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Reachable moments

I want to ask you a question.  Did you know or realise that due to COVID we have arrived at a reachable moment? And if you are one of the many that does hold the belief that we are at such a moment in time – and belief is very important here – then what comes next?

The idea of the reachable moment is a concept well-known in  a range of fields including Education, Social Care, Addiction Services :  the notion that something happens, that changes everything, and opens up a moment in time in which it is possible to reach and work with a pupil/service user/client who previously has refused to engage with you.  The key is recognising and seizing the moment, because if it is missed then everything returns to the status quo ante with all the undesired consequences.

Hence the plethora of writing at the moment that COVID has caused a sea change in local neighbourhoods and relationships, characterised by the rise of ‘mutual aid’.  You can also read that COVID is leading to a rethink about the economy – we are now post Austerity, post markets, living in a world of active government intervention in the management of the economy.   This is all about a moment in which we really can create a ‘new normal’, a new society, a new dawn – if we do not miss the moment.

The exam question is, having identified the moment, what do we need to do to create the ‘new normal’ because for sure it will not happen without effort and engagement.  This is about the creation of social capital that benefits both the individual and the community they live in.   And there are tools that can be used to develop, grow and nurture social capital which, like the plant and equipment of physical capital, have to be specified and built.   Local communities can be facilitated to develop themselves and their own sense of power by local statutory and voluntary sector agencies, if they have the skills and expertise to do this.    If this is not done, then there is a real danger that the moment will pass, and the engagement will be gone.

So what is the deal?  The guru of social capital, Robert Putnam, in Bowling Alone, writes that “the touchstone of social capital is the principle of generalised reciprocity – I will do this for you now, without expecting anything immediately in return and perhaps without even knowing you, confident that down the road, you or someone else will return the favour” (my emphasis).   If we are at a reachable moment then what is the deal, and who are the parties to the deal? It is no coincidence that President Franklin D. Roosevelt called his plan ‘The New Deal’ – because a deal requires agreement, reciprocity, and trust.  And this is likely to be multi-layered, starting at the most micro and local of levels in which people in a single street or estate come together to realise their own locally defined ambitions.

Drawing on my experience of working in local government and the NHS, I believe that there is a deal to be had with local communities. This is about collaboration between local services (statutory or otherwise) and local groups and individuals.   Services should not be afraid of asking for help from local communities, to work together to tackle difficult issues as partners. As COVID has shown, where there is trust and mutual respect, the public rally round.

MutualGain believe that now is the time for statutory organisations to make it their business to acquire the skills and ability to engage properly with communities.  It does not just happen!   In return this will enable statutory organisations to build those fruitful relationships, providing support – both in kind and in spirit – that encourages the growth of social networks and social bonding within communities.

This is what MutualGain does so well – just look at our track record.  We work with communities, services, statutory organisations to equip them with the skills to work together as partners to see and appreciate the assets within a community and to value community strengths so that they can be marshalled to achieve local aims and goals.   We use a range of tools and techniques so that we leave our clients with the skills to use these tools themselves to grow social capital, to problem solve wicked issues, and to be good partners.  Working with MutualGain is an investment in new approaches of working with communities.  The benefits last long after MutualGain has finished its work.

Some of the tools used by MutualGain

  • Citizens Assemblies
  • World Cafes
  • Appreciative Inquiry into a specific issue(s)
  • Participatory Budgeting
  • Coaching for Social Capital

The Challenge

Ask yourself:  are you sitting in yet another meeting in your Council, Clinical Commissioning Group, or Strategic Partnership meeting where the contribution of local mutual aid groups to the fight against COVID is being celebrated? Are you in meetings where everyone is saying we must ensure that this continues: “we need co-production at scale” and “we must work with the power of the community.” But what is anyone doing to ensure that these groups continue and thrive?  Ask yourself – do you really want to go back to what you had before? Working with MutualGain is an investment that will give you and your community the tools to grow and flourish long after the pandemic has passed.

Choosing to work in this way will mean that COVID will turn out to have been a true reachable moment for you and your community.

Deborah Cohen
July 2020