How to avoid real change: 3

Real change in public services is never easy, quick nor comfortable. If the people who are currently charge were the right ones to transform things, they would have done it, so real reform rarely rewards us with bigger budgets or more prestigious jobs: instead it often involves stepping back and letting others take charge. It’s no wonder we’re so adept at blocking real change. Here is the last of three blogs setting out common arguments for business as usual.

3. Our problems are too big to think small scale

Just as we are happier stampeding in the wrong direction, than crawling in the right one (see blog 1 in this series), we are happier doing what we all accept is wrong on a massive scale, than doing the right thing on a small scale.

The learning from the most disruptive – and global – changes we have seen in the way that organisations touch our lives suggest that the challenge is not industrialising the personal, it’s creating the structure within which many personal interactions can take place (Facebook, Twitter, online dating) or the marketplace in which many personal transactions can take place (Uber, AirBnB, eBay). Those new industries rely upon tech for their vehicles, but stand or fall by the success with which they can enable and contain a certain kind of relationship between humans. It’s always a relationship in which both parties can contribute and in which there is feedback in both directions. It usually has space for the quirky and personal and it helps people to find others who share their particular quirks.

In public services, we are still wedded to thinking on a large scale, despite years of ‘personalisation’. We are still suspicious of the ability of individuals to act in any way other than selfishly, so we may give them a personal budget allocation but we police how they spend it and take bits of it back quicker than you can say Resource Allocation System. Where someone creates something effective on a small scale we wonder whether we can industrialise it and if we can’t we dismiss it as not replicable, rather than thinking about the conditions which allowed it happen, and which could allow more people to be equally creative. We know what those conditions are: access to often quite small amounts of money with minimum fuss; support with legalities and practicalities; someone to share the financial and other risks with back-up available when it’s needed; the ability to form a community with others doing similar stuff. Our colleagues at Community Catalysts ( have a network of hundreds of small enterprises called Small Good Stuff where you can see what this looks like in all its complex diversity and simple humanity.

We also know that whenever we think large scale, we always get it wrong, because large, de-personalised systems cannot help people live well; they can only get in the way.

Even though Shared Lives now reaches 12,000 people, we still hear people say that it’s too small to be the solution, as if any of the innovations which have changed our lives for the better have started off as anything other than small.

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