In brief

In this first post in the Joining the Dots series, Relationships Project founder David Robinson sets the scene for the series and outlines the plan going forward. 

The hook worm was paralysing entire towns in the rural south of the United States in the early part of the 20th Century. Passed by bare feet in unsanitary conditions, the disease required not only effective treatments but also improved sanitation, mass education and new rules.

The Rockefeller Foundation convened doctors, engineers, town planners, teachers, parents and government officials. They tackled the hook worm together and created what would become “Public Health”. The Foundation went on to work with partners on developing the field across the world and on helping to catalyse other “fields” in areas as diverse as molecular biology and artificial intelligence

It is a simple insight: We can do worthwhile things by ourselves but sometimes it is only by coming together with people who have different skills, experiences and perspectives and cultivating a common field that we can really break new ground.

Many places, one field

Experience and expertise in relationship centred development is to be found in many places:

For some relationships are an end in themselves, befriending schemes or social care programmes for instance tackle loneliness and meet an acute need.

Schools and hospitals and businesses are primarily interested in educational achievement, health care and selling more products but see relationships as the means to the end.

Others focus on individual wellbeing or community cohesion or a combination of objectives but again place relationships at the heart of the enterprise.  

And, of course, a relational approach is not limited to organisations or services. The relationship centred economy, a relationship centred democracy and, in aggregate, a relationship centred society are all vital and timely ideas.

We are interested in learning from and with one another and, ultimately, in the possibility of influencing and supporting the long term trajectory of knowledge, policy and practice across the sectors.

Why now?

This is a positive agenda as we focus on potential to do better but it is also a response to adversetrends that have reshaped our lives in recent years:

Technological advances have been good for many but not everyone and not always.

Cross party political orthodoxies have championed individualism and moved popular attitudes towards self-interest and division.

And organisations, systems and structures have got bigger and more remote.  

Each trend has reinforced the others effecting the quality of our lives, diminishing our collective capacity to support one another and changing a society which is built from the aggregation of personal relationships. Where these bonds fail whole communities are weakened and fragmented.

More to know

There is much to learn from existing experience and there is also more to know. For some sort of collaboration to add to the sum of the parts we need to dig deeper and mix learning from different places. Over the next three months we hope to better understand who is interested in what, the priorities, the opportunities and the barriers.

We will be curating with a very light touch. We want to include different opinions, experiences and ideas.  As the conversation builds, we will try to give it some structure. The common threads will be the simple conviction that relationships matter and an interest in engaging with some of the knotty questions. For example, we might talk about…

  • Accountability, fairness or power
  • Bad relationships
  • The role and use of measurement
  • Behavioural and / or systemic change
  • Money

Or maybe none of these things! We will simply see where the conversation leads us over the coming weeks. We hope that it might give us the foundations of a collaborative community interested in helping to take the thinking forward and in helping to shape and develop the field but we shall see.