Facilitating Rather Than Prescribing: The Outcome Of Measuring
Nobody is talking about the problems associated with funding – in particular the effects of the outcomes of measuring. In trying to get support and resources for the activities which the Ragged project is about, and in trying to find a formal structure so the organisation itself can apply for traditional means of funding, there have been a number of problems encountered. This blog post is touches on some of the themes which recur. Along the road, there have been crossroads where the questions get raised – “What Now ?” – Do we change the direction or way we do things to fit the prevailing culture, or do we stick to the principles we designed the initiative around ?
Every organisation or group goes through critical moments as it gets older, more experienced and evolves. One of the issues which has arisen is about the way the project is organised and structured as well as how it fits with funding models which dominate the landscape.
In my humble opinion, clunky funding models have invaded every given space like a Japanese Knotweed which is hard to escape and which strangles the small initiatives which we need for diverse social, cultural and educational landscapes. Am I allowed to say this ?
Having looked at the educational landscape and thought hard about it, the idea in creating the Ragged University was not to reproduce what was already out there; ‘why reinvent the wheel’ – as the proverbial cliché goes.
So thinking that formal education does formal education very well, a different, dynamic model needed to be made to compliment what was already there and provide diversity. This involved not creating infrastructure like venues, it involved taking what was already there – like the subjects which people are already invested in, and it involved using the social dynamics of interpersonal spaces that people already ‘own’.
By seizing on the idea of learning in social spaces, when you take a close look at informal and familial relationships, it is obvious that we are always engaged in a learning/sharing process. We meet with people that we enjoy the company of and set about sharing knowledge – gifting it if you like – it forms a part of the relationship itself.
For some, people can be working on something all day, and if they love the subject, they will meet in a social space – like the pub – and proceed to tell their friends what has been taking up their attentions with joy. Not only this but they make it interesting, as well as continually hone their ability to communicate the complexities out of their specialised realm, and take in subtle transferable ideas from other areas of life.
People find infinite energy to pour onto the subjects which fascinate and light them up. The problem with outcomes and measurements culture is that you cannot find a one size fits all template to capture this. Indeed, if you capture it you usually kill it or change it. Pretty soon after forcing all interests into the same template you find that you start losing many people’s interests.
So the idea of the Ragged University project from the off, was not to prescribe, not to put people under a microscope, and not to try to feign or predict ‘impact’ and ‘outcomes’. It would be like video recording a first date – not conducive to the future you want to bring about.
The major message was to let things be what they are and appreciate them as they emerge, whatever shape they take. Individuals seem to – on the whole – know their best learning trajectory, if we are to talk about tracking passions.
It is passion which is the fuel in ‘the project’; as an attempt to organise an initiative which facilitates people learning and achieving what they want to achieve in their life, it is not about ‘creating’ or ‘bestowing’ help, knowledge or community but more to cultivate, resource and support these precious, fragile things.
I am currently trying to learn about outcomes and measurements culture to tap into funding opportunities for the project through which has so many unique possibilities which can be realised. I need to get to the core thinkers in this area and find tools which will allow me to develop the measurements without disrupting the ‘stuff of the project’.
Ragged University is partly about setting up informal educational spaces where people feel comfortable to share their knowledge and skills; this means stripping the formal and tailoring the environment around each particular circumstance and individual. The way it has panned out organisationally, is the realisation that communities loath bureaucracies and being put under a microscope. However they love learning and producing.
Life insists on spilling out of planning and ‘managing’; it will not conform to our idealised notions of the world we project, and so my feelings are that the only thing capable of competently adapting and moving with such organic cataclysmic numbers of factors, is the human being as an individual. No amount of paperwork, processes, bureaucracy, computers, machines, robots and other trinkets will do a similar job. We need first and foremost a human at the centre of human achievements; not a tool.
I get lots of people coming to the Ragged Uni events who would otherwise not engage. I firmly believe that this is because the places people inhabit are sacred to them and the culture they manifest. By keeping this covenant unimposed upon, there has been success here where other projects have failed to reach. Institutions struggle to work outside of institutional spaces because of the behaviours which they embody. Ragged University cannot happen inside an institutional space.
Equally, Ragged University cannot replicate many of the things which come about because institutional spaces exist – collective and corporate enterprises are indeed valuable. What is needed is a convection culture where individuals move between these worlds, and where that movement creates movement which is itself a ‘life-blood’. Imposing metrics and scrutinising is an uncomfortable experience for many people especially when it flattens and reduces lives to poor shallow representations of rich, abundant universes.
Maybe we need to rethink the over use of our favourite toys – the ones which have been so useful before may not be the apt ones for tomorrow. When all you have is a hammer you tend to start seeing everything as a nail
In the course of the project, four teams of people have run the events and cultivated communities in four separate cities (London, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow). It seemed a simple step to gain funding by applying standardised bureaucracies which enable funders to allocate money and resources to these activities which seem so innate.
How fooled I was by this illusional stance. Grassroots communities simply do not have the time or energy to translate their experience into such abstractions as were being asked of them. I found that the imposition of a command and control corporate organisational structure was the kiss of death to something which is lively and vibrant – and successful.
I am lucky to have had honest, frank and generous people involved in the pilots who said just how alien these cultures of outcomes, measurements and bureaucratic organisational structures are. They caused many frictions as I tried to get people to adopt them and change the way they were – like a cuckoo in a nest of blackbirds.
The team in Glasgow were inspirational in forging new paths. They delivered whole seasons of successful events which ‘the community’ created and which ‘the community’ wanted. What I mean by ‘the community’ is everyone who wanted to be involved and those who were involved not for money or financial remuneration but for civic and enjoyment reasons.
Carrie Westwater, David Hughes, Heather Sinclair and others were powerhouses who drove the idea in powerful ways; just as were Will Bentinck, Grant Crozier and Jes Haley in London. When I asked them to implement the paperwork and processes I was planning to take on at the time, they said that they were not prepared to do this.
All successful people in their own right, and all people who had their own lives to keep together (food, family, jobs and study), they helped me understand that it was entirely unfair to expect them not only to embody free social education in the events they put on, but also be encumbered by the trappings of corporate culture; as well as so much more which will take years to describe and convey to remote audiences. This move which I attempted caused great tensions and I shall always owe them a lot for staying true and not accepting the depersonalisation of what we were doing.
Repeatedly I have encountered this reality and found that small community enterprises suffer the most; corporations and institutions flourish where small networks, artisanal trades, traditions and cultures of familial practice fray and fragment. Being told to create specialised paperworks for the most simple of things is an unfairness which kills off the civic life and activities which we are duplicitously being told to create by ‘the mean voice of policy’.
I was asked to produce a professional risk assessment document for taking a group of grown adults on a walk along a public footpath which they were all free to walk otherwise. I did so, only with the strenuous learning of the purple handbook and the generosity of someone who normally got paid to complete such tasks – pardon me, but it was ridiculous. I felt my world violated by some tempest Bill Shakespeare would lambast…
Increasingly I sense that these bureaucracies are ways of outsourcing responsibility for engaging in the realities of life themselves.
By replacing living, breathing people with processes – i.e. inspectors by school tables – the organisational bodies can ‘streamline’ their budgets and cuts can be made to the size and activity of these institutions. I had a friend who as an inspector of schools and he had always expressed the job in a sense that he was there to aid, facilitate and help the schools (as well as learn from them) rather than to police them. I wonder if we are putting short term finance and balance sheets before all other considerations these days…
In approaching larger organisations for funding or active support, again there seems to be more and more ‘tendering-type’ processes being laid on thick and fast. Situations which feel like the awful ‘X-factor’ situations which are far removed from the meritocratic talent competitions which these ‘X-factor’ type TV shows have promoted themselves as.
These are situations where people are told what to sing, how to look, how to sound, what to say; and when 99% of people have been marginalised, the winner is locked out of pursuing their own life course – they are ‘under contract’. Small concerns don’t have the resources to last the tendering processes which permeate and infuse the rhetoric of ‘democratising service and product provision’, and occasionally you get a glimpse of the arbitrary nature behind some of them. A panel of judges doest not make solid criteria based on robust values…
Being told to perform social network mapping is another thing I have heard from large organisations ‘before they can offer support’. I tried social network mapping with limited success, indeed, when I started suggestions to perform this modern action of information gathering, many felt their privacy being violated. In an age where information is being bought and sold without consent, it feels dishonest and on rocky ground to be performing such studies to pass this information forward before finance is offered.
This stands as another enigma in the mix of social capital researching. The long and the short is that my responsibility is primarily to the privacy of the individuals who constitute the community, and then to illustrating the depth and breadth of the networks in a humane way. This goes for all communities of practice; from those informal worlds which we need to breathe and flourish, to the countless vocational individuals caught in the matrices of institutional living.
The way Ragged University operates is more about fostering what is there than imposing curriculums etc. The best example of how the project works in the community context is the work of Ernesto Sirolli:
I would very much like to hear about how you suggest measurement, outcomes and impact analysis can be done which is truly representative whilst being respectful of all concerned. How do we do this without this activity replacing the original purpose ? How would you approach this messy informal area of community education…