Anyone who knows us at Lankelly Chaseknows that we’ve been on a journey in the company of many wonderful partners and collaborators over the last few years. Our relationship with knowledge and evidence is one part of this.
We started in a pretty conventional place – we are a foundation concerned with severe and multiple disadvantage, therefore we defined what we meant by that and tried to quantify it.
The result of this approach was Hard Edges (2015) which is probably still our best known and most influential piece of work. It was welcomed as an important stake in the ground, solidly evidencing what most people working in front line organisations know, that problems don’t exist in isolation. There is a mutually reinforcing relationship between the domains we settled on – homelessness, contact with the criminal justice system and substance misuse.
So far, so good.
Of course there are other mutually reinforcing clusters of problems in people’s lives. We were critiqued about the relative absence of women in Hard Edges. Ok, there was work we could do here. A whole programme of work on women in fact, including helping to establish Agenda and commissioning a gendered statistical profile which is underway at Heriot-Watt University at the moment.
There’s a big ‘AND….’ caveat here though. These kinds of approaches are important and describing groups of people primarily in terms of their problems also risks increasing stigma. It risks individualising things, it downplays structural forces and it excludes anyone who doesn’t fit the categorisation in use.
So what to do? We need definitions don’t we? How do we describe the problem we are here to solve if we don’t use categories and definitions based on needs and problems.
Well, yes perhaps we do right now and (again), can we also think about what an alternative way of doing this might entail?
What if the most important things we valued and measured were relationships, what if we used the capabilities approach with its emphasis on people’s freedom to be and do the things they want to in the world? What if everything we did was intended to increase human interconnectedness and we stopped using stigmatising labels?
Now, we are engaged in an action inquiry to understand how knowledge and evidence relates to our mission. We are seeking views and ideas about this and we invite you to watch this space where we will be sharing our thoughts as we go.