Here’s a nice article from What’s The Pont, discussing why sharing good practice is often harder than it needs to be and less successful than we’d like.
I agree with everything here, but I would add one point. Sometimes good practice isn’t replicated, even if we do all of these things correctly, because we take someone else’s success story and patiently deconstruct it until we have something that won’t work. In trying to understand it we destroy it.
I’ll tell you a story … there once was a voluntary project aimed at getting vulnerable young people off the streets. Without going into boring detail, I can say that it was a resounding success. When open, the space was filled with young people. When closed, there would still be 20 kids on the doorstep asking whether it would be open soon.
The project was happy to share its ethos, and there were no secrets or magic ingredients. So another organisation – a public sector one, and this is important – decided that they needed to set up something similar.
Simple, right? I mean, all the information was there free to use. But … then the deconstruction began.
The community project used an empty run down commercial building. The public sector decided this was neither safe nor appropriate, and negotiated a very large sum of funding for a shiny new building.
The community project was governed and staffed by volunteers: creatives, musicians and the young people who attended. The public sector felt this was too risky, and put the new project under the control of social and youth work professionals.
The community project had very few rules – one small sheet of guidelines that boiled down to ‘Don’t Be A Dick’. The new project had no charter with young people, but instead put up signs in every visible space. No smoking. No ball games. Keep off the grass. No congregating in corridors. Keep the noise down.
The community project had a board who ran events supported by volunteers. They were always present, always visible. The new project employed a manager who sat in an office out of sight waiting for people to book space.
Now, the community project has closed down. It had its problems and made mistakes.* But it was loved and used by its young members. The new project, while still open, has had several years of funding from the public sector, and now is being forced to diversify to create income. It has become, in effect, a sports centre. Its spotless white corridors are quiet, its well-lit open spaces conspicuously clear of untidy teenagers.
Now I’m not saying the community project was perfect … far from it. But it did what it set out to do, really really well. All the things that made it successful were the things that the new project removed and avoided – all the risks and rough edges. While all the things that doomed it to eventual failure are just as applicable to the new project, and can be seen happening even now, barely 2 years after opening.
Much more importantly though, our neighbourhood’s vulnerable youngsters are back to hanging around the arcades, the park and the bus station after dark. Can you imagine what we could have achieved if the public sector’s resources (both finance and expertise) had been applied to the community project’s model?
# Ok, right, so mansplaining is when a man explains something to a woman – computers or cars are particular favourites – even though she already knows, didn’t ask him for help and wasn’t having any difficulty. I propose ‘govsplaining‘ as the term for when we pat the community/voluntary sector on the head and tell them they’ve done remarkably well considering but we’ll take charge from here.
* Fair disclosure – I was one of the board members.