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Values and behaviours

‘How does this add value to me?’ he asked. He, in this instance, was a process man. The discussion was about a matter of wellbeing. The process man was asking the question from a position of process. The substance of the discussion was about enabling better lives.

Somewhere the focus was lost. The focus for some was about the process of what they do, not the outcome. The focus for others was resolutely about the outcome. This tension in the focus questioned the entire basis of the question about value.

For ‘value added’ to be a valid basis for discussion, there has to first be some value in the original activity. If there is no value in the original activity, ‘value added’ is simply a way of shoring up what doesn’t exist, what is not accessible, tangible or meaningful. If there is value in what originally exists, why is there a need to add value to it? Who benefits from the added value?

Stephen Hill of C20 Futureplanners talks about values and behaviours. He talks about the idea of co-housing from the perspective of the motivations of people to participate in an idea, to participate in the discovery and sharing of sets of values. The behaviours that people act out on the basis of these values form the basis of their community, their way.

The professional values we use and impose, and the behaviours we initiate to handle change matter too he argues. For, if we are not clear on the values we hold, and the tension that may exist between the values we hold as professionals, and the potentially different set of values we hold as citizens, then the basis of our decisionmaking can be questioned. Hill argues that it is a mistake to assume that the values we hold are the values of the people who will occupy a place. In many cases, they aren’t or won’t be. Being open to the values of others, and trying to understand the motivations of others is the basis of understanding people and place.

I attended a conference recently on ‘Planning for resilient communities in challenging times’. Throughout the conference, there was a sense of a profession being challenged by a change in the ethics and values of a contemporary politic. There was a sense of a profession in a struggle, with itself as much as with outside influences. The keynote speech was given by Brian Anson’s son and Arthur Muscovitch.

Both set out the story of a man who valued the right of others to have a life with dignity in their place. A challenging man, who fought battles to secure a sustainable future for Covent Garden in London. Towards the end of the speech, there was a powerfully poignant moment. Muscovitch, a lifelong friend of Anson spoke. He spoke of a conversation before Anson died, where Anson questioned the basis of his life, and his values. All his life he said, was a struggle ‘to discover who the hell I am’.

The wellbeing of place is an interesting phrase because it places the conditions enabled by a place at the heart of the idea. For people to have wellbeing, they must have some autonomy over their life, some capacity to shape the world around them. This wellbeing, and these capacities can be enabled or inhibited by the values we as professionals hold, and the behaviours we act out on the basis of these values. Anson recognised the tension to be true to the self, to understand our own values and our own behaviours.

Policy on its own will not change the world. It is not sufficient, and perhaps not acceptable to just say we have the policies. We need behaviours based on values. Central to these values must be a simple recognition of the value of others, and their will to discover who they are in their place in their way.

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