Saturday, October 10, 2009

Getting Personalised

This week I met Simon Duffy, the founding CEO of In Control and Winner of the Royal Society's Albert Medal (previous winners include Louis Pasteur, Marie Curie, Winston Churchill, Tim Berners-Lee).

Simon has recently moved on to set up a new initiative, the Centre for Welfare Reform. Though he would probably eschew such an accolade, Simon is one of the most influential people in the world right now in the world of social reform.

For it was Simon who persuaded the UK Government to try out personalised budgets, which are now the centrepiece not only of social care reform but also the latest thinking in education and health. Pretty much single-handedly, he changed the terms of political discourse on the issue of social care in this country. A Game-Changer, if ever there was one.

What makes him thus? Well, Simon is one of a uncommon type of person who can not only think in new ways but also deliver real change on the ground - and use that to augment his thinking. In the UK, we tend to split into either eggheads or pragmatists. Simon is both, which makes him special.

He is also radical in that he doesn't feel constrained to think in terms which speak to current policy fashions. He is further along the curve - and if the mainstream doesn't buy in just yet, he doesn't particularly worry. This gives him an uncommon freedom among intellectuals, many of whom are tied into the needs of the Beltway.

His new initiative is the Centre for Welfare Reform. Except it isn't `new' in that it builds on his core idea of positive citizenship. It also shares the critique of government made by InControl, namely that the system we have now is the hugely wasteful relic of a by-gone era of industrial-scale solutions delivered by a big state. The net effect of this has been the pulling apart of the`free' supports that people most require: Their own dignity as citizens. Their families. Their communities.

Sounding familiar? Well, this is what Simon was saying before even New Labour came along. But instead of just changing the system by influencing government (he's through with that after the experience of working with civil servants on In Control) he now wants to make real things happen and start the revolution from below. By working on new initiatives that show how, at a very local level, the big concepts can be played out.

Coming from most people this sounds wide-eyed stuff that would make you smile. But Simon Duffy isn't a person to be underestimated. He doesn't bend and, to a point, doesn't care what people think about his ideas.

But he's done it before - and he might well do it again. Watch out World.

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