Building Healthy Towns and Regions

The other week, I was phoned by a BBC producer to ask if I would take part in a discussion on the Victoria Derbyshire show about how we can build healthy towns. It’s partly due to the work we’re doing here in Morecambe Bay with our communities around being more healthy and well, especially working with schools. Unfortunately, I was away on holiday and missed the call and so didn’t get on the show! But it did get me old grey cells thinking about this whole idea. Here at Lancaster University, we have the Health Innovation Campus, which is helping to design a new ‘healthy town’ in Lancashire. The “Imagination Team” are also hosting a conference this week called “Does Design Care?” But what do we mean by a healthy town and what ingredients might we need to see in our cities in order to say that they are, or are becoming “healthy”?

 

We must get beyond thinking that a healthy town is simply one where there is clean air to breathe and everyone is out jogging, smiling at each other and eating quinoa salads for lunch – it’s all a bit middle class! I would like to make some fairly radical suggestions of what it might mean for a town to be truly healthy, especially having been so inspired by the amazing ‘Doughnut Economics’ by Kate Raworth. I think if we don’t have a vision for what we want our future towns, cities and regions to be like in 50 years, we will not build them! I am often told that you cannot eat an elephant in one go, and we must focus on the small things we can do – eating it one bit at a time – true enough, but we need to hold both things in tension. We need a vision big enough to inspire us to change and then we need to pick up the knives and forks and begin the process of eating it!

 

So, what might healthy towns of the future be like?

In healthy towns:

There are no homeless, not because of social cleansing, but because everyone has a home in which to live.

Design cares enough to ensure that spaces are built which encourage communities to spend time with each other, connecting and collaborating, breaking down isolation and loneliness and facilitating new political space.

There is a creative commons, with plenty of space that belongs to all.

The economy of the town/region is designed to ensure that resources (including land) are redistributed, breaking cycles of poverty and enabling all to flourish. This increases the happiness and health of all and allows a society in which the wellbeing of all matters to all.

The economy of the town/region is designed to ensure regeneration, thus taking care of the environment for future generations. Towns like this will not only be carbon neutral, they will in fact, as Kate Raworth says, become generous in their approach to humanity, other towns and the planet itself.

Children will be nurtured, as part of communities, not as fodder for the economic machine, educated as socially adaptable human beings, understanding their place within the ecosystem of which they are a part.

There will be a culture of positive peace, made possible through non-violence, in which architecture is used to enable communities to live well in the midst of and celebrate difference. Facilitation and mediation will be normative practices when relationships become strained or difficult and the lust for competition and war will be quelled.

There will be a culture of love, in which all are welcome and accepted for who they are. This does not encourage selfishness, nor does it mean that there is no challenge. In fact, love, at its best, is self-giving and others-empowering (Thomas Jay Oord).

There will be a culture of kindness, displayed through humility and respect.

There will be a culture of joy in which people know that they belong and are trusted.

Justice will be restorative, rather than retributive, something which does not negate the need for discipline, but hopes for a better future through grace.

Refugees are welcomed, cared for and also allowed to flourish.

Equality and diversity is celebrated as a norm.

Farming practices are kind to the land.

Business is changing it’s goal, becoming agnostic about growth, but obsessed with how it plays it’s part in improving the wellbeing of all through regeneration, redistribution, repair, reuse, refurbishment, recycling and restoration.

People are valued in their work place and the workplace is a healthy place to be in.

Physical activity and healthy eating are a normal part of every day life. (Thought I’d better add that one in!).

Wherever possible, people die well, surrounded by community who love them.

 

Wouldn’t you love to live in a happy, healthy, wholesome town?! It’s not beyond our grasp. We simply need to adapt the ones we have and build the ones we want! Building together a future that is good for all. Which bit shall we eat first?!

 

 

 

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Social Movements and the Future of Healthcare


As the crisis in the Western World deepens, and the growing reality sets in that business as usual simply can no longer continue nor solve our problems, our systems must change the way they view, deal with and hold onto power. The NHS is no exception. If we want a health and social care system that is of the highest quality, safe, sustainable and economically viable for the future, we need to understand the power of social movements, both within our systems and through the wider society. This is something we are really committed to in Morecambe Bay and so it was with great delight that I listened to the excellent Helen Bevan, talk about just how vital social movements are for the NHS and healthcare, worldwide at the recent IHI conference in London, Quality 2017. This blog will be an amalgamation of what Helen shared and my own thoughts about our early experiences with social movements.

 

 

A social movement in health and social care involves us all learning to connect, collaborate, cooperate, cocreate and coproduce at a level we have never done so, until now. But our circumstances are forcing us to reconsider the ways in which we work. We need the creative substance that is within our teams to be heard and harnessed so that we cut our waste and work more effectively together. The issues we face, need facing by us all, together; not by some board in an isolated room, making decisions based on diktats from on high, on behalf of us all.  But even this will not be enough. Those of us stuck in the system have become too homogenized in our thinking for us to do this exclusively from within. We need our citizens to help us re-imagine what it means for us to be healthy and well. We must stop designing things for our communities or doing things to them, instead we must design and do things with them. We must analyse, create and enact together and to do this, we must learn to solve the issues of power.

 

Helen Bevan, with her background in social science, demonstrates the great debate about the interplay between our organisational structures (rules) and agency (freedom) when it comes to effecting change. Where does the “permission” come from to enact the change we need to see? Is it externally generated by those in positions of power, or is it internally generated by a personal motivation? Our experience in Carnforth and Morecambe in community conversations has been a bit of both. There are many people of incredible heart and goodness, waiting to do something new and good that will positively affect the health and wellbeing of society, but are perhaps waiting for that sense of community backing, support, encouragement or indeed permission. With a bit of coaching or spurring on, we have seen some amazing initiatives begin that are bringing transformational work into our area and causing us all think differently. We need both individual agency AND corporate agency. Helen describes individual agency as being when people get more power and control in their lives – we see this in patient activation, shared-decision making and self-care – a greater sense of autonomy and responsibility. Collective agency, on the other hand, is where we see people act together, united by a common cause, harnessing the power and influence of the group whilst building mutual trust.

 

 

We have seen this used powerfully, in just one example by our maternity liaison service committee, who together have challenged our system to think more carefully about how we communicate to women, especially at key or stressful moments of their obstetric care. These stories are now a compulsory part of training for all who work in our maternity service and have significantly improved both our skill mix and ability to provide excellent care.
What is absolutely vital to understand is that we do not become transformed alone. We are transformed when we are in relationship with others (Hahrie Han). The problem is that we don’t really encounter the “other” enough to be changed. However,  when we let go of the kind of power that is held by the few, pushes others down, uses command and control, that is closed and transactional, and instead embrace a power that is held by the many, shared, open and relational, then we can begin to see the change we need (Hirschman and Ganz).

David Holzmer says that we are witnessing the collapse of expertise and the rise of collaborative sense-making. I would suggest that this has been going on for some time, but our systems have been incredibly slow at catching onto the change around us.

 

Now, what is hugely encouraging is this: research by Kollectif shows that you only need 3% of people in an organisation/society to drive the conversations with 90% of other people. In other words, you don’t have to get everyone on board from the word go. You find your passionate people with a sense of agency, infect them with the virus and watch it spread. These people need to be a mixture of ‘lone wolves’, mobilisers and organisers. Lone wolves are people who have been trying to help change happen for a long time but can sometimes feel like an annoyance to the system, so they are given tokenistic positions, patted on the head and patronised into exhaustion. Mobilisers build power by calling large numbers of people to contribute, engage in change and take action. Organisers build power by growing leaders in a distributed network, building a community and protecting its strength. We need all of them, though mobilisers and organisers will be the most effective in creating agency and bringing about lasting change  (Hahrie Han).

Joe Simpson says that ” great social movements get their energy by growing a distributed leadership.” The cult of celebrity can be powerful, but is not effective. The beautiful thing about a social movement is that is depends not on money, materials and technology but on relationships, commitment and community, and as the movement grows, these resources increase, rather than diminish. The problem, as Don Berwick puts it, is that leaders in position of strategic influence, are simply not seeing the resources available to the biggest problems we are facing.

 

Jason Leitch and Derek Feeley have powerfully shown that performance management (keeping the power), based on targets, sanctions and inspections can only get us so far. Quality improvement (sharing the power) gets us a little further, but mobilising social action, or co-production (ceding power) has a far greater potential to bring lasting change and far better outcomes for all.

 

So, how do we catalyze a social movement and how would we know if the movement was being “successful”? Well, our experience in Morecambe Bay is that you start with the 3%. You start with those who are drawn to the conversation, who recognise the need for change and who want to be part of it. You start with transparency, with openness, honesty and vulnerability about the mess we find ourselves in and the truth that we no longer have what it takes to solve the problem. And you start with really good questions and then deeply listen to the conversation which is emerging so that we ourselves are changed and can therefore be part of the emergence of something new, which operates on an entirely different kind of power.

You might call this a re-humanisation of our systems based on love, trust and the hope of a positive peace for all. But this social movement is not aiming for some kind of hippy experience in which we are all sat round camp fires, singing kum-ba-yah! This social movement is looking to cause our communities to flourish with a sense of health and wellbeing, to have a health and social care movement that is safe, sustainable, socially just and truly excellent, serving the needs of the wider community to grow stronger with individuals learning, growing and developing in their capacity to live well. That is what we must measure!
And so we need disruptive co-creation, which breaks through the top-town/bottom-up approach and causes us to see and hear like we have never done before. It is hugely exciting and enables managers to stop feeling like they have to extract as much performance as possible from the system, flogging the workforce, blocking change and innovation and inadvertently driving down the quality of care in the process.

The invitation is instead to become part of the change that we all long for. If we’re going to have an NHS in the future, we have to give it back to the people and work with them. In order to do this, we have to deal with and change our relationship with the very notion of power – something I will turn my attention to on the next blog!

 

 

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