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Report on the Centre for Welfare Reform

Author: Connie Faith

This report looks into the Centre for Welfare Reform's broad philosophical mission as it currently stands and looks for ways in which the Centre can narrow and clarify its aims and objectives. It also gives my perspective on how the Centre appears to others.

Currently the Centre’s purpose and structure, as described on its website, encompasses a fairly broad liberal philosophy. Further clarity into what values unite the Centre can be found in the criteria of fellows. Fellows are described on the Centre’s website as people who ‘believe in the equality of all human beings and the value of human diversity’, ‘innovate and try to bring about positive social change’, ‘support the work of the Centre for Welfare Reform’, and ‘share what they have learned so others can benefit too’. From this we can conclude that as it stands equality and diversity are core values at the heart of the Centre.

Having examined the Centre’s website content there are four main issues which Fellows may wish to consider:

1. Impact Assessment 

The Centre clearly aims to bring about change, but how does it aim to do this? The Centre has completed and is working on numerous projects. These projects ‘aim to be coming up with solutions to issues in society which effect these core principles’. The Centre’s website states that ‘we are working on a variety of projects to develop social innovations, redesign the welfare state and promote social justice’. These projects have tended to take the form of research, articles, books and papers which are then published on the website or added to its library. The information from projects and other scholarly articles is also disseminated through social media and YouTube videos. This aspect of reaching out to people to engage with the Centre in order to achieve change is very important as the Centre aims to keep its mission as close to the ground and people’s real lived experiences as possible; ‘we want to build a society where making things better is everybody’s business’. 

It is not clear however how influential and effective these projects have been in bringing about any proposed changes or if following recognition of a new innovative inclusive welfare practice, whether it has continued to thrive and grow. A follow-up evaluation of projects after publication would make the effectiveness of the Centre's research more meaningful and bring credibility to the Centre’s work.

2. Academic and Practical Resources

The Centre’s website aims to disseminate its information and engage with the public in a diverse range of ways using social media as well as publications. The project publications are however mainly academic and the articles or books are not all necessarily layperson friendly. I believe for the Centre to engage more with the public it needs to step away from the emphasis on such academic methods to a more active on-the ground approach to achieving its goals. Such methods would be more accessible to the public and more visible. The Centre already has social media and YouTube representation and these platforms could be used even more to promote the Centre.

Further to this, there also needs to be some control over what research the Centre publishes. There does not seem to be a targeted direction for research or publications, other than what Fellows themselves individually wish to explore within the Centres core beliefs. For example in the Library which has many diverse categories, under ‘Gender’ there has never been a publication on the LGBTQ community or under ‘Faith’ there is nothing on secularization, atheism etc. which seems surprising as these are long established equality, diversity and community issues. The Centre therefore should consider what the balance should be between its academic and practical resources and if its research and publications should have direction.

3. Public Involvement

It is unclear as to what degree the general public’s views are intended to be taken into consideration. The website states ‘The Centre for Welfare Reform is a community of independent Fellows who are thinkers, innovators and leaders who have demonstrated a real commitment to equality and diversity.’ Should the public be consulted, used to promote discussion and actively encouraged to get involved with the Centre or is it meant to be a resource for the public? The Centre needs to decide what role and to what degree they wish the public play.

4. Clarity on the Centre’s broad philosophical mission and values

The current purpose and structure of the Centre is broad, it is this broadness that has led to some lack of clarity with the Centre’s mission and values. It can first of all be noted that the Centre clearly has more key central values than equality, diversity and community however these are not immediately apparent to external users of the website. It has been suggested that a clearer more developed structure of the Centre’s values should be represented as a diagram. This structure could then be posted on the website for the public as well as part of a proposal for academic fellows to decide whether to commit to or not. 

A first draft by Simon Duffy at such a new structure is given below:

The Centre for Welfare Reform believes that we are all equal and we are all different.

We all have fundamental rights and freedoms, and we all have responsibilities- to each other, but also to the world we share, and to ourselves, to our own development.

We must come together as equal citizens, building communities that respect our rights and support us in fulfilling our responsibilities.

When we find injustice, when people are not flourishing or rights have been ignored, when our world is damaged or endangered, we must work together with urgency to bring about positive social change - to reform and to rebuild.

The Centre brings together a diverse range of thinkers, activists and pioneers, from around the world to work on the following themes (see below).

The above structure is still broad and fellows need to collectively agree on the Centre’s new core structure. Henry Tam has suggested something hard-hitting which would draw in more members of the public and fellows alike. Below is my attempt at this, that builds on Simon and Henry's suggestions:

The Centre for Welfare Reform believes that we are all equal and we are all different.

It is this difference that has allowed humanity to flourish; it has also meant that in our ever-complex global world we rely on each other more and more for resources we ourselves cannot produce.

In this climate the elite have had the opportunity to change or deny support systems in society, creating a pool of insecure and vulnerable people.

The Centre wants to bring values of citizenship and reciprocity back to the heart of politics and society in order to fight social injustice, bring about positive change - to reform and to build!

The Centre brings together a diverse range of thinkers, activists and pioneers, from around the world, to work on the following themes...

As for the diagram, key themes will always be difficult for Fellows to all agree upon as the meanings are subjective and depending on its application have different connotations. As to my own opinion, I would suggest that love, justice, equal worth and reciprocity should be at the heart of the diagram as core values.

Further to this it has been suggested that there should also be a complimentary diagram that would show the main way the Centre hopes to achieve its goals. I believe this is a very useful idea that would, combined with the previous diagram, completely simplify how the Centre operates for the public.

Whilst the Centre has achieved a lot of meaningful work since its creation there is definitely room for clarity about what ties all these works together. The key appears to be finding a balance between describing the Centre’s purpose and mission in a way which both appeals to the current community of Fellows whilst also enabling the wider public to engage with the Centre and feel its relevance. I believe this can be achieved if Fellows agree on a revised mission statement as well as a reconsideration of the methods the Centre will use in the future to promote its values and purpose.

Note from Simon Duffy, Director of the Centre:

I want to thank Connie for doing this really important work for the Centre and it's Fellowship. Her conclusions are hard to ignore. One person recently left a comment on Facebook which said; "It's like you've discovered the cure for cancer, but you don't know what to do with it." I think that's pretty fair. The centre needs to move to something that builds on its achievements over the past 6 years, but it needs to be clearer in its mission and strategy. So - thank you Connie - time to get on and do it.

The publisher is the Centre for Welfare Reform.

Report on the Centre for Welfare Reform © Connie Faith 2016.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.