Thankyou Chair…On Chairmanship
“Nobody round here notices what I do – until I stop doing it!” Thus was the message that screamed out from a colleague’s coffee mug – not at my present employment I hasten to add.
This statement sprang out from the depths of my sub-conscious as I have been trying to put into words my own ‘take’ on the convulsions that have gripped the country in the past few weeks as the Government, and the people it governs, have tried to steer a course towards Brexit.
I must confess that I have a lot of sympathy for the Prime Minister. She and her colleagues will have to enter into a horrendously complex negotiation, steering a course that brings enough of her MPs with her without revealing all her bargaining chips to the other side. What form those bargaining chips take depends very much on what kind of Brexit the nation is deemed to want. But what does it want?
One of the first questions that I ask communities and their representatives about our clients’ development proposals is “what do you think?”. It’s the most obvious first question although getting the answer is not always an easy process. I have discoursed before about the importance of building trust – this is important if the discussion is going to take place around the opportunities that we can bring rather than threats.
However, effective ‘chairmanship’ of a community’s discussion is also essential and there is not always a figure or body that can help a community work through the implications of change.
Anyone who has observed a planning committee can fully appreciate the qualities of a good committee chair. He or she must allow everyone to have their say, make sure the discussion stays on-topic, be firm but fair and, through constructive discussion, work the way towards a position that as many people as possible feel comfortable with. It is a difficult and delicate balance to strike. It is an important skill and a skill that can also be very useful outside the committee room among the community that is discussing change.
I have written before about the process that people go through when understanding, accepting, rejecting or influencing change. This process can end up distorted where there is no effective community leadership or chairmanship. This is a shame when it happens because it leads to unnecessary conflict between developers and communities and missed opportunities (a planning application is, among other things, a negotiation).
The past few weeks have seen a dramatic conflict between the Government, Parliament and the courts over the next steps towards Brexit. Parliament, with all its imperfections, will be playing a chairmanship role of sorts and will help to shape the debate around the kind of Brexit we want. In this new phase of the nation’s politics good chairmanship has never been so important. We are relying on it and you can bet we will notice if it is missing.
By Gabriel Abulafia, Director