Making Change Happen

June 21st, 2013 | Posted by Roger Barnard in Older People's Organisations

‘Making Change Happen’ is the motto of an older peoples’ organisation of which I am a member. It also forms the organisation’s strap-line at the foot of its letter-headed stationery. Why?

The answer lies in the organisation’s aims and objectives, which, after setting out to bring a wide variety of older people together, encourage a vigorous exchange of views on topics of concern to members and arrange for a spokesperson to take the consensus view forward for active consideration by the appropriate powers that be. Change might happen as a result.

Allied to this is the mechanism the organisation employs to achieve its agreed outcomes. It reads a little like a management theory – Discuss, Decide, Act, Report Back. The discussion might centre on an issue of local concern, like a change of route by the local bus service which now cuts out a whole village, or the absence of a large clock at the bus station, capable of being read by older people at a distance. Such concerns are often about transport, sometimes about health, other times about social issues but always about well-being.

Discussions are run on co-operative lines, with a chairperson ensuring that the quiet ones are heard as often as those who speak with confidence. Decisions involve all, with the chair securing agreement from a large enough majority to back the consensus view and take things further.

The member tasked with taking forward the agreed action needs the encouragement of the membership – a sense of empowerment. This organisation does not seek outside help in terms of advocacy. Rather, it seeks to increase the confidence of older people to stand up for themselves – and for their fellows.

Now, of course, the ‘powers that be’ may have good reason for rejecting the desired action. There may, indeed, have been articles or ‘Letters to the Editor’ setting out the case for such rejection. But face-to-face with a determined older lady, representing a reputable older people’s organisation, a manager may well have second thoughts. This alternative view of the situation, now on the table, will have been considered cooperatively within an open, sound and sensible environment, not in some back-office at company HQ. It ought, therefore, to be thought through and worthy of consideration.

Whatever the outcome, the individual in authority has indeed been called to account – in person. The spokesperson will report back to the next meeting of the older people’s group. The answer could be a ‘No’, a ‘Maybe,’ but possibly a ‘Yes.’ A ‘No’ might later become a ‘Maybe,’ and a ‘Maybe’ might later become a ‘Yes.’ If a ‘Yes,’ either now or later, authority will have yielded to the challenge of an older person, empowered through representing other older people, and the outcome, however big or small, has resulted in ‘Making Change Happen.’

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