The Art of Connecting Communities – Why Bother Connecting? (Day 2)

As with any training, we kicked off day 2 with a “feed forward” – there are loads of different ways you can do this, and the idea is to bring day 1 into day 2 and remind everyone what has happened in the previous day. It helps people to be ‘present’ and have a sense of continuity. Day 2 is always hosted by participants in the training, with the team acting as coaches for them. Our hosts decided to use a large heart in the middle of a circle and asked each of us to write a few words of reflection about what had really stood out for us on Day 1. It was a great way of collating a collective sense of what had happened and gave us a really positive platform to build on.


Following this, Mike Love, a really experienced and excellent host from Leeds, who has been such a key person in helping us on our journey in Morecambe Bay, framed the day for us by helping us think through the process of opening up conversations (divergence), how to hold the groan zone (emergence of ideas) and the process of bringing a conversation into a point of agreement/next steps (convergence). The diamond of participation, as well call it, is a great way to understand our own preferences in conversations. Some of us love to open things up with great questions and get a conversation. Some of us a really comfortable hold the space for the emergence of ideas and love to see what is generated. Others of us, like to focus more on tasks and getting something delivered. The truth is that all of these are REALLY necessary if we’re going to create spaces in which we can discover collective intelligence. There was a real ‘aha’ moment when someone from the public sector said – “Our consultations are not really consultations at all, in any way. They are really a con and an insult”. This insight really provoked some great discussion!


Having fed forward and framed the day ahead together, we then checked in before heading into Open Space! Open space is a fantastic way of having the conversations that the people in the room want to have! Ours was framed around the question: “What do you believe we can achieve locally?” There were so many great conversations!


Then it was time for more theory. Mike Love, helped us again with thinking through ‘complexity theory’. We work in incredibly complex and chaotic systems and yet we often approach and measure them as if they were simple and complicated. If we are really going to learn to work well, we have to examine what it is we believe and how we see complexity, so we can learn to be far more adept in how we work in connection and relationship to others.


Designing for Wiser Action’ is another art of hosting tool, which is extremely useful if you are designing a project and would love to get the help and insight of others in knowing how to make it as effective as possible. We took most of the rest of the afternoon for people to work on ‘live projects’ which they wanted help with or needed to refine – another immersive practice where we learnt as we went along. This is a great tool, but also takes some guts! There is a point in the process where, having designed your project, you listen as other people come and find all the holes in it and offer some alternative solutions, whilst you have your back turned, cannot interject no try to justify yourself! Brutal love in action!


We ended the day by checking out, talking about our next steps and inviting people to help us plan for the 3rd day of training, where we will welcome back other members of the community of practice. We have now seen 250 people go through Art of Hosting/Art of Connecting Communities training in Morecambe Bay and are growing a wonderful network of hosts, who are learning to host ourselves, be hosted and host others (alone and together) in a way that creates space for new things to emerge. I am full of hope for the future!






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Wisdom From My Nanna

Last week, I was on the closing plenary panel at The Kings Fund, as we reflected on what we had learned together about ‘PopulationHealth’ across the UK. There were some really excellent contributions throughout the day.


Councillor Matthew Brown, leader of Preston City Council, talked powerfully about the new economic models they are using there and the incredible regeneration they are seeing. Councillor Becky Charlwood, spoke about the great work being done across the city of Leeds and how strong relationships enable them to flex around complex legislation. Mayor Andy Burnham spoke with humility and realism about the power of devolution and the challenges they face as a city in Manchester in giving kids a great start in life and ending homelessness. Liz Gaulton, Director of Public Health in Coventry, spoke about how the Marmot principles are radically shaping the future plans of the city in thinking about inequalities and how they face them together. Prof Kate Ardern, from Wigan, talked about how we need to change our relationship with power and work radically differently with our communities. Prof Dominic Harrison from Blackburn brought his wisdom on how we face up to multiple unhealthy risk factors. Perhaps the most important contributions from my perspective were from Carina Crawford-Khan, lead organiser of Citizens UK and Dr Charlotte Augst, CEO of National Voices who asked us to reflect on how “Powerlessness leads to ill health” – that’s a statement worthy of pause and much reflection. Power is the ability to act. Anger without power leads to rage. So, if we don’t radically change our relationship with power, we can never see true population health – rather we have disempowered people who feel angry and unable to be part of the change we need to see.


The reality is that all of the things we long to see in society will not happen unless we ourselves are willing to change. In all the uncertainties we face and admidst the brokenness of our political and economic models, how do we stand firm and find a new way through to a way of being together that is socially just for humanity and sustainable for the future? In reflecting on all of this in the final panel, I drew on the wisdom of my Nanna.


My Nanna, Joyce, who is 97 years old this year and who still wakes every morning to play Mozart and Chopin on her beloved piano, has always been one of the most important people in my life. In our family, we call her “Yoda”, because she is strong in the force and exceedingly wise! This 5ft tall lady, who taught me to bake, spent hours helping me with my music and can still whip my butt at scrabble and rummikub, is a truly remarkable woman.


When I was a boy, we used to talk to each other whilst making ginger biscuits. My Nanna is a deeply spiritual woman and she used to tell me about her favourite bible verses, one of which is from the book of the Prophet Micah, Chapter 6 and verse 8. That verse says – “God has shown you the best way to live – act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God”. I think those three statements hold profound and ancient wisdom that we need to draw on in the complexities of what we face together now. What does that actually mean for us in practice, as we try and transform culture, relationships and behaviours? I suppose I think it’s pretty simple.


Firstly, as leaders and as people who want to see change, we must act with justice. We must care deeply about issues of injustice in our society and be willing to challenge it whenever we see it. But we must not just care, we must act. We have to be willing to put justice into practice in what we build. We’re beginning to see this, and it’s exciting!


Secondly, we must love mercy. I think that means we have to love the principle of mercy and therefore we have to love people with mercy, or as I put it at The Kings Fund, with real kindness. I love what Prof Micheal West says, when he talks about looking at people with kind and fascinated eyes. We did a lot of thinking about the need for a different kind of power. I think we need to unashamedly talk much more about love and the transformative power it holds. MLK said that love on it’s own is anaemic – it certainly can be. Power alone is destructive. But power and love together is a force to be reckoned with! We need this kind of love in the power that we hold to keep mercy at the fore and kindness as our way of being.


Thirdly, we need to walk in humility WITH our communities. I replace the word God here, with communities, not because I don’t believe in God (I do), but then Nanna and I used to talk, she would tell me that walking humbly with God means walking humbly with other people – with your community. It is worked out in the practice of every day life and being willing to interact with and be changed by the person you most look down on or despise. Nanna isn’t a fan of people getting too big for their boots. She sticks her tongue out at arrogance and blows raspberries at pride. She’s not into titles or pretensions. As a true elder, she knows humility and walks in it. I have learned so much from her and it has shaped so much of who I am and how I choose to spend my time. We must learn to sit with, be with, learn with and create the future with our communities. We don’t have the right to dream up plans and do them to people. Together with, is the kind of humble, mercy-loving, justice-acting way that we so badly need. Without those under-girding, foundational truths, we will never see true population health. Our guiding principles and undergirding culture will shape what we become together.


In a time of so much uncertainty and complexity, we do well to stop and draw on the wisdom of the elders. And so I offer that of my lovely Nanna – in all you do, make sure you act with justice, love with kindness and walk in humility with your community. 

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The Extraordinary (Healing) Power of Forgiveness

Tweet There are many times when people come to see me, as a GP, and I cannot find a physical cause for their pain. There are various other conditions when people have what we call “medically unexplained symptoms”. For others, they can get stuck in a rut with their mental health and feel unable to [Continue Reading …]