Power, Organisation and Values

Matthew Taylor of the RSA spoke at the Local Government Association (LGA) conference  – which The Campaign Company (TCC) attended this week – on the issue of different types of social power. He said:

Defined simply, power is the capacity to achieve desired objectives. It can be expressed in various ways: through coercion, explicit persuasion or an ability to shape norms and assumptions.

He was reiterating the definitions he came up with at his RSA Annual lecture last year. Taylor defined three sources of social power, hierarchy in authority, individual aspiration and social solidarity. These three types also correspond to the three mains forms of social organisation: Hierarchies, Markets and Networks. Taylor indicated those three forms of power have different directions of engagement too:

First, the downward power of hierarchical authority associated most strongly with the state. Second, the lateral power of solidarity and shared values generally associated with the idea of community. Third, the upward power of individual aspirations, which tends to be associated with markets.

Taylor has also set out the challenges they face:

  • Hierarchy in authority is all those people who think they can tell us what to do and the frameworks that compel people to conform. However levels of Trust are lower. Society is much less deferential than it used to be. Technology has also now strengthened the individual against the hierarchy.
  • Individual Aspiration is a will to achieve and is all about individualism. However the relatively recent rise of this has created a vacuum, and led to society being perceived as more narrow and materialistic. This approach to power nowadays stuggles to justify the myth of ‘homo economicus’ – that we are all maximising utilisers – which has been comprehensively rebutted by behavioural economics.
  • Social solidarity is about our responsibilities to each other. However there is also a decline in ‘congregational institutions’, such as political parties and trade unions. Social diversity has been partly implicated, possibly due to mobility. We have to trust and like people very different to ourselves. We have also seen the fracturing of class  and there is also the rise of the super-rich.

Taylor argues that the way to address complex social problems is to bring all these approaches to power together. He argues we live in a society where we are not producing solutions which mobilise all this power. For example why is social mobility the answer to solving inequality, as it does not address injustice or lack of inclusivity? Taylor says that where we do not use all forms of power, we risk failure:

Wicked problems are, by definition, tough and multifaceted, so we need to draw on all forms of social power to tackle them. When progress seems impossible, we revert to a fourth way of thinking about power and change: fatalism.

Reading this set of definitions I was struck by the similarity with values segmentation:

  • Hierarchy in Authority has similarities with safety and security driven values
  • Individual Aspiration is similar to outer directed values
  • Social solidarity has a lot of similarities with networked inner directed values

As we have argued before on the development of local social capital, and through our recent research for Newham Council, this is no surprise to us as forms of social organisation do seem to impact on values. We already seem to see the interplay between values and social networks and other forms of social organisation. We would expect power relations to do this too and be influenced by values in turn

Perhaps Matthew Taylor’s key insight here is that we need collaboration between:

  • all 3 types of social power;
  • all 3 forms of social organisation;
  • those who hold differing values across the 3 mains values sets;

in order for us to seriously address big societal problems.

However TCC knows from its work that often a Values Gap prevents that from effectively happening. For example the values of a public sector organisation making it difficult to engage with the very different values held by many of its residents.

Perhaps in order to start addressing big societal problems we first need an asset based approach to map communities for their power relations, social organisations/networks and also their values.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for The Campaign Company. If you want to see what your own primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here.

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