“Call and response”: enabling government to rediscover its role as public servant

Lean LogicIn one section of Lean Logic, the late David Fleming focussed on “call and response”, the principle by which localities can call on their local authorities for assistance to develop projects, without themselves losing the initiative.

He cites the example of Portland, Oregon:

“Portland is now widely recognised for its neighbourhood associations and the extent of their initiative-taking in decisions affecting the city: local government responds to citizens’ requests for action, providing an incentive for participation to deepen over several decades.

An example of initiative-taking in Oregon

portland schoolSome years ago the writer met Portland’s Dilafruz Williams, one of a group of local people who set up a state school for teenagers – an Environmental Middle School – in Portland. The state education department’s benchmarks for eighth graders were taken into consideration, to ensure that the EMS graduates would be ready for high school.

In fact, despite spending two days a week outside the classroom, their test results have been above average. Pressure to admit the hundred on their waiting list has been resisted, because it is considered vital that each child should have the sense of security that comes from knowing all the other students and teachers in the school.

The site requirements were that the school should be in a central location on a local public bus route, so that students from all neighbourhoods could participate and there should be land around the buildings.

They come from diverse urban backgrounds and this diversity, lack of supervision, absence of a caring adult at home, lure of gangs and peer pressure can lead to inappropriate behaviour. By addressing each student as a unique person, the EMS community finds ways to deal with the problems consistently exhibited by a handful of students.


“Call and response” would not come easily: the discussions would often be acrimonious, and maintaining the dialogue is recognised as the specific responsibility of the citizens, who have to “educate” new officials (with the help, if need be, of introducing them to committed residents in the shape of a room-full of “100 people screaming mad”).

“But the process has flow, pull and feedback; it has the focused intention of local people with the confidence to know what they want and believe that there is a chance they may be able to accomplish it.

“So it is not that the government has no role here; rather, it rediscovers its role as public servant, working for people that have recovered their confidence.

“An initiative within this framework has been launched in the United Kingdom with the Sustainable Communities Act (2007). This has been organised at a higher level than the Portland scheme: it is about local authorities calling on assistance from central government rather than local communities calling on local authorities, but the principle is there, and it may well extend downwards.

“A less formal approach which is likely to have a better chance of recovering local presence is the Transition Movement”.

Is the priority to expand world trade or to build on the resilience of communities?

DF Times obit

Fleming, second left, discussing the working of an experimental rocket stove – to capture heat with clean combustion – at Transition Town Louth, Lincolnshire (The Times)

In Lean Logic, David Fleming asks:

“Is the priority to expand world trade, to push ahead with the global market, or to build on the resilience of communities, to protect them from the turbulence of the global market and to improve their food security?

“The former head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Mike Moore, writes persuasively about the benefits of free trade in A World Without Walls; (2003). He shows that the lowering of trade barriers has stimulated growth, that the countries that have been the most open to trade have enjoyed the most economic progress and the greatest rise in the incomes of the poor. And, as former prime minister of New Zealand, he has the experience of making that country a pioneer of free-market agriculture, with benign effects across the economy. How, then, can there be doubts when he argues that the anti-globalisation movement, if successful, would bring catastrophic consequences, not just for the poor in developing economies, but for all of us?

“Can Mr Moore and the anti-globalisation protestors really be talking about the same thing?”

He continues with the opposing argument which states that globalisation, in the form of free trade, opening up small-scale production in the non-industrialised countries to competition from multinationals:

  • leads to unemployment and dispossession;
  • makes agriculture dependent on imported energy;
  • devastates soils, ecosystems and communities;
  • raises incomes in part by destroying local subsistence and forcing people into the cash economy;
  • and is supported by the governments of the affected countries
  • not least because of the debts into which they have been lured.

And concludes:

“Food security, with higher overall yields and greater diversity, less damage to the soil and higher real local incomes, would be more fruitfully sought by helping farmers to make the best use of their own skills applied to local conditions”.

Lean logic DF titleBoth sides beg the question: they are each correct if their premises are accepted: if the priority is to expand world trade, to push ahead with the global market, Mr Moore’s conclusions naturally follow; if it is to build on the resilience of communities, to protect them from the turbulence of the global market, and to improve their food security, his critics are correct.

The begged question is the one thing they should be talking about.