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What Do We Mean By Success?

Posted: 20th April 2018

Last week Cyrenians offered its view on another Government consultation, this time on the Governments National Outcomes Framework.  The National Outcomes are the headline policy aims for the Scottish Government. The outcomes are part of the National Performance Framework, which sets the direction for Government policy across a number of policy areas including economy, health, social and environment.

Up till now there have been 11 National Outcomes. The consultation was asking about them and about the proposal to add three more:

  • We live in communities that are inclusive, empowered, resilient and safe
  • We tackle poverty by sharing opportunities, wealth and power more equally
  • We grow up loved, safe and respected, so that we realise our full potential

‘Who could disagree with these?’ would probably be anyone’s response, which might question whether they are a useful tool, as the real test is how we achieve them. All 14 are in the same “motherhood and apple pie” tone and need a great deal of unpacking to be of any use.  Yet without them, I believe we would be in danger of losing our ambition, or at least not being ambitious enough.

What we mean by success, especially in an environment where so many of those whom we journey with come from tough realities is a very challenging definition. If you haven’t grown up loved, your capacity to even feel loveable is greatly reduced, but setting “feeling lovable” as a sign of success is a very challenging thing to do. Yet, if we step back and say success would be a more measurable or quantifiable outcome, we would be in danger of losing sight of the person we are journeying with.

A doctor in a meeting talked of how the way we do a great deal of medicine, with targets of patients to see along with a myriad of other quantifiable targets, means that he and his colleagues miss the people whose outcomes are the real issue.  He talked of how he can see someone with an addiction for years in 10 minute appointments.  He would help them manage their addiction through methadone, and even take something of a person-centred approach by being guided about the amounts of methadone by their response to his questions.  Although he was able to say he was treating them, he never really knew if at the root of their addiction was the lack of love they knew as a child.

Neither he nor I are being critical here of GPs in any way. Their decisions are a product of our political processes of accountability which ultimately lie with us as citizens and voters. We need to be brave enough to let public services work in very different ways, so whether those in need are loved or feel loveable is at the heart of our search of the best way to support them. Not an unachievable ambition defeated by a transactional political culture based on primarily quantifiable data and upfront costs.

The work of Cyrenians Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution and our schools workshops programme  is an example of how things can be done without being able to directly define the outcome.  A great deal of its work is with people who are not in crisis, but instead want to learn how to avoid a crisis due to conflict in family and elsewhere in their lives. It is very difficult to draw a direct line between this work and things which didn’t happen, which is what they are about, but we have to trust in the contribution they make to peoples capacity to be true to themselves and to flourish even when things get crunchy in life. We cannot count the difference they make but we know they do make a huge difference to hundreds of people’s lives.

Keeping an eye on the big prizes is fundamental to building the society we all want to be citizens of.  Being willing to not know the number, but still know something works is an act of trust we as citizens need to give our politicians the space to have for us and with us. Believing we can build a society where everyone can flourish and our capacity to love and be loved is at the heart of our definition of success may be ambitious – but we wouldn’t want anything less for ourselves, our family, our friends, our communities – even those we struggle with in life.  So yes – those 14 National Outcomes are pretty catch-all, but if they mean we never lose sight of what really matters then they help us all be the citizens we want to be, building the society we want to live in.

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