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Shifting Paradigms: Transaction, Transformation and Corporate Social Responsibility

We all understand the basics of marketing and sponsorship. We acknowledge and buy into these conceits. As we have become more sophisticated in our understanding of these mechanisms and the dark arts that are the foundations of those strategies, we become complicit in their success or failure – whilst aware of how we are being manipulated, sometimes we like to be manipulated…

In a time of austerity and bankers bonuses, business has to have stronger foundation principles – it has to have a purpose that informs and provides the lodestar for broader action; actions that reflect the ethos of the business and outline a commitment to making better our word and community. These may seem like fluffy liberal ideals, but if you doubt them as persuasive arguments, look what happens when your actions are misread and the perception of a business or organisation is permanently coloured – just think Nestle and powdered milk.

This may be an extreme example and most of us do not exist in the realm of such mega corporations, but the example is not redundant. Nestle operate on a global scale and their audience is global but the effects are translatable; a local business can have a major impact on their community for better or worse. Sometimes those impacts are unintentional and can often lead to negative perceptions. However, the reverse is also true and more and more prospective employees are taking a keen interest in the social and general positive impact that companies have in the world when to choosing who to work for, or stay working for. Perhaps, now even more so when the competition for the brightest and the best is becoming greater than it has ever been. In a time of austerity each decision needs to be carefully measured and considered.

On the face of it this article falls into the earlier observation of a cheap marketing tool – getting an article into an industry wide publication in order to extend my businesses reach (which just so happens to be in the area of CSR programme design) –  and this is fine. I know that my reader is sophisticated enough to understand this. But in the same way that CSR needs to be more than just an extension of the firm’s marketing account, this article works on more than one level.  It is an advertising exercise but it also serves as an education device. It extols the virtues of greater depth – it tells you why we do this – what benefits it has in the longer term and how that will not only benefit you as the target audience but how the work will positively affect the wider world.

Most medium and large organisations today have some kind of CSR profile. Most organisations will readily tackle two of the three pillars of CSR as defined by government. Business will often actively engage in reducing their environmental impact and have a positive effect on their local economy. Activity in these two areas is relatively simple for a business to address. I use the word “relatively” advisedly as whenever you introduce new systems or processes that attempt to change habit it is never easy or straightforward. However, an organisation’s positive impact on the environment and economy are easily defined, measured and assessed. For example, a policy to implement strategies to reduce an organisation’s carbon footprint needs buy in from employees and it needs to be monitored. But these policies often have an immediate and measurable impact on the bottom line – introducing a companywide policy that all printed material for use during internal meetings must use both sides of a sheet of paper reduces consumption of resources. A overly simple example but it is both easy to understand and the effects are immediate.

The third pillar of CSR is the area in which nearly all companies struggle, namely having a positive impact on their local community and the extent to which they meaningfully engage with wider society.

Addressing Environmental and Economic impact requires that a business essentially talks to itself.  Whilst this is not always easy, it is self-contained. Working with and having a positive impact on the community in which you operate necessitates that you broaden the conversation and start to have meaningful dialogue with the outside world. This is a much more complex proposition and has the effect that many of the CSR programmes in operation have fallen back to a philanthropic model. I believe that we need to change this model; shift the relationship from one of philanthropy to a paradigm which has transformation at its core.

It is no one’s fault that this has become the standard model between community engagement and CSR. It is the result of limited resources (particularly human), time (as the ultimate non-renewable resource) and an inability to approach potentially complex problems which lay outside the businesses primary objectives. It is easy for a law firm to engage in pro bono work, to allow their employee’s time to work with local charities, to sponsor an event or even hand out a cheque to a deserving group. And all of this is good and gratefully received. It is not the end of the story though and whilst this relationship remains the same then community engagement and integration between business and the society in which they exist will always remain at a surface perception level.

These transactional models are also limited in their benefit. A charity that receives a £5,000 cheque from a local law firm is very grateful – it may literally keep the doors open, but it has no longer lasting impact. The charity is stuck on a treadmill. The £5,000 goes into the fundraising pot and sucked into the black hole of operating costs. The charity will not often be in a position to use that cash to broaden their audience and the impact of their work, or the effectiveness of what it is that they do; it doesn’t help them to grow or to develop their model so that they can become less dependent on fundraising or through additional capacity and coverage enable them to apply for additional funding streams that would otherwise have been unavailable.

Performance Incorporated is implementing new models of CSR community engagement; models that move from the transactional toward the transformational – for both the community and corporation. These new models builds purposeful bridges between communities and organisations creating a two way exchange of skills, ideas and expertise to the benefit and enrichment of both. Programmes often use Active Citizenship as a core element upon which to design a system of collaboration. The precise nature of this exchange is as unique as the corporation and community involved; there is no one size fits all, nor should there be. It is this process of tailoring to best serve all parties that has prevented the evolution of community engagement as part of a CSR programme. Performance Incorporated works closely with organisations and communities to design frameworks and the tools needed to create long term, meaningful, partnerships.

We believe that it is only through a longer term investment in these principles that business will be able to build meaningful relationships that will enable them to grow.  By strengthening the bond between business and the community and by helping society to grow in times of austerity you are laying the foundations for stronger, more resilient communities that will be the foundation of your businesses success in the future.

If you would like to find out how your organisation could benefit from a bespoke CSR programme design please feel free to contact me at Chris@Performance-Incorporated.com and check out the website www.Performance-Incorporated.com 

this blog will be about helping people

things change

this blog has been about whatever i needed  to write about

this was about circumstance. this was about me. this was about an opinion. this was analysis

i hope this was interesting; i hope this might have made you think

none of this matters

this blog will be about helping people

i am here

i can help you

you can help me

let’s see what happens

Memory and Complexity, Goat Island and things that are easy to understand

Meaning remains elusive in the work of Goat Island. Meaning does not develop in a linear fashion. The spectator pieces together fragments throughout the work and often a sense of a whole is not discovered until the performance has completed. It may take considerably longer to come to some understanding. Their performance remains incomplete until the process of memory, their own and ours combined, has had time to intermingle, collude and collapse into one; to speak of dreams past and future.

Watching Lucy Cash’s film has taken me right back to the front row of an auditorium space. A space shaped like a Chevrolet logo. Her work is remarkable; for the first time when watching a film of something that originated as a live performance, I feel all the things that I did that first time in the auditorium, seeing and feeling the sweat; acknowledging the presence of persons sitting with me. Collectively becoming and remembering “How we learned to love the world”.

In many ways Goat Island’s performance style is a process of simple subtraction. We start with very little, we make sense of fragments of information and over the course of time the audience is able to identify particular motifs and recurring images, dialogue, sounds and movement. There is no extraneous material in their performance and as an audience we become more comfortable in deciphering the performance and making connections as the piece progresses. David Hughes observes when in his review for Dance Theatre Journal he writes:

The work frustrates when a founding concept or a resolution or a straightforward meaning is sought. Partly this is because in some sense the piece is running backwards, meaning is flowing back toward its source – the founding moment is later, meaning does not flow from it….All their material comes with baggage. Their own and ours.

We are used to processing meaning in a linear fashion. When watching, or reading, or listening, we gather information and process meaning as we become exposed to it. Whilst receiving information we are developing a comprehension of the material and using this new comprehension to postulate on the development of the work, conversation or performance. Goat Island prevent a linear process of learning. We need the whole before we can begin to understand much of what is taking place. As David Hughes comments, the founding moment is often buried within the performance. But does this matter in developing an understanding of our own? Rather it encourages the spectator to formulate their own response to the performance without the possibility of somehow being ‘wrong’ in their interpretation of events. Learning, or understanding, is not necessarily developed through a receptive process. In withholding an ‘answer’ or ‘solution’ Goat Island place the audience in a position of power or authority. It is the audiences’ discomfort in this positioning that can lead to an initial mental rejection or barrier between the spectator and the performance. The spectator has to develop a means of understanding that they are comfortable with; a process, whereby, they can begin to make sense of the work. This process takes time, and for some it may be impossible to develop this understanding during the performance itself as Lin Hixon has said:

To have an experience together, it takes time….You have to let things take the time they need to fulfil themselves

The fragmented nature of Goat Island’s work enables links to be made between seemingly disparate and unconnected images. When a linear process of meaning making is impossible, we try to connect images or sections that are placed next to each other. Whether the sections or images complement or juxtapose each other is, to a certain extent, irrelevant. Indeed, the more the sections seem to conflict with what has directly preceded; the more the spectator has to find ways in which they are connected. At the beginning of a performance the only way in which we can begin the process of understanding is to attach something of our own onto the performance. We bring memory and experience to the work and attempt to fill in the gaps with the familiar. As the performance develops we may gather more information that helps to further the process of understanding, but by this time there is, if we have allowed it, an agenda that we have already begun to form as to what the work is ‘about’. It is impossible for us to put aside completely our need to make sense, when we view the performance we immediately want to understand. The disruption of linear time and order in the work of Goat Island is key feature of their performance style. David Hughes again:

It is our own memories and their concomitant associations that bring the work to life in the moment of viewing.

We are forced as spectators to engage with the performance in a manner which we are unused to, we have to abandon methods of understanding with which we are comfortable and develop a new set of parameters in which to engage with the performance. The structural make up of Goat Island’s work provides a space for the audience to assign their own meanings to the performance. During a post show discussion Karen Christopher was asked how they knew when a piece was finally ready to be presented to an audience after such a long development time, anything up to two years. She responded that the work is never in fact actually ready until it is placed before an audience, and only then is the work ‘finished’. The next time the piece is performed another negotiation takes place with a new audience and so the process repeats itself. The company are responsible for their 50% of the performance and the remaining 50% is down to the audience and what they decide to bring with them – their ‘baggage’ as it were.

It is with great sadness that I will never have the opportunity to experience Goat Island’s work again, the company decided to part ways in 2009. Cash’s films and reinterpretation of the live performances are the closest I can ever get.

There is much to be learnt from the work of Goat Island. Young practitioners, in particular, can take inspiration from the company’s rejection of linear narrative and spectacle; it is ok to make demands of the spectator and in doing so make them complicit in the meaning making process. In taking them to the edge of reason and showing them a route into their own past.

What is special about Goat Island’s work and what makes it so relevant and important to contemporary practice, is the demands and emphasis they place on collaboration – between the company members in the devising and rehearsal process and, crucially, between the company and the audience. Only through honest collaboration and trust is a bond established and through that bond is understanding and meaning shared.

Debate, Partnerships and Local Goverment: It’s a Statement on Democracy.

 

 

Credit: Dane Comerford / University of Bristol

On a very damp Wednesday evening in Bristol, 400 people packed themselves into the Council House chamber to take part in a debate on whether the city should vote in favour of having a directly elected mayor. I say take part as it didn’t take long for the audience to get in the mood and warm the place up. We were barely ten minutes in before the first heckle, which set the tone nicely for the ensuing two hours.

As someone who has lived in Bristol all my life, the debate on the merits (or not) of an elected mayor, are of significant interest and now, after the event on Wednesday, I think I am starting to form a personal opinion. Which is considerably further along the decision making process than many in Bristol; most residents appear to be unaware that there is a referendum taking place, let alone any of the details, or the pros and cons involved in making this decision.

This was the fundamental motivation for embarking on this project of awareness raising. The RSA joined forces with the Festival of Ideas, University of Bristol and the Institute of Directors, three key organisations in the city, to design an event that would give a balanced presentation of the proposals and hear from both the supporters and those opposed to the idea of introducing a directly elected mayor.

As a process the four partners worked together over a period of six months to put together a balanced, expert panel, find a suitable venue and ensure that as many local media outlets were engaged and willing to take part in the debate as possible. As with all partnership working we each had our own motivations for wanting to be a part of this process; and we all had different perspectives and approaches to getting things done. But we were all motivated by the need to provide an unbiased platform that would extend public knowledge and participation.

Working together we hosted the largest live debate on this subject to date. We reached a significantly larger audience as news of the debate and final results on the night were broadcast on local television, radio and carried by print and web based media.

One of the arguments for an elected mayor is that it would help to get things done; that Bristol was too hamstrung by party political bickering. Perhaps, if local government was able to follow a similar methodology as the four host partners in this debate, and work together in a collaborative and collegiate fashion, then this “need” would never have arisen in the first place.

More fuel on the Romney Pyre?

Interesting piece in the Guardian today detailing some of the comments made by Jeb Bush during and after a speech in Dallas. Is Jeb going to enter the race? He is doing nothing to dampen the rumour mill, the exact opposite in fact – he is ramping up the speculation.

Is this a way to get his name into the field to see how well it plays before making a decision one way or the other?

He goes out of his way to criticise the current GOP field and if he now does sit it out on the side-lines he has potentially dealt the eventual nominee a critical blow. If even a senior member of the Republican party cant endorse the nominee how do they expect the ordinary voter to back them?

If I were cynical I might think that that was exactly the game plan; dip your feet in the water without really getting wet, see how it plays but unless it looks unbelievably good (it wont) back out having mortally wounded any nominee’s chances in the general and at the same time set himself up nicely for a run in 2016. If a Republican does get elected this time round his bid for the presidency might not come until 2020.

All eyes on Michigan – a defeat here and the Romney bid goes up in smoke.

The Troubles with Mitt

Mitt Romney is in trouble again…. This time it’s Michigan. If serious questions were not already being whispered about his ability to secure the GOP nomination the failure to carry his home state will turn whispers into shouts of discontent. Romney grew up in Michigan, his father was Governor (!), and should be winning the race in the state by a landslide margin He has picked up some ground in the last couple of days but a loss by one point is still a loss and to lose this state is going to be costly. At the time of writing, Romney looks to be pulling back level.

Comments that he would have let the car industry go bankrupt are not helping. The comments were made in op-ed piece after Obama came to office and were a criticism of the way the new President was handling the economic crisis. Only in the last month GM reclaimed the top spot as the world’s largest car manufacturer with record $9 billion profits.

As predicted on this blog in the past, GOP voters are looking for any excuse not to back Romney. Now that Rick Santorum has had time to present himself to the wider public they are liking what they see. He is clean cut, articulate and stands for everything that Romney doesn’t, which is a major plus point as far as the GOP electorate are concerned. He presents a palatable face to fairly extreme right wing politics and he is speaking to the base in a way that Romney hasn’t and probably can’t.

Crucially, Santorum is now also starting to win states. His strategy of not campaigning in Florida has paid off in a major way; Gingrich is a busted flush after falling from favour in a spectacular way in the sunshine state (he is polling in fourth place in Michigan) and he has having trouble in his home state of Georgia. With Gingrich increasingly marginalised it is surely only a matter of time before he bows out of the race, although he is stubborn enough to fight on, surely a defeat in Georgia on Super Tuesday will mean the end?

Michigan (and the other states that poll on the same day – all of which show Santorum with a healthy lead) could finally be D-Day for Mitt. A report on ABC quoted an unnamed Republican senator that if Romney failed to win Michigan that a new candidate must enter the race. His solution? Jeb Bush. Former Governor of Florida and of course brother of G.W.

How this would be better for the general election hopes I can’t fathom. Surely the American public aren’t ready to elect another Bush to the presidency? And surely not so soon after the last Bush oversaw the current financial and unemployment crisis. But then again they did re-elect him in 2004 as the fiasco and entrenchment in Iraq was reaching its zenith. Cues at the polling station which were originally speculated to be for John Kerry and a protest against Iraq, all of them turned out to be Bush voters and saw him return by a landslide margin.

I have taken a few positions on VP candidates based on Romney winning the nomination which I will be looking at and preparing to move on should Romney indeed lose in Michigan. I think most of the selections that I made are still in the picture but if a staunch conservative does get the nomination then some new names may start to come forward – someone who appeals to moderates is going to be crucial as is the Latino and black vote. Santorum is losing to Romney with women voters which will be another sector crucial general election. Obama does well with voters in all these sectors so a Republican VP is going to have to bring something to the table that makes up for the Santorum’s (and likely other conservative nominees) deficit in this area.

Romney still has to be the most electable in a general election of all the Republican candidates, both those in the race and those who are still looking on from the side-lines. Santorum’s hard right politics, despite his clean cut image will alien moderates and the election cant be won in the south alone. I wonder then if we might see a return to the selection of a VP candidate based upon whether they can carry their own state? The trend has been to pick a VP on the basis of what the top of the ticket is perceived to be lacking – Biden brought the youthful Obama foreign policy credibility. The strategy of picking VP to carry a major swing state has not really been proven to consistently work though. It does start to make Marco Rubio look more and more attractive as a VP pick – but he is young, inexperienced and he has consistently ruled himself out. The odds remain very short on him though and there is probably little value in taking a punt.

With Romney looking more and more prone to failing in his bid for the nomination other possibilities are fast emerging. But this race has been volatile in the extreme and every time a “D-Day” for Romney has approached he has done enough to keep himself in the race and rebounded well.

All this is playing into Obama’s hands though and the winning electoral college vote might be much higher than the polls are currently suggesting.

Illness and the Other – if that makes it easier.

I am back at work tomorrow for the first time in more than a month. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t more than a little apprehensive.

This is the first time in my working life that I have ever suffered any kind of lengthy lay off due to ill health. On the scale of things I have been very fortunate. I have recovered remarkably quickly. The Bell’s Palsy has cleared up in just over a month; it can take anything from a couple of weeks to six months (sometimes considerably longer) for it to clear and it is often the case that the physical signs of the illness never recover completely – a scar remains.

In my case all the physical signs have all but disappeared. I get caught sometimes by a “fluttering” in the areas of my face that suffered the worst, but you would never notice this to look at me – it Is very infrequent and subtle. Maybe this will never return to “normal”. I don’t know and nor can anyone say for sure one way or the other. Whilst living through a time when humanity has reached the advanced stage of being able to split the genome, there remains no medical opinion that can definitively say how, when or why Bell’s Palsy occurs. I have no idea whether it will come back or even if I am now more susceptible than anyone else.

But the whys and wherefores are not really the subject of this post.

For the first time in my life I have experienced a major health concern – and nor is this really the subject of this blog.

I think, and I may be wrong as I am writing this as it forms in my head, this blog is about the other illness. Or perhaps the illness and the Other me.

The illness has now all but departed my body. I have no idea whether it will come back, but the experience of the illness and its effects remain in the conscious and I can already feel how it will continue to influence my life.

I have suffered an extremely mild illness when you put it up against some of the others – it’s not cancer. Nor is It HIV/ AIDS. It’s not malaria or polio. Nor is it a progressive disease of the nervous system.

The only effects that remain for me are those in my head.

Tomorrow (actually it is later today) is the first day for me at work in more than a month and there is a part of me that is absolutely terrified of this fact.

It is a completely irrational fear.

I am totally cognisant if the irrationality of this fact. Nothing bad is going to happen tomorrow, but part of my brain tells me that it might be a disaster and I might not be able to cope. The larger part of my brain tells me that this is absolute tosh. Nothing is going to be so insurmountable that a) my world is going to come crumbling down and b) that in any case, there are so many people to call on that will help me fix it, whatever it could possibly be –it (whatever “It” might be) will be alright.

I met with a friend for coffee last week. It was the first contact I had had with someone other than family for the best part of a month. No contact with other people has led me to crave human interaction and I thoroughly enjoyed being out and about and talking about ideas. I have no idea how being in a crowd of people will go. Or more specifically having to socialise in a crowd.

How did this happen? Where does the doubt come from?

I have been chair of the board for Studio Upstairs for the past 18 months. It is a fantastic organisation and has taught me a lot about mental illness and how charities operate. Personally it has been a fantastic career development opportunity.

Only now can I even begin to comprehend some of the most basic principles that organisation strives to alleviate.

I have all the support that I could ever need but there are so many that have no support structures around them. But even more disturbing than that, for many, they never reach a point where their illness is recognised. They are labelled as “mad” and left to fend for themselves. More often than not, these are also the most vulnerable members of our community. Those that are overlooked and passed by.

If I am even a little nervous; a little concerned about what might happen when I wake up in the morning; a little overwhelmed by expectation; a little displaced – I can’t even begin to imagine the suffering inside the head of someone who has had to face the indignity and fecklessness of the crowd.

Can you?