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Podcast Article February 21st, 2024
Delivery • Innovation

Reimagining Government season 2 episode 7: transcript

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In the season 2 wrap-up, Athena Hughes, Naja Nelson, and our host Adrian Brown revisit highlights and delve into the topics we covered. Join us to explore failure, imagination in government, and what on earth a paradigm shift is.

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[00:00:00] SFX Okay. That's wrap about. Wrap it up. Wrap it up. Wrap it up. Wrap it up. Get outta here. That about wraps it up.

[00:00:09] Adrian Brown: Welcome to this special wrap-up episode of Reimagining Government. My name is Adrian Brown, and I'm the Executive Director at the Centre for Public Impact. Today, I'm joined by two of our previous guest hosts to revisit topics and highlights from season two.

I'm joined by Senior Associate supporting the Centre for Public Impact’s Global Development Initiative, Naja Nelson. 

[00:00:29] Naja Nelson: Hello. Excited to be back 

[00:00:31] Adrian Brown: And Senior Associate supporting CPI’s Legitimacy portfolio, Athena Hughes. 

[00:00:35] Athena Hughes: Hi Adrian. Great to be back.

[00:00:39] Adrian Brown: So let's go right back to episode one, and that's the episode in which we were talking about earned legitimacy, uh, and it was hosted by you, Naja.

Looking back at episode one, what was some of the highlights, uh, that really stood out for you? 

[00:00:52] Naja Nelson: Yeah, I think the, the major highlight for me was. From Dr. Escobar, when he talked about the idea [00:01:00] of not viewing power as like a zero-sum phenomenon. Let's say I'm a leader who has a lot of decision-making power.

If I then go the route of trying to create mechanisms to like share that power, that doesn't mean I'm losing something. It just really means I'm generating something else or I'm creating something else. I feel like I'm thinking about a lot more about how I might just like reframe how I, I'm imagining just like collaboration.

The point I'm trying to make is that a zero-sum understanding of power is very limiting because power can also be generative. Power can generate power that wasn't there before. When you share power, what you're potentially doing is mobilising legitimacy and capacity that you wouldn't have otherwise.

[00:01:46] Oliver Escobar: Sharing power is a way of generating new power that wasn't there before. 

Adrian Brown: Oliver Escobar also talked about participatory budgeting, which I know a lot of people have been interested in since [00:02:00] we released that episode. What are your thoughts on, on that? Have you, have you, have you discussed that with anybody since we recorded?

[00:02:07] Naja Nelson: Yeah. I mean, I feel like when I talked to like friends and family, I think they were like really all for the idea of like bringing the decision making power to the people. But I think there's still like a level of skepticism, at least I'm seeing from like my friends and family about like, that sounds good in theory, but like when are people actually gonna do it?

How long is that gonna take? What is that gonna realistically look like? At least what I'm seeing is that there's a lot of people who agree with it being the right thing to do, but I think there's just barriers there of like, is it possible or are there like certain barriers that can't be broken down that I think people are still working through.

[00:02:44] Adrian Brown: We also heard from Jaime Junior, who works as advocacy and community education coordinator with the Disability Network of Wayne County Detroit. And I remember Jaime saying something along the lines of, uh, when you're, when you're engaging [00:03:00] with the public, always being aware of who's not in the room.

[00:03:03] Jaime Junior: Something that I learned in our first cohort that was reinstilled in me is the idea of ABL. Always be looking for who's not in the room. Always be looking for who's not represented. Even as your mapping resources, look at the fact that your community members are one of the largest assets you have.

[00:03:32] Adrian Brown: That's certainly something I remember from that episode. And I imagine it connects with a lot of your work Athena on, uh, legitimacy. 

[00:03:39] Athena Hughes: Yeah. Um, one thing that really resonated with me about that part of the conversation was a point that Naji made about, it's important to then find out why people aren't in the room.

Um, and from there, like is it something that's within our power or within our responsibility to change? And on the project that I'm working on right now, we're working with city government [00:04:00] officials who are trying to apply an innovative human-centred design process to a specific problem they're having in their city.

And I've heard communications officials from one city, for example, express frustration that people don't engage with the city's communications, like email newsletters and social media posts. And that frustration is really legitimate. Like, you want people to engage with you. They're not giving you any feedback, and that is frustrating.

But the important follow-up is finding out, well, why does that happen? Why aren't they responding? Is it that we are not using the right communication channels for their preferences? Is it that we're fully relying on internet communication when they don't use the internet as much? Um, is it that they don't even know that this is a resource that exists?

And what might we be able to do to change that? So it's finding out who's not in the room and then finding out why is gonna be really essential to actually building those [00:05:00] bridges and, and fixing those problems. 

[00:05:03] Adrian Brown: Let's move on to episode two, though, where we were just talking about long-term thinking in governance, and that was with the help of our colleague, uh, Javier Godoy and her interviewees.

I've heard of a concept which sounds similar to this, called cathedral thinking, which links to this idea that in the past when cathedrals were being constructed, everybody knew that it was gonna take longer than one person's lifetime to design, and then mostly build that cathedral. So if you're the architect, you were thinking way beyond your own lifetime and you would never even see the cathedral, uh, completed.

Uh, so this idea of cathedral thinking seems quite similar to seven-generation thinking.

[00:05:49] Athena Hughes: Yeah, this is something that I think about a lot actually. Um. You know, we have a lot of systemic and structural challenges that are very complex and will take a long time to solve [00:06:00] and are often also very urgent to solve, um, a lot of problems that should have been solved yesterday. That urgency, I think is always in tension with the reality of if you want an effective solution, it's not gonna be something that happens overnight.

And so I find the perspective of cathedral thinking or seventh-generation thinking really helpful in the sense of a reminder to take a step back and look at the big picture. I think, um, Javiera's mention of needing a humble mindset to do that is really crucial. 

[00:06:33] Javiera Godoy: It is so important to bring more of that humble mindset.

We are all part of it. We're working together as a community to achieve something that we believe in and we might not see the result, and we might not be the final authors of it.

[00:06:49] Athena Hughes: Stepping away from that desire to be the one or the ones that fix everything, um, and just be part of a bigger, slower, [00:07:00] long-term effective solution.

Personally, I was raised in a context of like the Jesuit branch of the Catholic Church, and there's a very popular quote from, uh, Bishop Romero that, you know, you see a lot, um, that includes the, the piece “we are workers, not master builders. We are prophets of a future not our own”.And it, I, I think that that mindset is really essential to effective long-term change. And it's also really difficult and really frustrating sometimes to have to recognise that the problem won't fix itself overnight. 

[00:07:34] Adrian Brown: Absolutely. And I love that connection between, it's not, it's, it's about thinking into the future, which, of course, that whole episode was about long-term thinking, but also that connection to systems thinking.

So it's about expanding our horizons, both sort of temporally and from a systems perspective, to, I suppose, avoid us going down one particular line of thinking or one particular [00:08:00] area where we think the answer lies and being much more open, both in terms of the possibilities now today as we sort of imagine ourselves in this wider system, but then also how that system's going to evolve not just in the next one or two years, but for potentially generations into the future.

And how humbling that is, just as a notion as we sort of think about the challenges that we do face Naja, I, I imagine a lot of this. Is, uh, particularly relevant in the global development space. 

[00:08:27] Naja Nelson: Yeah, definitely. I think a lot of the things that, for me, that stand out a lot in this episode about like this long-term thinking though, is the idea that there's probably a need for level setting or like more honesty. 'Cause in my head I just think if I am an elected official and I am trying to get elected, I don't know if I can lean into getting elected by being completely honest all the time by saying, ‘hey, I'm going to work toward this goal, but it might not get [00:09:00] done in my single term or two terms. We might still have a lot of work that yet isn't still done and that isn't necessarily super electable.

Um, and so I think like there is a link there about how important, like the narrative, if you are gonna be like a leader trying to work toward changing longs. Standing problems and having this forward-thinking perspective that you might also have to be honest with people about saying like, this is maybe realistically how much we can accomplish.

That doesn't mean that it isn't like progress, but I, I wanna make sure people don't feel like I'm gonna come in and four years and change what took a hundred years or 400 years to get us to where we are. 

[00:09:41] Adrian Brown: Yeah, absolutely. And if I remember correctly, I think we did touch on that, that real tension between the electoral cycle and then even beneath that, the constant drumbeat of the need for headlines, the need for announcements, and the immediacy of now with also that really important perspective of taking that longer [00:10:00] term view, being more humble.

Thinking more systemically and those clearly there are tensions there, but, but also potentially some opportunities, uh, to do things a little differently as you, as you're pointing out there, Naja.

Well if episode two was sort of expanding our horizons into the future with, uh, with long-term thinking, episode three saw us tackling what was potentially the most, I don't know, esoteric topic of this, uh, of this season when we were talking about paradigm shifts with our very own visiting Professor in public management, Toby Lowe.

[00:10:43] Toby Lowe: What I find really interesting and exciting about the concept of paradigms is kind of three, three core things. Really, a paradigm helps us to understand how we turn data into meaning. Data doesn't mean anything by itself. We have to make [00:11:00] sense of it, and we make sense of the data that we see by fitting it into an existing story or seeing the data actually confounds that existing story.

I think it helps us to understand how deep change happens when we can't fit the data we've got into a grand narrative. It forces us to ask questions about that story. Does that story really make sense? Now that we know this about the world? Do we need a different story? Uh, can we adapt and tweak the existing one?

And finally, framing, cause hat kind of deep change as paradigm shift helps us to understand that there's power embedded in those grand narratives. These grand narratives have gatekeepers, right? People and organisations who decide how the story changes or not making paradigm shift in the world. Usually requires change in who those gatekeepers are, or at the very least a radical change in how they think and act.

So people with this kind of power are notoriously unwilling to [00:12:00] give up that kind of power without a struggle. 

 Adrian Brown: Now one of the stories we featured, uh, in this episode actually, that I've had a lot of feedback on was the example that Toby used of cycling in the Netherlands. And we often think of the Netherlands as being a very cycle-friendly society.

But actually, it turned out that that was not the case a few decades ago, and it was actually by reframing. The issue of cycling away from just purely transportation to something a lot more about health and society and wellbeing and, and a range of other issues that managed to bring cycling much more to the fore.

So it was interesting to hear that story, and we've actually had a response from one of our listeners who heard that, and they said:

“Having grown up in Amsterdam, the Dutch example of a paradigm shift very much spoke to me. Currently, I live in Barcelona, and the city is on its bumpy road of paradigm shift where not all citizens are on board with that shift.

We'll have [00:13:00] to see how the development of a bike and pedestrian-friendly city will continue. From now on with the change of local government, there are current plans for breaking down already created by lanes polarising the debate, and from my Dutch perspective, it is completely unbelievable that it's a debate in the first place. Understanding it as a paradigm shift makes it make sense. Thank you for this educational podcast.” 

So I appreciate that feedback from the listener. Athena, have you, since hearing that episode, thought about paradigm shifts in your work? Or have you noticed any examples?

Uh, in, in the world around us of paradigm shifts either happening or needing to happen. 

[00:13:39] Athena Hughes: Yeah. Um, one thing I've been thinking about, not at work specifically, but more broadly in the context of, um, at one point there was a discussion of the challenge of kind of exception stories and how they challenge the fundamental system logic and.

Rather than shifting the paradigm, [00:14:00] sometimes they get held up as like, ‘oh, these are interesting practices at the edge of the system’, which ends up reinforcing the system as the norm as opposed to creating a paradigm shift. One thing I've noticed a lot, this is largely on social media, is for years now here in the States, we'll see these quote-unquote feel-good local news stories about a kid who is in the hospital and his neighbours had a yard sale to raise money for his medical funds. 

And this is held up as this heartwarming story and more and more in the last few years, the response has been that shouldn't have been a problem in the first place. Yes, it's wonderful that there's this example of community care, but that's one kid and that's happening at scale.

His medical bills should not be what they are in the first place. And historically those feel good stories have sort of been held up as edge cases that end up reinforcing the norm of like, it's normal for healthcare to cost this much [00:15:00] and therefore what a wonderful thing that neighbors come together to meet those costs.

There's a paradigm shift happening in certain spaces saying, actually no, this isn't heartwarming. It's horrifying because for every one kid whose neighbors raise money for him, there's a lot more tha don't have that for whatever reason. So I think that's a, that's potentially an example of a, a shift that's happening where historically those have been edge cases that reinforce the norm and now people are challenging the norm that they used to reinforce.

[00:15:31] Adrian Brown: That's a great example. Athena and I, I, I do think it's one of those episodes where we have a quite a lot of responses to it actually from, from people and although the language and the concepts can sometimes sound a bit off-putting and the, the language around paradigm shift isn't necessarily obvious or, or, or easy to reflect on I think once it's one of those ideas that once you've heard it, you start to spot examples of it, or it helps you reframe something which perhaps was a little trickier to [00:16:00] understand. Or it was difficult to understand how we could make progress without that framing. And then once you apply that framing you're like, okay, you know, it's still not easy, but I actually have now a way of thinking about this, which might be more productive than just imagining. We're kind of tinkering around sort of edge case, in the edge case situation that you were talking about there, Athena.

So let's move on now to episode four, which is your episode Athena on Failure in Government. Uh, and this was an, an experimental episode where we left the editing to a minimum to highlight our own failures as we went along. I don't think we made any though, Athena, so it turned out that it was okay.

Athena, what have you been your reflections on that podcast since we recorded it? 

[00:16:40] Athena Hughes: The big one is in the spirit of trying to kind of practice the big scale changes that we want to make at a smaller scale, um, I've been trying to be more open about where I'm struggling, um, especially when it comes to work where historically I have wanted to just kind of either immediately jump [00:17:00] into, okay, well how do we fix this? What do we do? Move past the feeling of failure or struggle, um, or not even acknowledge that there's a problem to begin with and just keep it moving. Um, and I've been trying to be more open with my colleagues about where I'm having issues or where I'm struggling.

On a personal level in the work that I do, and I also was on a project that did not go well. And as a team we did a lot of work of really intentionally examining, like, what went wrong? Why did this happen? And I. Where could we make changes as an organisation? So something like this doesn't happen again, and it's, you know, it was hard kind of unpacking, like, where did we go wrong?

But I think it's been really, really fruitful. I've had a lot of really generative and sometimes downright exciting conversations about what kind of changes we can make on a bigger scale. And I think that that's been really helpful [00:18:00] And, and I will say in the back of my mind has been this conversation about like, let's be honest about our failures.

Let's be honest about our struggles. It's difficult, but it's also kind of exciting to see those changes. And also it's a little vulnerable when it's talking about like my own personal, where I'm running into trouble. 

[00:18:17] Adrian Brown: Thank you for sharing that. Yeah, that's, it's, I think one of the things that CPI that we've tried to do over the years is to practise what we preach, I suppose, in a whole range of different ways.

And, uh, certainly lots of things we do don't work out as we hope they do, or projects just, just don't go that well. As you, as you said, relationships can break down things, things can go awry all sorts of ways, and, exactly as you're talking about, and we just, and we explored together in that episode, I suppose not, not allowing the natural human and completely understandable response of being a little bit embarrassed or, you know, let's just move, let's just put that behind us.

Let's move on. Let's turn the page to become the predominant thinking. But actually just as you, you [00:19:00] put it much better than I could, Athena, but to, to sort of pause in that moment and sort of sit with that failure or with those feelings around what's happened a little bit longer and explore what that means and what we can learn from it.

And we actually heard from Dan Vogel, who used to be the Regional Director for Centre for Public Impact in North America and is now the Chief Executive of the Flourish Fund. And he was talking about a job he had along while ago now when he was working, uh, as a representative of the federal government, uh, particularly in response to Hurricane Katrina and all of the issues and failures that went along with that.

So perhaps we can just remind ourselves of some of the things Dan said.

Dan Vogel:  If you're talking about examples of government failure, like no question Katrina was a profound failure. It was government at all levels failing with some pretty catastrophic consequences. So more than a thousand people died.

Buildings have collapsed. There are reports from New Orleans of, uh, people trapped in buildings that have come down around them. They have made, I [00:20:00] remember sitting in the White House in the days after the storm happened and watching these just absolutely horrific images on TV of people who were stranded on highway overpasses or on their rooftops.

SFX: Joe Edwards rushed to get himself and as many neighbours as possible into his truck. They drove to this bridge where they've been living ever since. 

Dan Vogel: And there was a certain measure of just thinking, how on earth is this possible in the United States of America in 2005 that people are in this situation?

And then there was a whole dimension of Katrina as a natural disaster, but also compounded by human failures and government failures because a lot of the worst damage that happened in New Orleans was a result of the failures of the flood protection system, levees and flood walls, that, that failed. And, and as a result, 80% of the city flooded.

SFX: The city flooded not just with stormwater, but with sewage and chemical residue from the plants that surround it. This is New Orleans. This is [00:21:00] downtown New Orleans here. And, uh, I tell you the last time I covered this, this city, it was full of life. The, the streets were full of people. Uh, it's a much different story here today.

Adrian: So, Naja, any reflections on. On that clip that we, that we just heard there from Dan.

[00:21:19] Naja Nelson:  I think it's an, actually, a really good example with, it was a, a big, I can't even say a big mistake. I think there were a lot of mistakes made along the way, which could make a lot of community members and residents and incredibly distrustful.

And so like, I'm thinking from like the lens of like, for these community members, right? Like, I don't know if that's necessarily the time or the place to be like, please trust me. So I think there's maybe a little bit of the, the soft skills of reading the room of learning, like is this the right time to really be trying to feel this out to see if I'm like someone's fan favourite right now.

And really just like focusing on like, how can I show up [00:22:00] now? How can I do a good job with what I have, how can I steward what, what trust you are giving to me? Well, and hopefully try and build it over time. 

[00:22:10] Adrian Brown: Absolutely. Well, if you want to listen to, uh, an extended discussion about, uh, that response and other examples of failure and how to, uh, share failures, then listen to episode four from this season.

And we actually managed to do that without swearing at all, the episode itself has a lot of swearing in it, so, uh, be, be warned. We are gonna take a short break now, uh, before we come back and complete our review of season two by talking about episodes five and six around imagination in government and complexity in difficult conversations. So stay with us.

So welcome [00:23:00] back to this recap edition of Reimagining Government, where we're looking back across the whole of season two. We're now up to episode five, uh, where we took a look at Imagination in Government with Programme Manager Keira Lowther. We heard some fascinating examples of imagination in practice, in government settings.

SFX Tube announcer: This is Stockwell. Change here for the Northern Line 

[00:23:26] Hannah McDowall: In Stockwell, they have a very high proportion of Portuguese-speaking people. I think one in six people have Portuguese as their first language and what, they've noticed is that they have poorer health outcomes than the rest of the population in that area.

And when you look at it, it's all what we, you know, we call here social determinants of health, income, and opportunity affecting people's ability to access a healthy lifestyle and also partly culture. So we were invited [00:24:00] by the health practitioners in the community, the local gp, the general practitioner, doctor said, ‘could you come and work with the community and find out what kind of model of health is gonna help?

Because we have tried to put on clinics for blood pressure and stopping smoking and yada yada yada, and it's not making a blind bit of difference. ‘Everybody knows they should do it, but they don't do it. We worked with a number of representatives from organisations from that community, like, but community-based organszations, um, and some health practitioners with 15 um, households.

We designed a model of health that wasn't around the individual, but it was around the whole household. How do we choose together to be well? What does that mean in terms of supporting mum with her smoking, supporting dad with his English? Because if he's got his English, then he can do all kinds of other things.

That means that the daughter doesn't have to do them for him. [00:25:00] And all of these factors that they wanted to improve, some of them would come under the title of health, like maybe the smoking. But many of them are just about being connected and agent for and purposeful in a community, and they identified what they were the community did. And we did that by imagining what a future would look like in their household, in which people were well, by imagining a community in which they felt confident moving around, and they developed different kinds of prototype interventions for the community. So what if we ran our own, um, language classes where we put on a TV show in Portuguese and we all had to go at translating it into English?

And so the kids who are at school learning the English, they all teach us English, and they also have to then learn their Portuguese. Now it becomes a language lesson, but it's actually also about retaining the culture, passing it onto the next generation. You know, another thing is they said, we would love it if the doctor would come and have a meal with us and talk [00:26:00] to all of us about our health together.

So people making massive changes in their lives when the household is at the centre. That now is being taken from a sort of prototype idea to a pilot idea by, um, Public Health England, and they're growing. How do we think about mainstreaming this in other places? So a household model of health rather than individual model of health.

Adrian Brown: And that was Hannah McDowall, who's the Co-Director of Canopy working there in, uh, the South London borough of Stockwell, and I love that example because when Hannah's talking about it. As she gets to the bit where, uh, they've sort of changed the framing and they're bringing, uh, bringing everyone together, sharing the different, uh, experiences using language, et cetera, the momentum really starts to build and how she's describing it and it's sort of, and another thing and another benefit, and then there's this other benefit as well. So I love how it sort of snowballs. Athena, any reflections from you on, on either that [00:27:00] particular example or the idea of using imagination in government more broadly?

[00:27:04] Athena Hughes: One thing that really stands out to me in that example is that it sort of ties back to our first conversation about legitimacy. Um, when you start out by asking, well, why aren't people engaging, um, with what we're already trying to do, recognising that there's a gap between the goals of the programmes that exist and what they're actually achieving.

What they did in this example is be really open to the answers of why. What exists isn't working and then get really creative with what would it look like to not have it be that way. Um, and I think what's really essential to that is that, um, they didn't start with a solution in mind when they went to the community to talk about.

What changes they could make? They're not going in with proposals of saying like, well, what if we tried this or we're thinking of this other programme. What do you think they said? What would work for [00:28:00] you? And that sounds like it yielded a lot more effective solutions for this particular community than might have happened if it was the people who, in this case, hold the power, just proposing additional possible solutions that may or may not go anywhere. 

[00:28:19] Adrian Brown: There's a constant tension, I think in a lot of the work we do between this idea, which of course is widely accepted of best practices and what works and the idea of sort of identifying what works and then copying it everywhere, but how that is in complete tension to what you were just saying, Athena, which is if you turn up with the answer and say, well, we know that this works, so we're just going to do it here, then that completely removes, not only people's agency, but the possibility of imagination, I think, or certainly imagination in any significant extent. Maybe just sort of tweaking around the edges. So having an awareness of, certainly there are situations where, of course we just know what the [00:29:00] the answer is because it's absolutely agreed and we can, we can roll it out.

But I think oftentimes when we think we know what the answer is, we actually don't, and we're relying on, or it works in one place and isn't gonna work somewhere else. And, and that's exactly when you need to have imagination being encouraged and, and sort of centred rather than the solution, which may or may not work.

Naja, any reflections from you on this episode? 

[00:29:27] Naja Nelson: Yeah, it, it makes me think a lot about what Toby said about like, paradigms in, in this way of like, if you're coming into a community with this like, predetermined paradigm or like this prescriptive approach of like, this is the way that we're gonna make this happen.

Um. You, I think you're missing out on a lot of richness about what could possibly emerge. Like the, I think it leaves no room for emergence, and I think that's the issue because you're going in with a single solution versus like taking the systems-oriented approach where you're like really [00:30:00] trying to understand the full landscape and understand the full needs of the people who are present so that you can develop multiple solutions and, and maybe iterate on those solutions, um, as things change just because we know systems are so fluid and complex. 

[00:30:16] Adrian Brown: Well, let's move on to our final episode now, episode six, where we took on another ambitious topic, complexity and difficult conversations. Uh, and we had a whole group of interviewees who were involved in the Inverlyde Early Help in Custody service.

SFX: Those living in our poorest neighbourhoods are 15 times more likely to die from drugs. There has been a steep and sustained rise in the loss of life across Scotland since 2013. The rate of death is much bigger than other European neighbors, Finland, Ireland, Sweden, even the rest of Great Britain, a fraction of Scotland.

Karen Lawson: It may not be a surprise to people, but Scotland has the highest rate [00:31:00] of drug deaths in in Europe, and the rate of people who die from a drug- related death is almost three times higher than anywhere else in the UK. There's been lots of attempts to reduce, uh, drug use, either through punishment or support services.

But what we've been really interested in Inverclyde, it's taking a much more systemic approach and, uh, much more relational approach. They've learned that almost a third of the people who died had been in police custody in the last six months of their life. So the Inverclyde Early Help in Custody Service meets with people while they're in custody and offers support with whatever they need most.

We're gonna hear from Lara from the service to tell us a bit more about that. 

Lara: We’re an outreach service, short term, um, for everybody that is in GreenockPolice Station who have got drug and alcohol problems. We’re an outreach service, so basically we bring the service to [00:32:00] the person. We don't really work on an appointment system or like three appointments and you don't, you miss them, you're out.

We will carry on trying to get people engaged so they can, we can support them to access mainstream services. I think a lot of other services are very specific about what they can do, so you need to fit in that kinda box, you know? And we've got a lot of people who have maybe got drug and alcohol use problems, but also have mental health problems as well.

A lot of that time it comes hand in hand. So when you're maybe supporting somebody access a mental health service, some mental health services will say, well, no, we can't support them because they're still drinking or they're still taking drugs. And then sometimes if you go to your addiction services, they can't get access to mental health services.

So it's kinda, or a bit like that, whereas we can kinda support them to access the services that can look at different things. And plus as well, it stops people having 25 workers doing [00:33:00] 25 different things. So you've got a worker that's helping you with benefits, you've got a worker that's helping with your substance use.

You've got a worker that's helping you with housing because see, when you've got so many different things that like you've got hundreds of debt. You've got gas and electricity. You've got no food. Your substance use has increased significantly. You're maybe shoplifting to try and fund it. You fall out of treatment, your mental health's affected.

So if you think of that one person with all the different problems, of course it's going to be overwhelming. So when we go in, we'll assess that person, assess what the support needs are, and identify with them what do we need to sort out first, you know, to being able to move on to the next thing.

Adrian Brown:  So that was a really powerful example from Inverclyde, of a whole range of different things that we've talked about in this season and the last season, I think.

Naja, what were your thoughts on this episode? 

[00:33:49] Naja Nelson: In my head when I was listening to this, I was thinking about again, vulnerability, right? That seems to be something that's emerging as a common theme across like the episodes I'm [00:34:00] seeing. But I think specifically about like what happens in response to that vulnerability and also maybe some of the like pre-work that has to be done ahead of time, such as like in the case for folks in this case, right?

 The fears that might be coming through their head is like, if I share, um, information, are there going to be repercussions for it? What will happen to me? What, and if, you know, people aren't individuals, they might also think about like, what does that mean to my family or my friends if I share something and then that is, that vulnerability is weaponised.

And so I think that like, there has to be, it's almost like a give and take, right? In the sense of like, this person who has this position of power has to like, give up something or show something of like goodwill that like, hey, like we really don't wanna do anything, um, punitive base with the vulnerability that you provide, because that's not our goal.

[00:34:54] Adrian Brown: Yeah, that's a great, that's a great point. Athena, any, any thoughts from you on this episode? 

[00:34:59] Athena Hughes: Yeah, so [00:35:00] this whole conversation, uh, really brought me back to the whole reason that I got interested in working in systems change. Um, I used to work in a social work type capacity and you know, Lara talking about systems that are set up, that don't actually address the complexity of people's needs.

Situations where like, oh, you missed three meetings, you're booted from the programme.  Programmes that, you know, address one part of someone's situation, but totally neglect the rest and, and treat it like they're doing something wrong when they can't balance all of those different aspects when we're only helping them with one.

It's being in the service delivery position for that is really difficult because to Naja's point, like, you can want to help someone. And the way the system is set up, that fear of being vulnerable in sharing something about your life is often a very legitimate fear. Thinking about one of the difficult conversations, I think [00:36:00] elsewhere in this episode, there was a mention of, um, the path of least resistance and how the system as it exists is the path of least resistance.

So one other kind of difficult conversation that you have to navigate in those roles is how do you continue to centre the experience of the individual people who are encountering the, these systems when the path of least resistance is to follow the existing system, which is not in any way set up to actually meet their needs effectively and treat them as a whole person.

Um, so I'm, I am always excited to hear about situations where service delivery systems, especially that work with people who are experienced really complex challenges, are actively trying to change the way they do things so that the way the system works, that path of least resistance and the individual's needs and what they need to get [00:37:00] prioritised are actually working together rather than it cross purposes.

And it's really complicated. 

[00:37:05] Adrian Brown: It's almost like the difficult conversations that need to take place or another set of difficult conversations that need to place are within the system. Because to have that conversation where we say, you know, what we're doing isn't working, and all of the things that we've spent maybe years, putting in place or refining we're, we're not actually genuinely helping. Uh, and to be able to have that, to acknowledge that is extremely, extremely difficult, especially if a large amount of public money and a lot of people's jobs and everything else has been sort of bet on that way of doing things.

But any other ideas, uh, from either a view of themes you've heard that we should go into in a little bit more detail or completely new topics that you think we might cover in season three?

[00:37:58] Naja Nelson:  I think it could be interesting to [00:38:00] explore something with like social media, I'm Gen Z, I identify as Gen Z. A lot of like my friends, like whenever they tell me something, like it starts with, oh, I saw this on TikTok, like that's the beginning of most sentences. Thinking back to the episode about like, long-term thinking and thinking about like generations for the future and thinking about young people. I think it could be interesting to explore the role of social media and how it can be engaged. Um, 'cause I was literally reading an article by the New York Post about how like a lot of Gen Z folks are beginning to step away from vaping because of clips that they're seeing on TikTok of like learning about how like a lot of the materials, such as like cobalt are like coming straight from Congo and they not wanting to personally be supporting the idea of like child labour or just like really harsh working conditions.

TikTok was the medium that helped them get to that point, not [00:39:00] their parents telling them that they shouldn't smoke. Not, you know, all of the ads where they're like, this is gonna be you if you smoke. But it was like social media and how that could be interesting to explore. 

[00:39:10] Adrian Brown: Absolutely. And, and of course, with so many elections happening around the world, this, uh, in this particular, in 2024, the role of social media on the public discourse more broadly is gonna be huge. So it'd be really interesting to, to look at the effect of social media on all of these different dimensions. Athena, any ideas from you? 

[00:39:32] Athena Hughes: Yeah, um, you mentioned election year. I think that it would be interesting sort of building on a theme that came up in, in several episodes this season, the impact of like electoral politics on how public service gets done.

Um, 'cause I think, you know, at least I tend to think of the people that we're often working with at CPI are not the politicians, but they are the people who are kind of in it, [00:40:00] for different reasons, for the long haul or just working in a different part of the system, but they are impacted by elected politicians.

And how does that impact our public service structures and mindsets? And I think there's also a theme there with social media and how that has really shaped how we think about politics and how we think about political leaders' decisions and processes and, and things like that. I think that could be really interesting and… stressful.

[00:40:28] Adrian Brown: Well, it's gonna be an interesting year for sure. Um. I'll throw one in as a final thought. And I'm as, as many, as many others are sort of both fascinated and slightly worried about AI and what's what's in store for us, uh, in 2024 and beyond. Uh, and we have done some work at CPI, looking at how generative AI in particular is starting to be used by governments in one way or another, again, which can cause alarm, but [00:41:00] also potentially unlock incredible benefits in healthcare or in education or another domain. So, um, it's a fast moving topic, which we're doing a little bit of work on already, and I'd love to explore. Some of that in more detail in season three.

But thank you for your suggestions and thank you for joining me and helping me navigate, uh, our way through this recap of season two. It's been fantastic to hear your reflections and to revisit the great episodes that you are both involved with as well. So thank you Naja and Athena. 

[00:41:32] Naja: Cool. Thanks for having us.

Athena Hughes:  Thank you so much. Great talking to both of you. 

[00:41:35] Adrian Brown: And that concludes this wrap-up episode of Reimagining Government. Thank you to my guests, Naja Nelson and Athena Hughes, for joining me today. And if you have any suggestions for topics we should cover, then please do get in touch. And in the meantime, do send your questions and comments through our answer machine.

Head over to and leave us a message. And please be aware that we may play these out [00:42:00] on the show. If you'd prefer to write to us, you can email and let us know the topics we should cover in future episodes. Finally, please remember to leave us a review on your favourite podcast platform and let us know your thoughts on the series.

And until next time, I've been Adrian Brown. Thanks for listening. Goodbye.

🎙️ Reimagining Government

This podcast explores radical new approaches to addressing global issues such as the climate crisis, equitable healthcare provision, and rebuilding trust with marginalised communities.

By speaking with public servants and politicians at the heart of government, we’ll shine a light on how to reimagine government so it works for everyone.

Listen to the season 2 wrap-up episode

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