Matthew Taylor’s blog on social capital this morning is a good counterexample to the myth that low income families are less able to engage with public services and their communities for lack of the time and energy enjoyed by the middle classes.
As Matthew suggested, there is a lot to be said for government and public services changing their cultures and institutional incentives “to enable managers and front line workers to engage citizens as co-producers of public value”. But I would argue that organisations need to think beyond themselves – their systems and structures – in trying to encourage social productivity. Instead, they need to consider the multiple ways in which people are motivated and live their lives.
The difference between Mario Luis Small’s thriving community and the childcare centre where parents didn’t even show up for a pizza party showed that social capital is created when citizens deciding for themselves that their involvement leads to better outcomes. The article suggests some of the ways they might be motivated to reach this conclusion, including:
• Financial incentives are just one of many reasons people feel inspired to work together; it is cheaper (in pure monetary terms) for mothers to volunteer their time in taking children to the zoo or museum than to pay the $300.
• Reciprocity – the promise of future help/support in return – I’ll pick your child up from school if you can return the favour another time.
• Friendship – social networks and relationships are the bedrock of human happiness – in meeting other parents and families in the neighbourhood we’re building our own, new community in which we feel a close sense of belonging.
Fear of cuts might to act as a financial incentive. We know from behavioural economics that we are ‘more averse to loss than gains’ and a snippet from Liverpool on the Today Programme this morning suggested this might be the case in practice (e.g. community groups buying out local pubs which would otherwise close).
But how might organisations and/or government ‘sell’ the other social benefits of coproduction? (“Come, volunteer – you might meet some new friends!” isn’t such a bad pitch when loneliness is said to be a hidden ‘epidemic’ of modern times.) If we can build social capital on a foundation deeper and more sustainable than financial incentives alone, we might root our principle of social productivity more firmly in the values we are trying to instil for our communities.