Many years ago (1999 to be precise) a community development worker and thinker in New Zealand presented a paper to the Summer Heart Politics Gathering in Taupo, New Zealand. He titled the presentation Co-operation, Collaboration and Co-ordination.1
vivian Hutchinson’s basic tenet was that traditionally we had tried to solve social problems and/or issues by establishing a group, organisation, agency or think tank to deal with each individual issue. This model looked like this:
We attempt to contain the issue, place borders around it and then the “experts” within the containing box can deal with the issue and eventually solve it.
vivian then went on to describe our ways of dealing with social problems or issues being to set up discrete organisations to deal with (supposedly) mutually exclusive issues, as in this next diagram (Diag 2).
Each of the social issues (represented by the squiggly lines) is surrounded by and contained within the confines of an organisational structure (the solid lines).
Thus, according to this model, we set up organisations to deal with: refugees, people with disability, unemployment, climate change, mental health, youth issues, drug/alcohol, homelessness and numerous other issues,
This model Hutchinson labelled as the “in-charge” model. Organisationally it is characterised by hierarchy, expert-based and rationalist. These structures lead to elitism, authority and we-know-what’s-best mentalities.
However, said Hutchinson 15 years ago, the complexity of social issues is such that no one of us, nor any single-focussed organisation, is capable of containing and solving these issues. Hutchinson suggested, instead, that the issues contain and surround us and our organisations, much as in this diagram (Diag 3)
The organisations that we establish are surrounded by complex, and inter-connected, issues. The issues are not mutually exclusive as the “in-charge” model suggests. Hutchinson called this the “shared-power” model.
What do we do then, if the issues surround us, and not the other way round?
Hutchinson proposed that the first thing to do was to get rid of the notion that we are “in-charge.”
The second thing to do was to connect. Hutchinson described the difference in the two models as
“In the in-charge model your effectiveness comes from your programmes and the resources you have to get the job done. In the shared-power world your effectiveness is ruled by the quality of the relationships between key players, and especially their ability to work together to build trust, agreement and consensus.” (emphasis in original)The key then is to connect, co-operate, collaborate and co-ordinate, as represented in Diag 4.
Working in this way is not easy. It means having to creatively listen, to recognise connections between issues, to come to some level of consensus and agreement.
But, as Hutchinson was quick to point out, “whether we like this situation or not,” this model provides us with a more realistic portrayal of the social issues surrounding us.
There are many examples of such networks occurring around the world. Since Hutchinson’s presentation 15 years ago, social issues seem to have become even more pervasive.
That just means that we have to be even more determined to connect with one another and find creative solutions in the diversity of our experience, knowledge, skills and wisdoms.
We also need to be vigilant. Because the “shared-power” model is not easy, we can slip back into it very quickly because of complacency or inattention. Being aware of the two models, though, does help reduce that possibility.
1. vivian Hutchinson, Co-operation, Collaboration and Co-ordination. Paper presented to Summer Heart Politics Gathering at the Tauhara Centre, Taupo, New Zealand in 1999. (Note, the small “v” in vivian’s name is intentional)