Sunday, October 29, 2006

View from the board room

Friday last I attended the inaugural meeting of the Cardiff Proud Capital Vision Board, the rather esoteric title given to a gathering of senior city government executives with counterparts in other public agencies dealing with environment, health, education, sport, employment, business, transport, media, etc. This is a successor to a body called the Community Planning Implementation Group (CPIG for short), a body whose meetings I have attended over the past four years as an observer on behalf of the Archbishop, who was invited to take part as the equivalent of a church's CEO, even though the church has others who discharge many CEO functions. It makes you realise what a difference of management culture there is between church and city.

The idea of these gatherings was to oversee the way strategic plans directing present and future development of the city and region are put into practice. This is necessary, as so many major transforming projects rely on collaboration, or 'partnership working', in the current jargon, between different organisations and agencies with a wide range of interests and responsibilities.

You cannot redevelop city centre retailing, for instance without working with those concerned with transport, communications and public safety, for instance. Health and Sport overlap. Employment and education need to be bedfellows with economic development, if the city is to have the skilled work force it needs, essential to huge prestigious new projects designed to 'reposition' (another new bit of jargon) Cardiff as a front-runner on the European capital cities map.

From the vision proposed by our political leadership to its implementation through many different kinds of initiative is a long and complex journey. It took me several years of attentive listening to understand some of the jargon, and even to discern how far all the participants really understood the purpose of the exercise. Indeed, the difficulty of the exercise was uncovered when a review of CPIG was undertaken after its first three years, revealing a mixture of successes and failures, but also dissatisfactions in areas where it seemed little progress in partnership was apparent.

I had my own concerns in this review process, representing the head of one church out of many, in a situation where ecumenical instruments of collaboration have become weak with the weakening of member bodies, and where few of the churches have large enough an organisational profile to figure prominently on the radar of a huge corporate body like city government. Being the only religious observer was for me an interesting experience, presenting a conundrum to some participants. There are many churches, not to mention other faith communities that could also have been represented, but no adequate framework for collaboration or participation. One senior local government officer agreed that local government had only fragmented, partial knowledge of the city's religious community groups, and that research was needed even to be able to invite them to assemble without excluding anyone.

Given recent concern about the need for social inclusion expressed by national government, about other-faith religious communities and their young people, it seemed to me there's an issue to address here. As Cardiff has been mercifully free of conflict surrounding religious or ethnic communities for generations, social inclusion has not figured on anyone's political agenda, though some civil servants see there's a problem. Religious culture features little in the way the city presents itself, and largely because religious groups have made little effort, and have remained turned in on themselves, disinterested in the common good, apart from their own local and domestic needs. It's not only a problem of other faith communities, but also of the Christian enterprise. My conclusion was that the city itself needs to challenge religious groups to greater participation. But how to achieve this in the face of political apathy? So far, no answers.

The new Proud Capital Vision Board began life with a couple of presentations on the new approach to policy making and services, and attempted un-successfully to define its principal tasks in an interactive sessions that was poorly managed. Not an auspicious start. We were not short of top level expertise, but surprisingly short of skilled facilitators to help retain the focus on the process in hand. So we'll end up, as usual with most of the necessary work needing to be redone in the back office and served up for people to nod though. It's the way with all large organisations I guess, Churches included.

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