The Risk of Sharing

Pritpal S Tamber

September 26, 2018

How writing about one’s work likely means criticising systems —a risky strategy given that they’re often the source of funding

So, as I mentioned in my last update we — the Steering Group of Beyond Systems — got together to get a little more concrete about what we want to do. The focus of our discussion was the possibility of a development grant from a funder. With that, we’ll have the resources to really drill down into what we want to do — but we need to put a little meat on the bones of our aims to get the development grant first.

Over the next few weeks I’ll package what we scribbled onto flip charts into something for the folks offering the grant to consider (and share it with you too, of course). For now, though, I want to reflect on one of the things a member of the Group talked about — that for some social innovators it’s risky to write about their work.

If, as we advocate for, you’re operating on the basis of parity, trust and an equal voice for all, one of the things you’ll inevitably contend with is how statutory systems may not be helping, despite rhetoric that they are. To truly write about your work — especially its challenges — it’d be important to talk about this, which, even with the most diplomatic writing in the world, will mean criticising either a partner in the work or, worse, a funder or potential funder.

I realise that I’ve assumed that the statutory systems will not be helping. While that may sound overly negative, in our experience it’s the case more often than not. Our systems are designed around the belief that technical knowledge is superior to community knowledge (so, not parity) and have an in-built sense of distrust of its users (or “customers”, as people in need are often called, a term that helps to render the engagement transactional rather than relational), both of which do not breed the sense of equal respect for all. So, overall, my assumption is not without merit.

Of course, the innovators could omit any mention of how the statutory systems are behaving, and the consequences of that behaviour, but that would skew the evidence base creating an incomplete picture of what it takes to do the work. That doesn’t seem particularly helpful, especially given that our evidence base is already skewed towards what systems think matter, rather than what people do. How do we establish an evidence base that’s truly reflective of what matters to people as well as the warts-and-all realities of the work?

This, of course, is another way that systems exert power over people. It’s not direct this time, and I doubt it’s even conscious. And yet we know from experience that it’s an issue — and it’s an issue that means that little of the great work happening out there gets written up, or at least written up with the whole truth.

Will our plans overcome that? I don’t know. It’s a tough ask. But it’s something we need to spend more time thinking about for which a development grant would be very handy.

Pritpal S Tamber

I’m a doctor who trained as a medical editor and publisher and now researches and consults on the link between community power and health equity. My interest in community power started when I was the Physician Editor of TEDMED and is explained in My Perspective. I also work as a freelance medical editor and publisher for organisations that want to write high-quality articles and a strategy for their publishing and promotion. Find out more on my About page.

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