Political and Research project - TOGETHER Network & Partnerships with universities and research centres
TOGETHER is the international network of co-responsibility of the Territories, that is to say the territories (towns, districts, cities, regions) that develop an approach of shared responsibility among all stakeholders (public, private, public) to ensure the well-being of all (future generations included). This approach is more commonly known as SPIRAL (Societal Progress Indicators for the Responsibility of All). Initially launched in 2005 as part of the Council of Europe strategy and action plan for social cohesion, the SPIRAL approach is now developed by TOGETHER network which has been formed informally in September 2009 and formally in November 2013.
The number of territories that are now involved in the effectiveness of this approach grows every year (they are now over 400 territories spread across twenty countries). Not only this growth creates a pooling of knowledge and researches about finding practical solutions to the difficulties created by the development of co-responsibility but also, it frames SPIRAL as a credible and shareable prospect of societal progress. Thus, a collective form of network learning has been created and linked with other initiatives that share similar purposes (such as Agenda 21, the Cittaslow, the Transition movement...). This is mainly achieved through the TOGETHER Network Secretariat which is, among others, a network of SPIRAL energizers that is now mainly developed in Europe and Africa.
Given the dimension of this process, our main objective is now to give it a more formal framework in order to build true partnerships within the institutions, the universities and the research centres that are interested in this project. We should now develop a real political and research project that would establish itself as a landmark towards the implementation of a well-being for all that also takes into account future generations.
This transformation is more than necessary. We are living at a time when it has become an emergency to collectively and comprehensively rethink the future of our societies. But in order to reach this goal, there will be no other choice than gradually building a common data repository allowing to pool the efforts of all those who in one way or another have worked to develop practical solutions aiming to sustain a better world able to ensure the well-being of all without exception.
This paper presents the initial framework that could be used on this purpose. It aims to launch a debate within TOGETHER network (energizers and network members) and its actual and potential partners (including governments, universities and research centres) to gradually build a common framework allowing to develop collectively the implementation of this policy and new research projects.
The development of this document has been framed by TOGETHER Action Plan (2014) which provides that the 3rd quarter of the year 2014 will be devoted to the development of policy proposals. This document provides a general framework for proposals to be discussed, refined and completed by the network in order to engage a political dialogue with the relevant stakeholders in the 4th quarter of the year 2014.
Trailhead: Rethinking progress
One of the major points that has been underlined in the last forty years in all debates in both non- governmental organizations, research centres and international public institutions (such as the United Nations, the OECD, the European Union, the Council of Europe...) is the questioning of GDP as an indicator of progress of our societies. On the light of this query, we defend the idea that an alternative solution can not be validly asserted without returning to the first legitimate objective that any human society ensures, that is to say to the well-being of all its members without exception. Replacing progress not in terms of GDP growth, but of growth in the ability to ensure the well-being of all in a relationship based on equity without discrimination, exclusion, poverty, including future generations and using non-renewable resources is the most correct way to state the problem. Correct indeed because it is the only way that can ultimately become universally shared by consensus beyond any ideological or religious position, any cultural or ethnic difference.
This meets the objective of social cohesion as defined by the Council of Europe. We should highlight the fact that the goal of social cohesion is not opposed to the fight against poverty in the European Union. Indeed, it adds to it another dimension, positioning the proposed solutions upstream and from a sustainable perspective. But the question that remains is, beyond the fight against poverty itself, how to progress towards a society that no longer generates exclusion nor poverty but that ensures the well-being of all. A society that not only takes into account a more equitable and shared access to resources but also the material and immaterial dimensions of well-being as expressed by the citizens themselves. This also meets the objective of sustainable development as put forward since the Rio Conference in 1992 recorded by more than 140 countries and implemented locally in Agenda 21. It also joins the objectives of many movements and networks (such as the Transition movement, Cittaslow...) that are also looking for an alternative to GDP as the main indicator of progress of our societies.
The hypothesis of shared responsibility for the well-being of all
By “co-responsibility” or “shared social responsibility”, we name an attitude and a shared feeling of collective responsibility for particular and general interests. The central hypothesis we suggest is that the development of co-responsibility is the most appropriate and efficient way to reach this goal of welfare of all (future generations included).
Several major findings underpin and justify the choice of this hypothesis:
1. Co-responsibility overcomes the barriers of compartmentalization of resources by pooling and allowing their full use thanks to the development of a better flexibility and simplicity in procedures (provision and use).
2. Co-responsibility allows us to reach major components of welfare as expressed by citizens, such as: recognition, social inclusion, utility, a sense of belonging to a global community (solidarity, brotherhood), good relationships with public institutions, confidence (self- confidence, trust in others, trust in institutions, confidence in the future)... These are many dimensions that conventional/vertical/top-down/compartmentalized approaches and competitive rather than cooperative logics generally ignore or bully because they focus on a limited vision of wellness understood accordingly to physical dimensions only.
3. As a result of the previous point, co-responsibility impacts on resources, mobilization and human dimensions (it allows the remobilization of people who have lost faith and hope, especially those who are marginalized in society - dropouts, unemployed, homeless, isolated elderly, etc. and, more generally, the remobilization of individual and collective creativity). And most importantly, these resources do not involve great financial means in respect of the approach we develop.
4. More generally, this shared responsibility is the expression of democracy itself since it allows the participation of every human being in two different dimensions of the right as welfare of all without exclusion and as duty (joint responsibility of all).
Many experiments, including those conducted in the territories of shared responsibility tend to demonstrate the validity of this central assumption. This can be seen for example in the findings of the final evaluation Plans Social Cohesion Wallonia (Assessments conducted on 140 Plans Social Cohesion involving 147 municipalities https://wikispiral.org/tiki-index.php?page=Country % 3A + Belgium).
However, given the major importance of promoting a society of shared responsibility, it is necessary to take it as a hypothesis that should be tested in the most rigorous way possible. This should be made for several reasons. Firstly because the approach of shared responsibility is far from being consensual. It reaches issues of power-sharing that are not obvious nor easily accepted. Also, there may be different interpretations about “shared responsibility” (for example when it is understood as a kind of disempowerment of the government). Therefore, there is a real need for accurate analysis and definition of what is, objectively, most promising in social and societal gains.
Nevertheless, co-responsibility is not an immediate response to any situation. When the context does not allow it, other approaches may be needed, for example by focusing on "empowerment" to create the conditions for greater listening and dialogue capacity and equity.
What does testing the hypothesis of the relevance of co-responsibility involve?
Testing the hypothesis that the development of co-responsibility is the most appropriate and efficient way to move towards this goal involves considerable leaps from several points of view with respect to a conventional scientific approach:
I. First, the proposed hypothesis is not about knowing a reality (knowledge) but knowing the relevance and effectiveness of different forms of action (know-how). This kind of knowledge is not usual and it is almost always deserted by researchers who currently think that we enter the realm of judgement when we do not develop an objective analysis of reality and facts. However, if it is true that every choice of action is judgement related, the relevance of a choice is a proposition that can be objectively analysed. Thus, the hypothesis that co-responsibility helps the society to progress towards a better ability to ensure the well-being of all is therefore a good approach that can rationally and objectively be conducted with equal value and legitimacy than other conventional scientific approaches. What remains to ensure then is that experimental protocols, analyses and conclusions strictly follow a rational process.
II. The second major difference from a conventional scientific approach is that the test of this hypothesis can not be achieved without the participation of a wide range of stakeholders. It is indeed not possible to draw objectively verified conclusions without having experienced co-responsibility at a full-scale, at least at the scale of pilot areas that involve different types of actors and residents. It should also ensure the effective collaboration of government and political leaders and their willingness to test public policies that allow the full expression of co-responsibility. Without these conditions, conclusions are inevitably partial and unreliable. Thus the danger is in fact to conclude too hastily to a non-efficiency of co-responsibility without having been to the end of the experiment, especially in terms of public policy review since those are often the main obstacle to the assertion of a process of co- responsibility.
III. This leads to think that this project reveals a special feature: it is both a research and political project. Indeed, it is assumed that a large number of actors share this research objective with the basic motivation of looking for effective solutions to overcome the major challenges and new paradigm shift that humanity will confront in the coming years. The fact that it is as much a political project as a research project is fundamental. However it does not try to found a new ideology but a new social intelligence in which the society itself as an holistic subject creates its own capacity to ensure the well-being of all from shared experiments.
IV. Therefore, another feature of these experiments is that they are not only positioned as confirmatory tests of our hypothesis but also as constitutive elements of the process of co- responsibility building in the long term. In other words, the experiment is part of the development process and vice versa. What is fundamentally new in this design is that these new processes systematically become reflected (upstream and downstream) and that they teach how to follow the general guideline of co-responsability. The word "systematically" should be understood here in two ways: first, because every process is the subject of analyses and lessons (even failures are a source of learning); secondly, because the specificity of each local process is involved in a more global approach of hypothesis testing.
But is this assumption verifiable? The answer is “no” to the extent that the concept of shared responsibility is fundamentally universal and transcends cultural, religious and ideological divisions since it relies on a concept that is immediately and universally understandable. Indeed, the notions of “well-being” and “ill-being” are the purest (least "polluted") expressions of what is hoped for or sought to avoid in life. So even if it appears to be difficult to achieve a utopia, shared responsibility for the well-being of all is not inherently impossible. Instead, it is a political and research project with universal human aspirations that makes sense and that is consistent. Therefore the proposed hypothesis can not a priori be judged unverifiable nor refuted. However, remains to specify the conditions for verification.
How to test the hypothesis of the of co-responsibility?
To conclude that an approach of shared responsibility is the most appropriate and efficient way to ensure progress towards the well-being of all without exclusion and discrimination and included future generations, we need to make sure to double check:
a) To which extent is co-responsibility feasible across society; b) The relevance of the effects of shared responsibility for the well-being of all (and compare with a situation of no or low co-responsibility).
Strictly, point a) implies that we go to the end of the experiment, involving all stakeholders, public, private and civil society in the implementation of the approach. However the initial conclusions can be obtained for point b) partial experiments, as has already occurred in the territories of co- responsibility.
There are two types of processes to drive: one the one hand, thinking globally, including new public policies to promote and implement experimentally this method; on the other hand, keeping on developing co-responsibility in the areas of shared responsibility and joining each local dynamic in a local experimentation, a learning process and placing it in a more global political and research project in order to demonstrate the feasibility, the relevance and the efficiency of shared responsibility for the well-being of all. Thus each area contributes to demonstrate ideas on issues that are specific to their specific context and local problems in complement to other issues linked to other jurisdictions.
We clearly understand the interest of TOGETHER because this networking allows and makes possible the development of such a policy and research project. The network enables these two processes:
1) Thinking and political dialogue on a global scale; 2) Coordinating the lessons learned at the local level in an experiment and learning process at a global level (each area of co-responsibility network members playing an experimentation on issues that are more specific to pilot role).
However, beyond the network itself, this project will gain from developing a partnership with universities and research centres in all the disciplines that are involved. You can find in the appendix a summary table of topics, areas of more advanced experiments that can serve pilot, corresponding national or regional public institutions and universities and research centres that are already involved or potentially involved in this discipline. Four categories should verify the adequacy and effectiveness of shared responsibility for the well-being of all:
1. The conceptual framework, based on the entire process and the research project. This includes: - Epistemological questions of the research project as a whole. Beyond clarifying the epistemological framework of this research project, in the following items placed in this document, it will be clear what might be called a modern conception of science tailored to the real needs of society and that highlights the particularly harmful confusion of speech that while being in a science day is deeply ideological. - Issues of social ethics to assert (basic goals and values and their expression in instruments such as the Manifesto "Making the company an essential common good" of the Gironde). - Ethnography and history of co-responsibility, including SPIRAL own approach. - A research and specific testing must be conducted on the social and societal conditions of co-responsibility, to understand what could help or not empathy, solidarity, cooperation and sense of responsibility while meeting the expectations of citizens in terms of well-being and living well together (trade, including economic, modes of information organization research facilities, financing methods, etc.).
2. The policy framework, appealing not only to political science (especially to clarify the conditions of governance for collaborative democracy, expression of co-responsibility, complementary to representative democracy and the role of government in an approach of shared responsibility) but also legal sciences (to clarify legal frameworks) and economics (to do the same in terms of economic and monetary organization mode).
3. The methodological framework with a side of more general questions about the principles of methodological capitalization networking and the other, more specific questions about each of the eight major phases of SPIRAL (see table)
4. Analyses of the process in the territories, seen in particular in terms of their readiness to develop co-responsibility and progress according to different contexts.
To implement this project, the first steps being proposed are:
- Putting this idea at the network level for validation.
- Confirming the interests of the regions expected to become pilot areas on the fields of research that concern them (see table).
- Identifying what are the research centres and universities working on these issues.
- Establishing partnerships with universities and research centres and public authorities concerned.
- Arranging a first meeting by search field in order to specify the framework, define the basics, set goals, program activities and define the future calendar of TOGETHER.
- Looking for additional funding for the implementation of these research programs, knowing that prime-First, funding opportunities are much greater, especially in the European Union when it comes to transnational partnerships.
Note: In the case of thematic networks, a first meeting has already taken place and a first partnership was formed. A specific document is being prepared in this regard.
In terms of timing, to be consistent with the Plan of Action 2014 TOGETHER, it is proposed that the points 1,2 and 3 are implemented this quarter in order to make the point 4 in the 4th quarter.
Odemira, July 2014