Monday, 16 February 2015

Unscrambling Eggs in a Panarchy

Mike Wright rises to a blogger challenge

First things first... I feel it needs mentioning that this blog topic has neither been conceived in, nor born from the fertile womb of, my own mind; it is not my brainchild. The idea was in fact left in my virtual care via a figurative ‘basket on the doorstep’ (an e-mail), with an accompanying note suggesting I raise it out here in the public space. That being said, I have attempted to invoke the spirit of those ‘Three Men And A Baby’ of Hollywood comic legend (played by, as I recall, Ted Danson, Tom Selleck, and… that other guy), to love and nurture this idea as if it were my own. Still, I feel I must at this point send out an apology to the (real) biological ‘parent’ of the notion, an apology in advance if the idea doesn’t quite turn out how you intended it; I did my best.

Let’s crack on then. First, the title. If you’re anything like me, you probably read the blog title and thought, “Eh!?” And after that, you probably thought, “Mmmmm… scrambled eggs!”

But if you’re not like me, and you’re more like, say, an expert in etymology, or a human encyclopaedia, you may have instead said to yourself, “Ah yes; ‘System’, from the Greek systema, meaning organised whole, a whole compounded of parts or a set of correlated principles, facts, ideas, etc.”

You may have also then mused over the fact that Panarchy is a conceptual term first coined by Belgian philosopher, economist, and botanist Paul Emile de Puydt in 1860, referring to a specific form of governance (-archy) that would encompass (pan-) all others...

And then again, if you’re like me, you may have responded by saying, “Sure, but did somebody mention scrambled eggs, though?” If we treat ‘scrambled eggs’ as a metaphor in this case (sigh – I want eggs now!), we may wish to tackle this proposition: Can processes or systems be undone or reversed once they have been put in place? And if so, why would we wish to do this? 

If we interpret the above definition of Panarchy in its widest sense, we could say that the Universe or Existence itself is one (or perhaps One). We could perhaps identify the component systems and processes that function to make the Universe ‘work’,’ as Natural Rules or Laws. (An example of this would surely be Gravity.) If we were then to ask our question as to whether we could undo this system or law, I would expect the answer to be the same as that delivered from a stressed-out waitress during a busy breakfast service in response to a customer demand to have an order of eggs unscrambled in favour of having them poached… In short, “No chance. Scrambled or nothing!” And hey, let’s face it, if it’s a choice between Existence and its governing principles, or Absolute Nothingness… I would expect most people to settle for their eggs scrambled!

It seems wise to accept immutable systems which facilitate our existence as they are, then. But what about those systems that we have designed and implemented ourselves? In the realm of Science and Technology, it may be said that things are changing by the minute. It would, therefore, seem unlikely that any system we implement will not at some point become outdated or obsolete, due to an advancement in our understanding of the world and its ever fluctuating conditions. For example, advancements in the manner we are able to send and receive messages have left many carrier pigeons unemployed and bereft of purpose; forced into an itinerant lifestyle, wandering between train stations and town squares, as you may have seen for yourself.

Both the computer and the Internet have changed the way in which we process, store and disseminate information, as well as providing faster means of communication and commerce. Advancements in Medical Science have meantime fundamentally changed the methods and processes by which we receive treatment and care. Developments have also impacted our Legal Systems in relation to the question of when in our development we can be considered to be a Human Being.

It seems, then, there has been no end to the process of scrambling and then unscrambling of some sort of eggs (or at least throwing them in the bin and starting again) when it comes to the systems we use to govern ourselves individually and as a society. It may even be necessary to do this. Lance Gunderson and C.S.Holling, in their great little book Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Systems of Humans and Nature for instance explain Panarchy, in the sense of a theory, as ‘the structure in which systems, including those of nature (e.g., forests) and of humans (e.g., capitalism), as well as combined human-natural systems (e.g., institutions that govern natural resource use such as the Forest Service), are interlinked in continual adaptive cycles of growth, accumulation, restructuring, and renewal… (with an) essential focus to rationalize the interplay between change and persistence, between the predictable and unpredictable.’

This interplay, between ‘change and persistence’, seems to be the key dynamic in our decision to implement or adopt a new system in place of the old, or where there was not one before. After all, a system is only good for as long as it is useful.

But there is also a case for perhaps avoiding adopting a knee-jerk reaction to change with the introduction of a new short-term strategy. David Suzuki has expressed concerns that, ‘Rapid population growth and technological innovation, combined with our lack of understanding about how the natural systems of which we are a part work, have created a mess… If we pollute the air, water and soil that keep us alive and well, and destroy the biodiversity that allows natural systems to function, no amount of money will save us.

I think this adds a new dimension to the topic of systems - and what we view as a “good” or “useful” one. The adoption of a system designed to make things better or faster in one aspect of our lives could have a detrimental impact to another sphere of our existence (may I turn your attention once again to those poor pigeons!). The use of fossil fuels and the impact on the environment may be one example of this; it could be argued that the recent global financial crisis is another. Therefore, it may be wise to consider, when we are thinking of creating any new system, as to how the manipulation of the component parts affects the organised whole and whether this would be a beneficial change.

In terms of the issue of ‘unscrambling eggs in a Panarchy’, therefore, it may be prudent every once in a while to consider whether instead of scrambling some eggs, an omelette may be the wiser choice? 

And I know what you are thinking now. Mmmmm. Some omelette!

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

On Both Sides Now

Sue McGuire takes a look at ‘the grass on the other side’

The other side of the fence is a place where you can learn a lot… even if you were the sort of person who didn’t know there even was a fence - or who thought they’d been pretty good at looking over it but who often found on the actual other side of it that it’s not just ‘there,’ it’s a lot bigger and denser than you thought it was!

I know this for a fact in my own case – as after about eighteen months of retirement from 23 years in Health and Social Care services I’ve been involved in supporting relations through three continuing health care assessments, none of which looked or felt anything like I thought they were supposed to look or feel when I worked; and believe me, I should have known what they were like.

What I am saying is that I thought I knew it all… but there is always more to learn, as there always is when you think you know it all. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt and believe that most local authorities, CCGs or Health Trusts aren’t deliberately trying to hide much. But I do think they are awful at making information as accessible as it really should be to the public. Try entering any local authority website and just finding out who the main people responsible for Safeguarding are, for instance - and you are likely to find yourself having to wend your way through several pages to get to a place where you can download some minutes of a committee or an annual report to find some actual names.

For contact details it’s even harder; the Wooden Spoon award has to go to Birmingham City Council, which you might almost believe had made a deliberate decision not to reveal any management names below the Chief Executive – unless it’s the courageous people responsible for the library service. Grr Come on people; if you want to be paid to be responsible for something as important as Safeguarding, put your name on it! Gold award would go to Coventry who bravely publishes an easily accessible and fabulous list of all its senior managers with their job titles and salaries, which makes it a snap to spot immediately who has safeguarding in their title.

When I was a busy middle manager, I remember the air turning blue when a Freedom of Information (FOI) request came through and had to be added to my seeming never ending list of ‘Things to Do’. To be fair, many such requests did not feel like they were citizens trying to find out what they needed to know to negotiate a tricky system; many were from businesses really wanting to know what systems and products we used and thus who they should rugby-tackle to try to get a foothold for their own brands (or they were from researchers for MPs or political parties wanting to ask awkward questions to score points).

The thing is, now I have found a use for ‘Freedom of Information’ information and bless their cotton socks, our fellow citizens who have been beavering away at getting information suddenly seem very useful. Specifically, I have been trying to gather a list of safeguarding lead names for the West Midlands but the varying quality of local authority, heath trust and CCG websites means that while some have excellent information almost immediately discoverable by very simple searches, others are like searching for the proverbial needle in the vast haystack. Luckily, great website called 'Whatdotheyknow' as come in very handy for my purposes; if I want to know it, you can bet someone else wanted to know it before me. WhatDoTheyKnow is run and maintained by UK Citizens Online Democracy, a group that wants to help enable people to frame their FOI requests in a brief note and then they send the request to the relevant public authorities.

And it’s a job it is doing very well, let me tell you; plus, any response received is automatically published on the website for all to find and read. So I recommend you have a go yourself - go onto the Whatdotheyknow website and type in a search for Safeguarding. You will immediately see how many requests begin with a desire to know who the responsible person for Safeguarding is. The website makes the requests and the answers as accessible as they really ought to be.

A lack of consistency between councils in respect of naming senior managers is not really excusable and likely to be just another thing that feeds anxiety and distrust. This I can see, now I am on ‘the other side of the fence;’ maybe if it was all easily accessible some busy middle manager might not have one more thing to add to their list…?

Monday, 2 February 2015

A Quiet Place Retreat

Penny Moon describes the process of developing a bespoke personal reflective experience 

“Who we are looking for is who is looking.” - St. Francis of Assisi 

A little light bulb moment dawned for me recently that led me to develop a new programme - a personal retreat with Mindfulness and Reflective Practice as key. I knew as soon as I had the idea that it would have to be on a one to one basis and would have to be able to give people some time to practice being as well as offering them some space to:

• Create space in their lives
• Rest in a warm, safe environment
• Get nurtured body and soul
• Clear their minds
• Consider their options
• and get to ‘re-member’ their true Selves.

It also would have to be more than a ‘pamper’ day or marching over hill and dale - which are relevant, but not what my light bulb told me was needed: something different, fed from ancient practices where retreat is considered essential for the development of the soul. I also knew I wanted to give a taste of this wonderful experience in a secular way.

I was very pleased with my vision – then realised that is exactly what A Quiet Place does.....! Silly me. Very much aware that this kind of thinking is not everyone’s cup of tea, I also wanted it to be adaptable across the board for corporate executives as well as those simply needing a break. Conscious that some people may feel a little anticipatory concern of imagined inner religious undertones or personal secrets to be let out with such retreats, so I needed to be able to allay any fears and create a set of menu options to build a great bespoke day.

 Developing this experience was an interesting opportunity for me to wander memory paths of my own reflective practice through a variety of gateways that I have explored over the years. I am personally interested in the spiritual path and have had the great good fortune to meet a variety of extraordinary teachers along the way, incidentally; I don’t mean the popular ones on the Internet, either but from times pre the modern global ‘self-development industry.’

1. The process, then, meant finding an appropriate place, having a pre-meeting to decide an order of the day with some sort of feedback session after about 3 weeks.

2. The content I had fun developing; so many possibilities! I had an image of a beautiful winding river, gentle today but with some adventures to tell and a few places to rest, have delicious picnics as well as explore with the companion… i.e. one’s self.

Questions this process raised for me:

• When do we ever spend seven hours on our own with another human being nowadays, except for family?
• Might it all be too intense?
• What can we do that would fulfill the bee… ness I had imagined as well as being of practical use to apply in the real world?

Might it be seen as self-indulgent - and whilst that may be OK not sure if people would be given time off work for this! To help me answer these questions, I prepared a timetable that would start with a holistic well-being audit (a series of questions I have devised to look at different issues which range from physical, emotional and intellectual to spiritual and creativity). This informal conversation produces a complementary agreed prescription with Top Tips, as well as providing clues as to what direction the rest of the day might take. Additionally, it informs the deep relaxation and guided visualisation I saw as a key component of the day.

To my delight and pleasure it worked well! I have played with the idea over 6 separate days - each person unique. The venue has been the extraordinary  in the conservatory (see this great pic of the wonderfully misty view from it first thing).

An ex-chef friend of mine made wonderful food for lunch and we wandered a little in the grounds.

The flow of the day worked well and finishing off for coffee and cake at the in Parkgate to watch the sunset over the Welsh Hills was just right. What else could we ask for… and of course we worked very, very, very hard!