- No matter where you live
- Left or right, up or down?
- Janet’s Story
- Seeing things from the bottom-up
- Top-down and bottom-up are already living together.
- Bigger but not Better
- Choose the topics of interest
- Sark: A State run from the bottom up
- A mind in the making: From top-down objectivity to bottom-up mindfulness
- A Mind in the Making: From the Bottom-Up
This is an attempt to devise a way of finding our way through the connectedness of how things are – that is if you want to do this. Most people don’t want to because they are perfectly content with where they are.
A good reason for wanting to find out about the connections is to enable better decisions to be taken about personal or institutional development. Things like buying a house, dealing with old age or developing incapacity, planning housing development, building or improving transport infrastructure (roads, railways, telecommunications), even thinking about possibilities for the future of a local authority or a country. Any kind of development where you want to fathom out the potential consequences of different actions.
This blog is not structured in the usual top-down way, with categories and tags. My current idea is to think in terms of topics. Each post will have one or more topics attributed to it. If you click on the title of the post you will then see, at the bottom, that you can receive future posts on these topics by signing up at the bottom.
The underlying aim is to explore the future, from the bottom up.
We each have a mindset which is unique. Your vested interests and beliefs are perhaps the most important aspects of your mindset. Maintenance of your current position and promotion of your interests may be all-important.
What does it mean?
An attempt to put some thoughts together with their connections.
The ‘rules’ which determine the modus operandi of local bureaucracies are set by laws made by the government at some time in the past, subsequently codified by the civil service as a basis for local implementation.
Much of how we are made to live now is a result of Acts of Parliament passed by the Attlee government in 1945/46 with subsequent minor changes which didn’t alter the fundamental Fabian inspired concepts of the initial enactment, such as in welfare and health. Political changes in government and locally, left to right and so on, don’t change how things are done locally. It is a flatland of sameness which does not alter with time. A national revolution in thinking and practice would be needed to alter how local services are planned and managed.
Over the year,s the day-to-day activities of the bureaucracies, within their established legal frameworks and practice codes, have become professionalised, leading to technocratic languages and processes which only those in the know can understand. In effect, the professions have become established as the foot-soldiers of bureaucracy, with aims and practices which enable them to do what they want, despite any political notions that there may be alternative ways.
The technocratic procedures officers follow are so embedded that they are taught in universities as the proper way to do things, leading to professional qualification.
Local politicians do not realise that they have so little power over what happens on the ground.
In looking generally for new ways of doing things, there seems to me to be an obsessive preoccupation with finding a centre ground, between left and right. If the ground level effect of changes between left and right have little effect, I suggest that a middle ground would be no different. They are all the same.
If it is the command and control nature of the established isms which now need to be questioned, we must begin to think in a different dimension. Up or down maybe? Upwards towards totalitarianism and downwards to local community control.
A symptom of decreasing community participation in public service planning and management is the increasing size of public service organisations. It has now reached a stage where there is no effective public participation, just consultation and not much of that.
This is not a new phenomenon; it has been going on in UK local government for over 40 years. In 1974 the small rural and urban district councils and the city councils were taken over by larger district councils and county councils, and the city councils such as Southampton became district councils. Further reorganisations in 1986, 1992 and 2000 followed the same path, albeit with a few contrary politically inspired hiccups. Unitary authorities now rule the roost, with some odd results such as Hereford City Council retaining its name and becoming a parish council.
The current situation is of all-powerful local authorities, whose bureaucratic culture and management is beyond the ken of their service users and barely understood by the local politicians confronted with endless bureaucratic tomes.
In the NHS it is going on, with NHS Trusts joining up with like-minded trusts and with local authority social services departments. Again there is little awareness or understanding amongst those being served. This time the process of increasing bigness seems to be faster than in the past and from below more difficult to understand, even if you are aware it is happening.
Don’t try and understand the following example of what is happening around here, because hardly any of us can and most are unaware of what seems like endless muddling. In 2011 the Wye Valley NHS Trust was established by merging Hereford Hospitals NHS Trust with Herefordshire Primary Care Community Trust and Herefordshire Council’s Adult Social Care Services. In November 2016 it was announced that the Wye Valley NHS Trust was to set up an “alliance” with South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust. Then in September 2017 it was announced that two NHS trusts which serve Gloucestershire and Herefordshire will merge, and the 2gether NHS Foundation Trust and Gloucestershire Care Services NHS Trust will join together. These are all clips from the local newspaper. I’m not sure if I have got it right, but that is how things are when you don’t understand!
Why would NHS Trusts in Herefordshire and Warwickshire have an “alliance” when they don’t even adjoin each other? At least one of the trusts provides services funded by both the NHS and the local authority. Lots of liaison meetings there methinks.
As these organisations become bigger they become increasingly remote from those they claim to serve. England is run by an all-powerful bureaucratic system. It is a system which is impossible to dismantle, because of the array of those with vested interests in keeping the current system. Vested interests not only within the public sector but also outside, as a result of outsourcing to private sector organisations, which are themselves getting bigger.
This is nothing to do with left, right or centre. It is how things become when political control is lost.
Can it ever end?
There is a tiny hint of things to come, maybe. Our red telephone box is now a library filled with books and run by local residents. Apparently there are more than 4000 phone boxes across the UK which have been taken over by local people running all kinds of enterprises wanted locally. Local participation free of all consultation from above. Bravo!
When thinking about the future it is essential that we do so fully conscious of the assumptions we make about our own prejudices. Where do you sit? Looking down on us below or up to those above us? It took me almost a life-time to recognise this in myself.
For over 50 years, after leaving school in 1953, I was not conscious of how I was thinking about how things were. It was a mindless journey in which my biases and prejudices were implicit and driven by my working life. Now, in so-called “old age”, I have discarded my top-down mindset and I like to think that I am able to base my thinking on my personal values and prejudices, and see things from the bottom-up.
In hindsight the actual experiences of my working life have enabled me to see how different kinds of systems of governance work and the outcomes they have on those they are supposed to serve.
My experience of institutional life began in a very small village school of children aged 4 to 15, where the Lord of the Manor (a lady) visited us on high days and holidays, such as Empire Day (Queen Victoria’s birthday) . Then, after grammar schooling and training as a municipal engineer, I climbed the hierarchical ladders of six local authorities and a university. That was enough bureaucracy for me and from 1983 onwards my wife and I ran a business, from a cottage in the Welsh Marches.
As a bureaucrat I was content with my lot. The further up the ladders I went the more control I thought I had over the eventual outcomes. And the higher I rose I discovered (albeit subconsciously) that to go further up I had to behave in ways which convinced those above me to let me have more staff below me, to enhance my prospects of further promotion or a better job in another authority. My work at the lower levels was to design projects, which then went up the hierarchy for approval at each level. These mindless systems use predefined objectives, standards and processes, mostly sent down from government and generally seen as the proper way to do things.
The outcomes “on the ground” may be subject to consultation with so-called “service users”, but it is the top-down processes which determines what happens. The services people get are nothing to do with what they want; it is a quirk of how the top-down management processes operate.
Seen from above the system seems to work well, even in times of financial constraint, because there are ways to hide underlying problems. Increasing indebtedness or endless reorganisation has been the story of UK public service development, with top-down hierarchies getting bigger and top manager’s salaries and pensions increasing. Not just public service organisations, but also the private sector organisations spawned by public service spending. Which is not a criticism; this is the way it is.
Then I got to know the small Channel Island of Sark and was the Planning Adviser to the Island Government for a few years, just before the feudal system of governance and land ownership began to be dismantled. So I learnt about Ordinances, the Treizieme, Tenements and Clameur de Haro. Understanding how this tiny independent island works has enabled me to become aware of my own long-held top-down prejudices.
Imagine a community of 600 people, making their own laws and putting them into day-to-day practice, with no interference from above, and you will begin to understand.
In finding out how a bottom-up system actually works I now realise that if fundamentally different ways of doing things are to be sought, those involved must be aware of their prejudices and be open about them with others.