Recently in Communicating Category

Small children playing Professor John Bynner's piece in today's Guardian concerns the need for a 'science of the family' - the need to recognise how families large and small work, and to debate how those who seek to support children and their parent/s should best interface on the basis of that knowledge. Of course this is essential; but then we need also a mechanism for sharing these ideas. My own work with Sure Start suggests it's all those little, day-to-day, conversations between colleagues as they explore common understandings, which may best deliver this.

Early Years & Sure Start.

I'd agree strongly with John Bynner - who has followed closely the national Sure Start evaluation (NESS) programmes - that an applied 'science of the family', frameworked around the emerging shape of Sure Start Children's Centres, is now critical to prospects for longer-term success.

In summary Bynner's message is that involving parents and studying projects which work is crucial to improving children's wellbeing.

The transition to Sure Start Children's Centres
I have undertaken quite a lot of work with Sure Start programmes, as they make the transition, within various Local Authorities settings, to Children's Centres. This is a vitally important programme, and there's a pressing need for even more research into how best, in the interests of everyone, we should support children and their parents in the task of ensuring a happy childhood and positive ways of achieving adulthood.

The Sure Start evaluation programme has already indicated many ways this could happen; now we must equip more professionals and other practitioners working with children and their parents, to make these examples of good practice the norm.

From pilot programmes to good practice
But we have to remember that Sure Start programmes began at the turn of the Millennium as individual, isolated, almost silo-ed, initiatives, trying to find their way in uncharted waters.

Studies such as those of NESS have helped everyone to move towards a more coherent whole; but the emphases within Sure Start programmes in different places are often still different, within the overall requirements, because people working on the programmes come from different practitioner backgrounds.

As one example, early years and health practitioners are not often geared towards the more formal end of adult basic education and employment skills training - which is in many cases the key to unlocking doors to the future for those who have, so far, had not a lot.

Commonalities between professional disciplines
Despite the increasingly clear insistence from government on joined up frameworks to support children and their families, not enough senior people 'on the ground' are as yet willing to concede that this really must happen in meaningful ways.

This change in perspective would require further revisiting professional / practitioner silos; GPs, teachers, social workers and so on are not always good at that sort of thing. But early years practitioners, midwives, community volunteers etc have essential understandings to offer in cross-disciplinary terms, if they can be put in a position (and fully supported in these extra intra-professional skills?) to do so.

There's a need for substantial elements of advocacy and aspiration in all this. 'Good' parenting and happy childhoods don't just happen; they occur when the context is right. This is where Sure Start can help.

Working together
We need to find ways to encourage all concerned to work closely together; and that has to start with valuing and learning from a million small and positive conversations between practitioners of all sorts, to help us focus on delivering our aspiration of every child being a happy child.

My own experience tells me we need to keep translating these perspectives between those on the ground and the decision-makers, so as to realign and focus collaboratively, in our different ways, on supporting the people, individuals, families and communities, whom we are in the business of helping.

A million small conversations
It's the 'million small conversations' - hopefully based on everyone, not just the powers-that-be, knowing the fundamentals of good practice and what the research tells us - which make this transition.

Practitioners talk all the time to individuals in families and local communities; their wisdom is essential; they are trusted by clients where others may not be.

But the flow of information has to be two-way. The decision-makers know the outcomes of wider research on 'what works', for instance, and they need to share that much more proactively than they often currently do.

Learning from each other
Talking with those who are on the ground day-by-day isn't an optional extra here; it's how we all learn. And this these conversations are what, in my opinion, are most often lacking so far.... which perhaps is also why progress to enabling those who experience disadvantage is so painfully slow.

I've started several explorations of how to align different disciplines towards the overarching Sure Start objective, only to be told by those working in the service that they 'haven't got time' to meet me as a group to examine what's happening.

Before we finish, the reverse is always true: these practitioners and professionals have by then become autonomous in their desire to keep in touch and share good practice. Change can happen, albeit not always as we expect.

In the end this becomes a virtuous circle; we really do need to value the currency of relaxed inter-disciplinary discussion, forgetting the hierarchies and valuing the common goals.

Different approaches, different outcomes
It's been instructive to see how the structures of programmes such as Sure Start may and / or may not help to raise the aspirations of local people; and that's no criticism of people who have chosen as best they can one set of ways over another to try to support those who are less fortunate.

But the disconjunctions of different practitioner perspectives need to be acknowledged as a challenge, to get this enabling of aspirations on the agenda.

I've started projects which focused on health in early years, and ended up with serious discussions also about local economic strategies and adult ed.

There wasn't in the end a problem here, it was just that the economic and education people felt as unknowledgeable about early years, as the early years practitioners did about them.

How do families 'work'?
To return to the theme of John Bynner's piece, we don't as yet have very complete knowledge of how families (whether of two or ten...) work, especially when it comes to positive service delivery.

And we can add to that that the community volunteers and mums and dads had never been asked till then what they thought either about the 'education and training' side of things. What sort of local enterprises would they like? (The answer was often healthy local food....) What sort of education and training is best? (Answer, usually: the sort you can get near home, with childcare...)

Once again, the way forward was to get those small conversations going....

Synergies to reduce disadvantage
The goodwill is certainly there; it's the synergies that need to be nurtured until they can stand up for themselves.

There has to be a better model for reducing disadvantage. I seriously propose that part of it is to embrace the idea of everyone (clients, where they wish to, practitioners on the ground, and decision-makers) talking to each other, as equals, in those million small conversations.

Read more about Early Years & Sure Start.

Hands on keyboard Who inhabits the cybervillage? Mostly it seems younger people, and, in the more technological parts of that so-called village, men. But there are a few self-proclaimed women 'geeks' of a certain age out there too; and some of them are claiming a cyber-space for their own ideas. I don't profess to be a geek; but maybe I match the profile in other ways.

It's interesting that, as we mark the eightieth anniversary in Britain of full female emancipation via the Equal Franchise Act (2 July 1928), the issue of 'older female geeks' seems to be coming to the fore.

In July 1928 women in the U.K. were awarded the vote on the same basis as men. And in the Summer of 2008 it looks like they are to be recognised as enfranchised also as legitimate inhabitants of the blogosphere.

Older female geeks who blog
As Natalie d'Arbeloff of Blaugustine says in her Guardian article of 13 June '08, there aren't many 'older female geeks' as yet, but this species does exist as a measurably sized group. She lists amongst their number Penelope Farmer of Rockpool in the Kitchen, Fran of Sacred Ordinary, Marja-Leena Rathje, Elizabeth Adams of The Cassandra Pages, Tamarika of Mining Nuggets and Rain of Rainy Day Thoughts.

Self-evidently sterling women, all of them; but am I correct in thinking that not one of these writer is actually British-born and still living in the UK? North America features highly in this list; though not Britain. I, being so domiciled, am pondering this....

Geeks or bloggers?
And are all bloggers geeks, I wonder? For me, the interest lies in the writing, in getting one's head around particular or puzzling 'facts', experiences and perceptions, or perhaps placing an engaging (I hope) photograph in a pleasing or interesting way. The technicals are of significance only insofar as I have to do them to achieve what I want - just like driving my car.

The skill in designing my blog has been entirely Nick Prior's, not mine. My role as we develop the website has been merely to explain or think up what features I have a feeling would help, and Nick then interprets them, to deliver something real.

Claiming a blogosphere space
But being a geek (though I'm not even sure Nick's one of those, he's skilled and knowledgeable, not just an excellent technician) isn't what matters. It's surely the ideas which count?

Today I read another Guardian piece, by Cath Elliott, in which she discusses the use older women make of their blogs to look at experiences and perceptions which might otherwise remain unremarked.

Now that I find really fascinating. And I'd like to think in part it's what I do right here.

Read more articles about Hilary's Weblog.

08.2.2 Sticky tape dispenser 114x86 040.jpg 'Saving the planet' is a project which must surely involve everyone; but apparently not all designers of domestic recycling technology agree. For recycling to be effective, design should logically follow, not lead, function. This requires an understanding of how ordinary people will use recycling opportunities - before systems are designed, not as an afterthought.

Stories abound of people who have been fined for recycling things in the 'wrong' way - collections with mixed content, paper with an individual's name on it as 'proof' that they put items in the wrong repository, using a compost heap inappropriately - all make good stories to create media martyrdom to the recycling regulations.

Short-term technology before people
Almost anything can be recycled, but at present it seems Local Authorities decide for themselves what they will and will not process. Often immediate costs are not measured against the long-term implications of not taking action now. Despite challenging targets set by central government, few of us are yet holding local decision-makers to account for by-passing future sustainabilty.... if we were, there would be more conversations around involving 'ordinary people'.

The factors which feature most in local decision are likely to be the economics of recycling, available recycling technologies and where to locate recycling facilities (including the NIMBY - 'not in my backyard' - factor). Public understanding of the very serious situation we are all in is rarely discussed.

What repeated stories of fines and public naming show is how very far officialdom may be from the real need to get the public on-board, and quickly.

Silly civic expectations
Our own City Council is party to non-automated recycling processes which still do not accommodate some recyclable plastics. Yet the need is to raise the currently very poor performance of the city, at just 7.6% - when one council already achieves 50%, the Government target for all councils by 2020.

Doubtless, those who have designed the process see it as innovative and positive; and certainly it is better than what preceded it.

But is the City Council serious? I however will continue to have my doubts whilst the Council briefing, issued to every household in the City, includes the instruction to 'Please remove sellotape' before recycling gift wrapping paper - an instruction which was even issued as part of the recycling initiative last Christmas. (How else would one spent Christmas afternoon?)

Citizens as wrong-doers or as partners?
Whether individuals intentionally break the rules, or do so unknowingly, the outcome if detected is the same: a news story which makes others wary of doing anything at all.

The physical technology exists to recycle pretty well everything; processes are available for all domestic waste, if the budget and machinery are up to it.

Making people into media stories because of their recycling behaviour will simply encourage their fellow citizens to cynicism and an unwillingness to recycle at all, for fear of wrong-doing.

Sustainable behaviours are not optional
The imperative to get recycling is urgent.

We need, very soon, to get much cleverer about how to help everyone be part of the solution, not the problem.

Read more articles on Environment and Sustainability:

Conserve, Recycle & Sustain and

Sustainability As If People Mattered.

08.05.11  computer keyboard 156x112  001a.jpg When did the World Wide Web emerge for most people? Around the Millennium? Like most things technical, it took off first amongst young men who enjoy gadgets.... who happen also in general to be less concerned with what was going on previously. So does History now begin in 2000? Will western culture and destiny henceforth be shaped by what the second generation web tells us?

A hunch today saw me typing the words 'cyber.history' into the Google search engine. I suppose I was not surprised that there are almost 5000 entries listed for that exact phrase.

Developing the idea
One of the most interesting entries I looked at was John Stevenson's cyber history collection and timeline, in which he cites commentary going back to 1945 (!) on what has become the world wide web. This fascinating list includes, of course, the ground-breaking insights of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, including his 1992 CERN paper on World-Wide Web: The Information Universe.

If you're a historian or a social scientist (as I am) looking at the development of science and technology, this is a rich seam ; and one indeed in which, as second generation blogging develops, many of us play our own tiny micro-parts.

Generational and other divides?
Despite the rise of the silver surfer, non-technically-directed people with memories at least as long as mine still form a very small element within the www community.

For most young people the www is the first port of call when information and ideas are sought; and most easily accessible content on the www is probably posted by (relatively) young people. When put alongside the reality that the www became popularly available only in about 2000, it begins to look inevitable that the Millennium just past is where History starts.

An open network
As Tim Berners-Lee, who has steadfastly insisted the www should be an open network, said in 2006:

'We're not going to be trying to make a web that will be better for people who vote in a particular way, or better for people who think like we do.....The really important thing about the web, which will continue through any future technology, is that it is a universal space.'

Lee-Berner's remark was made in response to serious concerns that the internet might become an unpleasant place of anonymous rumour and malicious intent. And he is right to be so worried, before it really is too late.

Losing the past
I would add to that my own concern that the www has permitted us to forget how far western societies have come in the past few decades, let alone the past century. Right now, life truly is better for most of us in the developed democracies than it has ever been. But will this good fortune last? And can it be shared?

Losing our pre-Millennium reference points would also result in the loss, at a time when our culture is already very immediate, of our sense of what has worked to make the world better, and what perhaps has not. This loss would make it more difficult to sustain what's good and to improve what's not good or what looks worrying.

Learning for the future
Things reshape and evolve all the time. It's now 40 years since the last time 'history changed', in that surreal summer of 1968. For some who witnessed it, what the lessons are remains a matter of debate.

I still hope the www will help more people of every sort of experience and background share what they know and have observed. We have only to look at the work of political scientists and historians such as Peter Laslett to realise what a better understanding, say, of pre-industrial society might have done for many current social concerns.

Contemporary sharing might encourage us all to reflect just sometimes on the historical medium and longer term, and on how we can learn from it to sustain what we optimistically call 'progress'.

Read more articles on:
Hilary's Weblog
Pre-History / Herstory (1950-)

Party multi-coloured windmill 6101 (98x95).jpg Well, happy birthday to us all!
Today is two years to the day from when I posted my first 'real' blog - a day my website designer Nick Prior and I had worked towards for several months. And a whole twenty four months later, we're still going fine, with ever-growing numbers of visitors and well more than three hundred pieces, about 'all sorts', up and on-line.

It's been a great trip so far. It's a real challenge - to which you can say, better than I, whether I've risen - to write clearly and, hopefully, in an interesting way, about the things I see around me and become involved in. But whatever, I really enjoy trying....

The stats
When we started I was delighted if just a tiny handful of kind friends visited the site in any one day. Now hundreds (still I'm sure kind friends, but often at a heck of a distance - my website statistics tell me there have been visitors from 130 countries) pop in and out over the twenty four hours.

And now too the website's Google rating is (fingers crossed) a steady five, a measure I could only dream about a year ago. Nick Prior told me it would take about this long, if I worked hard to keep things going; and, as usual, he was right.

The content
But much more importantly than Google ratings, I think I'm beginning to learn 'what works'. I have always wanted this website to be a pleasant place to visit, somewhere of course where you can read a particular take, as well expressed as I can make it, on issues which engage me; but also somewhere which offers enjoyable and interesting photographs and ideas.

In short, I wanted to create a sort-of on-line 'magazine' for people who share some of my interests... as I really appreciate when they (you) share ideas back with me via the Comments box or in emails.

Thank you!
So, thank you Nick for deciding to take time (then and still now) to get me up and running, and for suspending belief enough to think maybe, just maybe, I'd do something with this website for more than just a few weeks.

And thank you, Dear Reader, for bearing with me too. I really hope you're enjoying what you see.

Read more articles on Hilary's Weblog.

Westminster parliament towers & offices (small) 95x115.jpg It's often claimed that politicians are out of touch or otherwise irrelevant to their electorate. The website 'They Work For You' is one way in which this claim can be examined, at least for Members of the UK Parliament. But can MPs ever meet all the demands put upon them, and what else do we need to know?

Perhaps the idea that 'politics is irrelevant' is actually a ploy, consciously or not, for people to avoid the difficult questions which the political process poses for us all.

Do we actually know what we want from politics? The They Work For You website is one way in which we can all engage; it follows the issues raised by individual Members of Parliament (and others) at Westminster and elsewhere.

What do we want to know?
But obviously numbers of questions asked in decision-making assemblies are by no means the only thing we would like to know about the political process. There are many other important aspects of political work as well.

Some MPs have active websites, some do not. Some meet with their constituents regularly, some probably less often. Some have a schedule of discussions with their local authorities, others make contact less systematically. But all are open to scrutiny by the media and the public.

All things to all (wo)men?
So how should MPs respond to the mis/perception that politics is meaningless? Should they leaflet constituents all the time (green issues here, volunteer delivery energy levels apart?), should they talk to the media (spin?), should they consciously ask questions in Parliament in the knowledge that They Work For You will report these (skewing activity for coverage?), should they do something else?

What would make people think politics has meaning? What would provide public assurance that all politicians are not 'in it for themselves'?

Or don't we want to answer these questions, for fear that then we'd have to take responsibility ourselves for what's happening around us?

Tutorial (small) 90x120.jpg This website seems to be used as a learning resource, as well as by a more general readership. Teachers and students refer to it for a range of reasons; and amongst these is the opportunity for people whose first language is not English to read short articles linked to other websites on the same topics. So, how do / could you use this site as an educational resource?

Your views and advice, as teachers and as students or general readers, about how this 'learning resource' facility might be extended, would be most welcome. As myself a qualified teacher who worked in education for many years, I am always enthusiastic about the development of new learning materials and ways of teaching. If only the internet had been available when education was my day job.....

I look forward to your ideas and contributions on this topic.

Thank you!

Rainbow 1 (small) 85x90.jpg 11, 12, 13, 14, 15? At last you can start making your own choices. Your parent/s have the final say, but increasingly you're trusted just to get on with it. You know how important school is, and maybe you have ideas about a career, but there’s still space for fun in with the serious stuff. Sometimes you can even combine the two....

And that’s the idea, along with some general Be Happy Rules, behind the list which follows of ‘Things To Do’. You can try them, or you might not, but perhaps the list will spark off more ideas to keep you trying out new adventures and developing new skills.

OK, here goes. Why don’t you:

Get physical
Learn to roller or ice-skate, walk to school, swim competitively, train for the 5 /10k. Take the challenge to try something different from your normal team game or school activities. Remember, exercise is for life, so to gain the full benefits start now and enjoy.

Annotate your friends
You’d be astonished how quickly time will fly! To remember your friends now for the future, make a book, video or other record of who they are and how they are part of your life. Get them to add their own contributions to your ’collection’; but do ensure that what you record is something they’d still like to see in ten years’ time.

Help raise environmental awareness
Learn to calculate your carbon footprint – and then help others to do the same. Can you predict what is most ‘carbon costly’? Might you / others change anything you do because of what you learn? That carbon score might just deliver some surprises!

Become a fashionista
Can you find a sewing machine somewhere? Why not design and make your own clothes, from scratch or by adapting gear you already have? Girl or guy, choose a style, fabric or colour you like, and go for it. It’s never too early to make your own style statement.

Find you way around
You’re well past the ‘Are we nearly there now?’ stage, so learn to map-read – street maps, rights of way, routes in or out of town, journeys to other places; all make more sense (and are much more interesting) if you can interpret the map.

Create a little happiness
Everyone worries and feels down sometimes, but you can decide now to start life as you mean to go on – by making the best of things whenever possible. Give yourself a private project to observe what makes people you care for and admire really, positively happy; and then see what you can do, as a part of your daily routine, to create more of this wonderful state of being for yourself and others.

Do your bit for the environment now
Plant a shrub or tree, or some vegetables or flowers, then nurture them and watch them grow. Maybe you can make this the beginning of your new 'green’ habit? Could you even, perhaps, share this activity with others in your family?

Gain skills for independence
Regardless of gender, you’ll need to look after yourself ‘properly’ in the not-too-distant future. Sure, you’re excellent on computers, but do you know how to operate the washing machine, redecorate a room or cook a decent meal? Having these skills is not only useful, they can also be the way to impress your family and friends. So if you’ve got it, flaunt it - think where cooking has taken Jamie Oliver!

Write your own ‘future diary’
You’re beginning to think seriously about your future. Now is the time to ’vision’ it, however straightforward or ambitious your intentions. Use your ‘future diary’ to imagine what life in your possible line of work might be like in five, ten or fifteen years. How might your workday go? How might you feel about it? And, most importantly, if you like what you ‘see’, what do you need to do to get there?

Do your own thing
Maybe you want to do things your way, no bright-ideas-from-elsewhere style? Well, within the boundaries of what’s sensible and positive, just go for it.

But whatever you do, please remember just to check with your parents first – plus, you never know, they may perhaps even
have just a few good ideas of their own!

Have you read....?
Things To Do When You're 16 - 18
What To Do At Any Age - Be Happy
* Life is not a rehearsal
* Smile when you can
* Do acts of random kindness
* Try no-TV days
* Be cautious sometimes, cynical never
* Use your pedometer
* Treat yourself daily to a 'Went Right' list

And why not add your own take on Things To Do When You're 11–15 via the Comments box below...

Boarded Up House (small) 85x98.jpg 'Regeneration' happens when someone with influence perceives a need for improvement. But this is a process in which professionals omit to involve those to whom regeneration is being done at their peril. What follows is therefore a set of observations or 'rules', derived from direct experience, about how regeneration and community engagement may play out on the ground.

The 'Rules' below are presented from the perspective of a professional approaching a regeneration scenario. The reader might like to turn them around and 'translate' them, to reflect the possible understandings of a person 'in the community' on whose (claimed) behalf regeneration is taking place.

1) It is very difficult to ensure that everyone 'knows' what they need / would like to know.

2) People at all levels get suspicious / unhelpful if they feel 'left out of the loop'.

3) Identifying legitimate Stakeholders is always a challenge - not all of them are formal.

4) Professional practitioners are not the font of all knowledge.

5) Perspectives and language (discourse / terms) may vary dramatically between parties.

6) Expectations may similarly vary, and can be challenging to manage.

7) It is essential to start any programme by identifying 'what works' and protecting that.

8) Who is 'qualified' to undertake such 'what works' identification can be problematic.

9) Participants' understandings develop over time; what they'd initially asked for will change.

10) The same may also apply to the professionals involved - especially if they are sensitive to context.

11) Sustainability - social, economic, physical - is often overlooked in practice, if not in theory.

12) There is rarely a clear end-point (when does 'regeneration' finish?)

13) Engagement is by definition voluntary; it can never be forced, but is very necessary.

14) Equipping people to engage often requires patience, skill and thoughtful leadership.

15) Many stakeholders only really become interested when the chequebook arrives; be ready and beware!

These observations formed part of a lecture delivered (by Hilary Burrage) on 23 April 2007 to Masters' students of social policy and political science at Charles University, Prague, in the Czech Republic.

What do you think?
Do these 'rules' reflect your experience? And are there other 'rules' to add to these?

Waste bins (small) 75x141.jpg AWC (Alternate Weekly Collection of recyclable and non-recyclable household waste) has a bad reception in the UK, although it increases the extent of recycling. But why is something designed to sustain our environment - an ambition held by most of us - producing such hostility?

Latest in the endless list of Things People Don't Like is the idea of alternate weekly collection of recyclable and non-recyclable domestic waste. There is evidence that this is effective in getting people to think more carefully about what they can and cannot recycle (rather than just bunging the lot in the dustbin) but everyone seems to be in uproar about it.

'Why?' is always a complex question to answer in environmental matters. What seems self-evidently sensible to the scientists and policy-makers (not to mention the demanding officials of the European Union, who are rightly leading a very serious environmentally conscious charge) is far less evident to Mr & Mrs Suburbia or Mr & Mrs InnerCity. The dialogue has got lost on the way, or perhaps has simply never existed.

People suspect that the bi-weekly collection of their 'normal' waste, even though it is to be interspersed by alternate weekly collection of what's recyclable, is actually the result of a financial 'cut', and that it must therefore be bad. No-one seems to have thought to explain that there's good evidence that AWC increases recycling - albeit at contested levels of efficacy.

Cynicism is the only winner
So there is Big Fuss. Nobody seems to believe something could be being done for 'good' reasons; and in that local politicians have often not helped. This situation benefits no-one.

The sooner the powers-that-be learn they must share rationales with 'ordinary' people right from the start of their thinking, the better. This is an issue which goes beyond what used to be called the 'public understanding of science', to an even more pressing issue - the sustainability of our planet.

Be straightforward
So let's ask our media, policy-makers and politicans to be braver and more honest in how they present these things. It would be good for everyone.

Read the debate which follows then...

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