Future in our hands

15 June 2023

In the second of our series of articles re-presenting our eight Festivals of Governance, Jaco Marais argues that if you have developed the capacity to help others for the collective good it is your personal responsibility to do so. That responsibility is rooted in the recognition of our shared humanity.

Good governance is a way to put power into the hands of ordinary people.

Rich folks have the same jokes
And they park in basic places
So don't tell me about your success
Nor your recipes for my happiness

Rich Folks Hoax
by Rodriguez

The form of governance advocated by the Good Governance Institute (GGI) has always relied heavily on the concept of stewardship – a word that has its origins in the Anglo-Saxon ‘stig weard’ or ‘keeper of the hall’.

GGI CEO Andrew Corbett-Nolan wrote
: “GGI explains stewardship through the image of a ninth century village, somewhere in the Midlands perhaps, where the most important building would be the communal hall. Here, justice would be dispensed, sagas told, feasting and celebrations of important moments held. The hall would also offer protection in difficult times. The keeper of the hall was the guardian of community property.

“Drawing from this concept, GGI defines stewardship as being accountable for something that you do not own which is valuable to the community, and then passing it on to the next custodians in a better state than you took it on. To us, stewardship is the key word to describe the governance duties of a director in a modern enterprise.”

The NHS long-term plan around primary care networks (PCNs), place-based partnerships and the ongoing development of integrated care systems (ICSs) all aim to shift the centre of gravity away from the centre as close as possible to the communities they impact. The principle of subsidiarity – that central authorities should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks that cannot be performed at a more local level – underpins the ethos of integrated care systems.

There is good evidence to support subsidiarity as being more effective than decision-taking at the centre, for example a century of quality improvement is built on the idea of subsidiarity. GGI’s governance maturity matrices are practical tools to help organisations think through how they can be safe and, at the same time, empower local teams to take decisions, be accountable for assurance and help the organisation become ‘assurance healthy’.

That emphasis on many hands joining together to build something collectively at a local level is important. It always perplexes me why ordinary people would concern themselves over items in the news that are far removed from their everyday lives and give relatively little concern to what happens in their local schools, hospitals or water supply.

So how do we shift the focus away from Westminster and the White House towards the local town hall?

Challenging engagement

Anyone who has ever tried to engage with people about local issues will recognise that it can be challenging, to say the least. Most of us approach new social interactions with a degree of reserve. There are so many ways to be misunderstood, so many perspectives on any situation, so many personality types to take into account. Others will come to such interactions with their minds made up, only bringing pre-defined positions and biases to the conversation. It takes time to break through the barriers, to facilitate a genuine two-way conversation.

Talking with each other about thorny local issues runs the risk of falling out with one’s neighbours. To mitigate this we’ve devised a system where politicians, artists and activists have these conversations on our behalf. Ordinary people have relegated themselves to being mere spectators, anonymously commenting and, on rare occasions, voting based on how these issues have been interpreted by people who have taken a stand or have been put on a pedestal.

The problem with allowing people to speak for us is that it attracts the type of personality that does not seek out genuine two-way conversations. The way many public figures approach social situations is by cultivating a persona or brand – the kind of mask that creates a barrier to listening.

This may be an effective tactic for superficial encounters, but the kind of meaningful social interaction and engagement that comes with public and third sector governance requires more care, deeper listening, give and take, empathy and understanding. It means taking the trouble to ensure everyone’s on the same page, that the full diverse range of perspectives that might be pertinent to how messages are received are properly considered. At its heart, interaction of this kind can’t be a simple numbers game in the way it is in politics or pop culture because the business of governance is about being in service to all.

We can do better than that.

Speaking in a GGI Public Good podcast episode about honesty, Wales’s Future Generations Commissioner Sophie Howe gave a real-life example of how to do things a bit differently to address this challenge, which she described as a ‘perfect storm’ in which a lack of understanding leads to a lack of trust in the political process and those involved with it, which in turn leads to a reluctance to get involved.

She said: “I've been supporting a programme called Democracy Box in Wales, where I'm working with and paying young people – because often, we want people's input as experts in their communities, we're definitely not willing to pay them the same as we might pay actual experts. But in this programme, I'm working with young people who've come forward to co-create with me and my office ways in which we can talk to, engage with, interact with, explain democracy, explain the Future Generations Act in Wales to other young people, because they're much better at doing it than I am. And I'm valuing the skills and the experience they bring.”

Scarcity is real

This is the second in a series of articles re-presenting each of the eight Festivals of Governance we have hosted to date through the lens of personal responsibility. In 2016, our theme was good governance because the future is in your hands. Seven years on, so much water has past under the bridge creating so much chaos and uncertainty in every aspect of our lives that we must put aside such comforting but misguided notions and admit that we simply don’t know what will happen in the future. What does resonate now more than ever is good governance because if we lend a hand, we can create a better future.

The theme of this year’s festival is good governance because scarcity is real. Immediately, this might put you in mind of the climate, cost-of-living or energy crises. At the root of all this scarcity is a dysfunctional system where people are collecting wealth in order to escape society’s problems.

This festival is an opportunity to explore how we can increase people’s capacity to lend a hand when they see suffering and to gently let go when it’s no longer needed – because scarcity is real.

For goodness’ sake

‘Pay it forward’ means the beneficiary of a good deed repaying the kindness to others instead of to the original benefactor, thus spreading the love.

I will be your father figure
Put your tiny hand in mine
I will be your preacher teacher
Anything you have in mind
I will be your father figure
I have had enough of crime
I will be the one who loves you
'Til the end of time

Father Figure
by George Michael

“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.” The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

In last month’s article, we said we have a responsibility to improve ourselves first – we cannot pour from an empty cup. This month, we say if you have developed the capacity to help others for the collective good it is your personal responsibility to do so. That responsibility is rooted in the recognition of our shared humanity. Regardless of our differences, we all experience joy, pain, and the desire for fulfilment. By helping others, we build stronger bonds within our communities and create a more inclusive and harmonious society.

We must also remember that social progress is a collective endeavour. No one can single-handedly solve the challenges we face. By actively engaging in efforts to address societal issues such as poverty, inequality, or access to education, we contribute to the greater good and create a ripple effect of positive change. Each act of kindness, no matter how small, has the potential to inspire others and ignite a chain reaction of compassion.

This is why we have a responsibility to group together with others to build something locally for the public good – because then in some small way the future is not entirely out of our hands.

Don't forget to say you will (shout)
Yeah, don't forget to shout (shout)
Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah (shout)

Shout by Lulu

Listen to the public good podcast as we explore eight societal themes depicted in past Festivals:

Meet the author: Jaco Marais

Director of Corporate Communications

Find out more

Prepared by GGI Development and Research LLP for the Good Governance Institute.

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