Monday, October 13, 2008

Top-Down-Bottom-Up Solutions

My early days at Speaking Up were spent on the front-line in Cambridgeshire. Today I was back there looking at how we go about setting up a `User Led Organisation' for Cambridgeshire and a Centre for Independent Living.

The main problem is that we are doing it in what i called a `Top-Down-Bottom-Up' way. Meaning that the decree from the Top-Down was to do it in a `Bottom Up' way. The kind of Doublethink we are all so used to these days.

The Top-Down thing works like this. In effect, the Goverment and the Council is (possibly) hanging some money out if a successful collaboration between disabled people's organisations comes off. Which is fine except how much money nobody knows. In the current climate this could end up being very little. Our particularly Bottom-Up problem is we belong to no-one. The semi-powerful woman from the council who got us all here is now gone and, it seems, she didn't tell anyone back at Shire Hall what she was up to. The bloke who was supposed to replace her didn't even show up today. Which means when it comes to full council, 100k for this versus four threatened teaching assistants wages won't require much of Members' time.

What about the Bottom-Up problems? Well, we aren't, as organisations, really that skilled, or sufficiently well-resourced to work up really fantastic new propositions from nothing. It can, after a few meetings, seem like a lot of hard work for a poor return. Much easier just to fix on the stuff you know you can do without all the argy-bargy. Which leads to the kind of ultra-fragmentation we have now and, of course, need to move away from....Which is why, when I sat and thought about it, I was there today.

Where this one will go I don't know. I see a few potential partners in the room. Much smaller organisations that could, I reckon, work with a bigger one if they could trust us not to pulverise them. The elephant here is that you really need one organisation with superior resources and know-how to run hard and for the others to fall in behind it in a lesser role.

But this involves a ceding of power and control which runs against the assumption of equality underlying these types of meetings. My worst fear is that if the larger orgs, like us, will have to carry the responsibility for delivery without the power of efficient decision-making - meaning we will find ways of doing it on our own.

Which, of course, doesn't solve the problem that both Top and Bottom would like, ideally to solve. Let's see what comes of this one. I remain, for some reason, hopeful.

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