Recently in The Lexicon Category

Singer 85x85.jpg The BBC Proms offer many different routes to enlightenment, but this is a new one to me. A listing of events for August tells us that some singers are 'singers' or 'vocalists', and others are sopranos, mezzos, tenors, basses or, indeed, 'voices'. A look at the particular concert programmes suggests why this may be...

The clue lies in expressions like 'An evening with..', followed simply by the names of 'singers', or, alternatively, a long and detailed list of exactly what is to be performed, by whom and in what capacity.

Different languages
These are the discourses respectively of popular performance / 'entertainment' and on the other hand of 'high-classical'. The one is awash with generality, the other with detail and implicit demands that we already understand what it's all about.

Traversing the barriers
Occasionally of course the most-acclaimed performers of 'high-classical' cross the boundary to 'entertainment'; but crossing substantially in the other direction rarely occurs. 'Entertainers' may offer a selection of classically-inspired songs; they don't do full operas.

Is this huge distinction between genres necessary? Perhaps in the performers' terms it's inevitable, but in audience terms I'd like to see a bit more effort in general to 'take' classical music to people - not pre-concert talks necessarily (to some, an acquired taste) but much, much earlier in the average person's artistic experience.

Starting early and comfortably
Schools, for instance, need well-versed teachers feeling as comfortable with classical music as most feel with the more popular modes. (A few inspired teachers play music of all kinds to their pupils; would that more did so.) But acquaintance with 'classical' music is what's missing as a result of the austere curriculum experienced by people who were schoolchildren themselves in the 1980s, when the arts were dismissed as almost frivolous.

Singers have it all
The BBC Proms offer an excellent start, but classical music has so much to offer at any time. It's a real shame that many people find themselves mystified or out of their depth with it.

There are growing numbers of top professional singers, labelled however you like, who enjoy good music of all kinds. These artists would surely agree that, alongside the genuine excitement and glamour of a good popular-music-based 'show', classical music also is far too good to miss.

Women at market (small) 70x71.jpg Today (8 March) is International Women's Day, when women are celebrated in many parts of the world. But after more than a century of campaigning, women and men remain unequal in wealth and power. It's time for an overtly feminist, gendered approach to economics, examining the differential impacts and advantages of economic activity on women and men.

The campaign for 'women's rights' has been going for a very long time now.

One of the original texts about women's rights, The Subjection of Women, was written in1869 by the Scottish radical philosopher John Stuart Mill. That's almost a century and a half ago. And so very much more has been written, said and done about this issue since then.

The question is, therefore: despite worthy events such as International Women's Day, why is there still such a long way to go?

Convenient inertia
'Convenient' is probably too kind a word to describe the collective failure to see the negative experience of most women in regard to economics, employment, public life and business. Nonetheless, the word convenience points us in the right direction if we want to explain the stifling inertia many women experience in their quest simply for equality.

There are many fair-minded and decent men, but there are also large numbers who would rather see inequality and exploitation anywhere except on their own doorstep. And since men still have more power and influence than women, it's often their perspectives which have the most weight. 'Women's equality' may not be a taboo subject, but it is certainly a sidelined one.

There's always something more urgent and important to address...

Economic analysis
So let's start to approach this, seriously, another way. Let's look routinely and quite expressly at how women and men fare in the economy and the corridors of power.

In other words, let's have an Economics which uses gender as an analytical tool in the same way that other Social Science analysis does. Only once the unspoken taboo had been broken did social scientists begin to perceive the realities of gender impact, direct and indirect, on society itself.

Moves in the right direction
Big steps are being made, with the introduction of equality standards for all English local authorities.

As part of these standards, Gender Impact Assessments, required from April 2007, are to be the vehicle through which the Women and Equality Unit and the Department for Trade and Industry is bringing into sharp focus the issue of gender in relation to the Government's Public Service Reform.

Start them young
Government policy, excellent in intention though it may be, is one thing. Taking matters seriously in wider society, even if there are sanctions for not doing so, is sometimes another.

The next steps are to ensure that Business / Enterprise Studies and Economics embed gender differentials into their curriculum from the very start. This should be as much a part of the Economics (and other) GCSE curricula as it already is the Social Science one. Early on is the best place to start.

And at the other end of the scale corporates at every level should be required to give much more 'gendered' (and other diversity-linked) information in their annual reports. Business moves where its pocket takes it, and the bottom line here is exactly that, the visible bottom line. At a time of claimed skills shortages, becoming gender conscious is good for business, as well as good for people.

There are small initiatives such as the idea of the Conference Diversity Index, and also some much larger pointers to the future which thread through this train of thought.

In 2006 the London Business School launched the Lehman Brothers Business Centre for Women, with the intention of providing solutions for the challenges that businesses face in attracting and retaining talented women.

Signs of success
But alongside the urgent necessity to get more women to the very 'top' we need to ensure that most of them don't stay much nearer the bottom.

The costs of gender inequality impinge on us all. There are a few thinkers and scholars who have established a baseline here, but only when gender is a clearly articulated part of mainstream public consciousness, politics and business will we really be getting somewhere.

A shorter version of this article was published as a letter in The Guardian on 8 March 2007.

Solid block (small) 100x133.jpg Person specifications for 'Lay' Public Appointments often require Board candidates to demonstrate 'confidence'. Increasingly I wonder whether this quality by itself enhances board members' contribution to the common good. Any confident Lay person might have a clear line and stick to it; but does this benefit the public? Or is it an obstacle to diversity in selection, continuing business as usual?

Perhaps Lay board members, even after they have a competent grasp of 'the facts', serve the public interest better when they as people are 'considered', rather than just 'confident'. Involvement in decision-making by Lay board members is about being there in the public interest, not initially about being sure of one's opinions.

There are people in history who have demonstrated supreme but arrogantly misplaced confidence in themselves; and even now this applies to some of those with the most power. Perhaps that doesn't matter - it may even be an asset - in the private sector, where the sole aim is often the pursuance of profit. Profit is rarely however the single objective in matters of public interest.

Determination is better
Confidence in my book is an over-rated characteristic. Give me rather a person who can get to the bottom of things and then find a sensible way forward. Someone with determination and an open mind, until the time comes to make that mind up, see things through and deliver.

Certainty is rarely the order of the day in matters which require complex resolution. Underlying principles and leadership, of course; deep conviction that one is always right, no.

Listening is a seriously under-rated skill. Skills in seeking out the factors which drive a situation, and then resolving and moving forward, are also not dramatic front-page stuff; but in our complicated, always evolving world, these are the skills which matter.

Challenging, not confrontational
Perhaps the conviction that confidence is needed for a Lay person on a board is because that's easy for selectors to deal with.
You can ascertain quickly that someone appears confident.

Ensuring however that potential appointees will, politely but determinedly, seek always to understand where the Board is coming from is a different matter. Your Lay member doesn't need to be especially confident to do this; s/he just needs to be focused on the job in hand, and to believe it matters enough to persevere and do the task well.

Resolution and progress
That's a more complicated scenario for others to deal with. I'd suggest however that it's also the basis for a genuine eventual meeting of minds - which is one hopes what the whole 'public involvement in policy' thing is about.

The real requirement of Lay board members must be that they have core and determination, guided by a real intent to deliver
the best. Whether this is exactly the same as being 'confident' is another matter, as of course a good Chair - and there are many - understands.

An obstacle to diversity?
Whisper it to the HR people who routinely demand 'confidence' in job specs; the considered approach is quite often adopted by competent women. But could this also be said about the super-confident approach? How many women believe they'd fulfil a formal requirement to be 'confident'?

Given concerns about obstacles to diversity in recruitment, are we on to something here?

What do you think?

Lots of us have names which seem to get mis-spelt. But does it really matter? In my books, for most of the time the meaning behind the name is more telling than how people may spell it. My parents chose names to give me a very well-blessed start in life, and to that has been added another positive label. Who could ask names with a nicer meanings than healing, happy and free? Spell these as you will, I'm a really lucky person.

I suppose none of us should worry about it. If it was good enough for Shakespeare, it must be good enough for us. They didn't fuss too much about how names were spelt in Good Queen Bess's days, I'm told..... But it's still a bit off-putting when we get a letter which we know is intended for us, but is addressed with a mis-spelt name.

How can so many of us have so many identities? Hilliary, Hillary, Hillery and even, surprisingly often, Helen / Helene or Hazel, are first names which appear on envelopes for me, some of them to Ms, some to Miss or Mrs, and even some to Mr.

A mediaeval family name
And that's before we get to the family name - not of course actually my own family name at all, but nonetheless a fine old English moniker if ever there was one: Burradge, Berridge, Borage, Burge, Burbage, Borrage, Barrage, Burnage, Burgage, Burbadge and more. (The best of all, from a five-year-old whispering conspiratorally to me that she already knew my name, by way of welcome during a visit I made to her school many years ago, was... Mrs Porridge.)

To be honest, in general I don't mind. Our family name has a long history both in the U.K. and I believe as a Boston foundation of benefactors in the USA. I think the name probably derives from the excellent mediaeval herb, a tasty plant with an attractive blue flower, for which healing properties are claimed. I like blue flowers, I approve of nutritious plants, and I very much enjoy the idea of the connection with history and a tradition of healing over the centuries.

Happy and free
And as for my first names, my middle one is Frances (not Francis, which is the version for chaps), and it means free; and my chosen name means happy and cheerful. Blessings indeed. Spell these as you will, who could ask for anything more?

Group of Women (small) 90x110.jpg The English language is rich in many respects; but it's inadequate, perhaps for very important reasons, when it comes to naming and addressing mature female people. For the foreseeable future polite society will probably continue to constrain women by the words we may properly use here. Men can also be 'Chaps' and 'Guys', whilst for women until now there's been no equivalent set of terms.... which may explain why younger people of both sexes, often themselves more consciously gender-equal, have begun to claim these names, Guys and Chaps, as inclusive terms for everyone.

Names meaning everything and nothing. The old adage about 'sticks and stones' but 'names can hurt me never...' has some truth, but it's not the whole story.

So here's a question: how does one properly address a group of mature female people whom one may not know well?

Women, Ladies of Girls?
Is there any other term than these which one can use for such a group as the one above?

* 'Women' is a strange form of spoken or formal address; the word refers to a type of person, but it's not really a collective noun in the formal naming sense;
* 'Ladies' is a term which offends some because of its patriarchal and other class overtones (though the Concise Oxford notes it is a "courteous or formal synonym for 'women'"); and
* 'Girls' is obviously not appropriate as a formal term for any group of female people over the age of about 16.

So what are we women to be addressed as? Frankly, I don't know.

Forms of address for men
This is easier! Men can be 'Gentlemen' (formal); 'Chaps' (the friendly noun for a group of posibly more mature men), 'Guys' (friendly, for younger men, or for Chaps with a more modern outlook?) or even 'Boys' (though usually only as a form of gentle teasing between peers, or in families).

Rarely do we hear complaint about any of these collective nouns. There's something for everyone - at least as long as you're male. But then of course men don't feel marginalised or at risk of being demeaned by terms of reference in the same way as some women may, not infrequently with reason.

The new Chaps 'n' Guys
Talking with younger women and men, there seems to be a move towards an understanding that Chaps and Guys can be male or female. 'Okay you guys..' is the start of a sentence which can be addressed to anyone (collectively) by anyone, male or female, in informal situations. And 'Chaps' has become a term which, again informally, refers to any group of people.

Perhaps this is the way forward. In formal situations there seems little option but to use the 'polite' forms 'Ladies and Gentlemen...'; this doesn't always sound good, but how else does one start? At least it's equally constraining for both men and women.

Hermaphrodising the naming
Informally perhaps we women can move towards a more hermaphrodite nomenclature. We're 'Guys' and 'Chaps' when it suts. This doesn't, to me at least, feel like the awful legal precedent of announcing that 'all references to 'he' shall also apply to 'she'...' and so on. That legal precedent was made by men. We, women, are choosing to be, and to call ourselves, 'You Guys' in a rather different way.

The ultimate test for person-to-person, face-to-face, naming has to be that person's choice, and the type of context in which the choice is made. We can decide in the general sense to use what collective nouns we like, but respect for the individual and his / her ease should take prioity over our own preference when we address another.

If we want real communication, putting the other at ease is important; and if that includes using formal terms because these are the only ones we have, in my book, so be it. Convention, however inperfect, help us here.

Hallo people!
Nonetheless, the English language does leave us a bit high and dry, with 'he' and 'she' as the third person nouns, and no ungendered noun for individuals except for the words 'person' and 'people'. Maybe we women willl have arrived when the formal way to address groups of either / mixed gender is to begin, 'Good morning people...'.

But that may take a while, Guys.

The Annual EDGE Question is something which deserves sharing with as many as possible of those who'd enjoy challenging scientific-style 'mind gym'.

This is the part of the annual calendar when people set themselves puzzles to solve and quizzes to answer, so perhaps it's a good time to share a world-wide 'quiz' which was set twelve months ago.

The non-profit Edge Foundation Inc. sets an annual EDGE Question, published on the first day of the year. The 2005 Question was

What Do You Believe Is True Even Though You Cannot Prove It?

Answers to this question, as given by some of the most well-known 'science thinkers' in the world, were published by EDGE on 1st January 2005; and with subsequent contributions - 120 in all - the responses constituted 60,000 very challenging and absorbing words. (They have subsequently been edited by the novelist Ian McEwan and published by the Free Press (UK) as a book entitled What We Believe But Cannot Prove.)

The next question
So, mull over the 2005 Question today, the last day of that year - it'll be a fascinating exercise! - and then begin to ask yourself, what will the Edge Annual Question 2006 look like?

By this evening we should know, as the 2006 Question is imminently to be published online at Edge ... the responses from (I quote) a '"who's who" of third culture scientists and science-minded thinkers' should be very well worth a good read - and then the debate can begin all over again.

Perhaps you've been blowing away the cobwebs already, or perhaps you haven't. Whatever, here's an opportunity to do a bit of mind gym, no matter if you're striding purposefully up a hill against the icy blast, or sitting snugly in your favourite chair at home. Enjoy!

Protagonists for City-Regions are often much less sympathetic to the rationale for the English Regions as such. But perhaps it's all a matter of differential scales. City Regions could well choose, to their mutual benefit and that of their hinter-lands, to collaborate on some of the much bigger strategic things without fear of damage to historic and local identities.

The debate about City-Regions vs. English Regions shows no signs of resolving. The recent launch of a campaign for an Elected Mayor in Liverpool (and some other towns and cities) has if anything exacerbated the differences between those who support regionalism as such, and those who support city-regions within England, or presumably, come to that, anywhere else.

Whilst there are obviously some areas where people may not ever agree, I do however believe there are a number of areas of common cause between the protagonists for each 'side', if the issues are looked at in a particular light.

The meaning of 'regionalism'
For those who take a strongly anti-regional line the main problem seems to be that they perceive this as inevitably favouring one stronger city over other cities in the region... indeed, they may even take the view that there is no such thing as a region, as a way to circumvent such a perspective entirely.

In this view the real issue is the power of one place over others, and the expectation that, given half a chance, this place will take unfair advantage, at significant cost to other towns and cities nearby.

On the other hand, to at least some people who would support a regional persepctive alongside a city-focused one (and there are few regionalists who don't also favour the healthy growth of cities per se), the underlying issue is connectivity. Who will make the case for, e.g., good road and rail connections between different cities within the region and, even more importantly, the way that very large centres of population - especially the metropolis - connect with the region at all?

Taking this perspective, there may be surprising commonalities even with towns and cities in other regions. For instance, Birmingham shares with the northern cities the issue of getting traffic up and down the country - and has in fact begun exploring solutions to this problem with them.

Size is the basic issue
Evidence elsewhere in Europe suggests that a population of between 7 and 10 million can be effectively self-sustaining in terms of producing all the requirements for modern society. But no U.K. city outside London is of this size - which means that English cities must necessarily be inter-dependent in some respects. For instance, (genuinely) Big Science can never happen just with the resources of one city, any more than can 'Big Medicine / Technology' and so forth. There are plenty of win-wins in inter-city collaboration for science and industry, just as there are endless reasons why the more ambitious aspects of tourism are often best promoted on at least a regional basis (see quote in New Start magazine from the English Regional Development Agencies).

But what the size issue doesn't mean is that cities have to lose their identities, or that there must be 'regional centre' cities wicih will effectively dictate to all the other places in a region what they may and may not do. This maintenance of identity and self-determination provides one of the strongest cases for elected mayors or similar - provided always (a big proviso) that such leaders are well-informed, brave and sensible....

Unique identities, shared strengths
This is a rather optimistic view, but maybe there will come a time when people generally can see that there is indeed strength in commonality when it comes to the big things (massive inward investment, the knowledge economy, large-scale infrastructure etc.), but that with this does not need to come loss of identity for individual places and smaller areas within a geographical location such as a 'region' of England. Rather the opposite.

Perhaps it's a matter of confidence. When we, smaller-city citizens across the nation, are confident that our own patch is well-recognised and well-defined, it will be easier to agree with our neighbours on shared strategies for the bigger things. But how to develop that confidence from where we're at now is, however you look at it, a challenge and a half.

Facilitation & Leadership

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Leaders offer direction; Facilitors generally should not. But how fluid is this distinction, and to what effect?

Do Leaders emerge or are they made? Are some Facilitators also Leaders? Or is the role of a Faciltator to bring about change through the agency of others - perhaps those who already have the mantle of Leadership, or perhaps others who will come to the fore via the process being facilitated?

The answer is probably that both these models apply in different circumstances.

A professional Facilitator (whether paid or not) is someone whose task is to bring forward responses from a group which has already asked for this to happen, maybe via an already established Leader.

On the other hand an informal Facilitator (usually a volunteer) may be someone who wants to get a group or interest established as an entity in itself. Such a person may well emerge from that group as a Leader.

And why are these distinctions important?

Again, the answers vary. Sometimes for instance informal facilitation is a route to significant developments which can be harnessed by, say, regeneration or other 'official' bodies to bring forward spokespeople for given interests. Conversely, on occasion it has been known for formal Facilitators to take upon themselves a leadership role acceptable by those who engaged them, but perhaps not by those whom they are facilitating.

The more the variables are considered, the more likely it is that the role claimed, Facilitator or Leader?, is that which is in fact being enacted.

When regeneration professionals and politicians talk about 'The Community' they usually mean people who live in that locality; when they talk about 'Stakeholders' they are often referring to a different, geographically disperse group of people who have significant financial or other interests in the area. But do the Community and the Stakeholders talk to each other?

Depending on who you talk to, regeneration is led (or at least informed) by Communities or Stakeholders.

Let us put aside for now whether either of these groups, if such they be, are in reality leaders of regeneration; what we first need to ask is, are Communities the same as Stakeholders? In my book the answer is, No.

Communities are generally held to be bound by fences, real or metaphorical. In terms of regeneration this usually means they have a geographical, if not always sociological, footprint or identity within the physical area being regenerated. Stakeholders however may be found anywhere.

Sometimes it's useful during the consultations which must precede major developments to seek the views of The Community. This means that a number of 'local' people are 'consulted', though perhaps on an agenda set by non-locals.

There again, Stakeholders may be consulted, often in a more formal way. These tend to be the people who have serious financial or other formal interests in the area under consideration. In the back of some parties' minds, Stakeholders are sometimes perceived as likely to be more formally articulate in their approach, and perhaps to have a wider view of the possibilities, challenges or whatever.

In both instances, those who conduct the consultation will probably be professionals from outside the area to be regenerated; and they will probably have expectations based around their own educational and social backgrounds about what Communities and Stakeholders respectively can realistically bring to the process. But the big question could be, have the Communities and the Stakeholders actually communicated with each other? Whose job is it to ensure this happens? And should (or could) those who conduct consultations on regeneration developments help here?

Grants & Investments

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Are there differences in the sorts of people who 'give' Grants, from those who 'make' Investments? Are these fundings for genuinely different types of activity? Or do we sometimes forget that all funding from the public purse has at base the same objectives of improving quality of life?

When is a Grant an Investment? This is probably only a meaningful question in the context of the public and not-for-profit sectors, either as recipients or as giver.

In private-sector-to-private-sector transactions everything is Investment; but when we go to other sectors, the likelihood that an Investment will become a Grant seems to increase with the supposed distance from hard commercial factors.

Thus, IT projects are likely to benefit from Investment, but Cultural ones receive Grants.

The implications of this for how we perceive these activities are significant. Yet, for instance, cultural activities can be both business-like and of benefit to their communities, as can technological ones. If we seriously believe that varied and high-skills activities of all kinds are necessary in a modern economy, it might help to recognise that Investment is what we do when we support activities of any sort which help to build that economy, by making jobs, engaging people and - whisper it - just generally improving quality of life.

But there again perhaps Investments are made by people who have experience of business, and Grants are made by those who usually don't. Whether this matters or not is an open question.

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