standpoint that services are commissioned and the knock on effect is the creation of a commissioning environment that has become so focused on mitigating against risk, attempts to use progressive trust-based approaches such as collaboration, co-production and ABCD can be easily killed.

I’m with Jo on this one. I have battled and negotiated my way around risk aversion from the smallest slights – “you can’t go out and talk to young people, you’re not a youth worker…” – to more fundamental systemic blockages whereby a co-produced service that supported families through drama could not be contracted because they were not ‘early years specialists’. It seems it is easier to be mitigate against risk than commission for trust.

It is time to turn the tables. If everyone viewed the community first and foremost as a safe place – transforming the public sector would be a whole lot easier.

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