• Ruth Martin

Telescope: Building collaboration in politics

It’s easy enough to sit and vent passionately about the state of politics and public services in the UK these days, with NHS and social services top of the news. But what if there was an opportunity to use some of that passion to promote positive practical change? Telescope wants to be the missing link, bringing together service users and people who work in frontline organisations with the policy-makers to participate in an innovative training programme.

The need for collaboration

Telescope brings together local charities, policymakers and political actors in order to share ideas and discover opportunities for collaboration. In the health and social care arena, for example, we believe that it is vital that on-the-ground services can make their voices heard in the design of a new approach to adult social care. Rising costs of adult social care in England and cuts to local government funding have placed increasing pressure on the services caring for our ageing population.

That's why we invited local charity Time & Talents, which runs a range of activities across Southwark, bringing people together to address social isolation, increase mental & physical wellbeing, and reduce divisions across the community, to take part in our programme and speak directly to policy makers. “Ongoing cuts to statutory services for older people means demand for the services that voluntary and community sector organisations provide is growing,” reflected Sarah Gibb, Director of Time and Talents. “We are struggling to cope in a landscape of increasingly limited funding.”

Creative solutions

Co-founders Ruth Martin, Sarah Holliday and Hebe Foster designed Telescope during the Year Here social innovation programme. The idea stems partly from their own experiences and frustrations: Ruth saw the scope for greater direct ‘real-life’ experience, empathy and inclusive approaches in policy-making during her career in human rights policy. Meanwhile, Sarah and Hebe’s experience in community organisations made it clear just how many brilliant ideas frontline workers have to improve and change the systems they operate within, but also just how unlikely those ideas are to make it into Whitehall. One of the reasons that our current policies and services don’t meet the needs of society is exactly this separation between the decision makers and the people with frontline or lived experience of problems, whose voices are rarely heard.

The Telescope programme addresses this by offering a unique combination of 3 elements: collaboration, knowledge sharing, and a creative toolkit for innovation. “By combining these three in a shared learning experience,” says Sarah, Programme Design lead, “we provide a much-needed opportunity to redress the balance of power in society: informing policymakers, empowering frontline workers, and giving voice to the lived experience of those at the sharp end of social challenges.”

The future of policymaking is participatory. Alongside deliberative democracy processes like citizens assemblies and the adoption of service design in government, initiatives like Telescope are an important step to make sure we move up the ladder of participation from tokenism towards citizen power. The only way to achieve this is to collaborate across sectors - from generating ideas to delivering change.

Interested to hear more about the Telescope approach and how you can get involved?

Telescope will be running more of its tailored training days in early 2020 for policymakers in local and national government, and people working in frontline organisations. Please get in touch for more details.

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