The times demand more of us. I mean that literally.
Our networks are global, our operating environment is 24-7, our challenges are systemic, our political discourse is fracturing, and our communities are divided.
But as this Solace Summit focuses on ‘a fresh perspective on the future’, we should also recognise that we are standing at the threshold of a new age of human and social potential; an age that requires more than ever before that we are attentive to our own learning and development.
Just at the moment it might seem that we have many challenges that sometimes threaten to overwhelm us. But over the longer-term and looking forwards there are huge opportunities for us to fundamentally transform the way we work, think, and engage with our communities.
For example, we are only just beginning to understand the power of the data we hold and the insight we can derive from it. We are only just beginning to understand the potential of the sharing economy – a transformation that in just a few years has dissolved hard products into intangible services, such as storing information in the cloud instead of hardware servers on site. We are also only just beginning to recognise the power of new platforms for collaboration and co-operation that genuinely promise to make social assets universally available. As a sector we are only just beginning to work out how best to harness the wisdom of crowds as a core organisational capability and, in addition to that we are only just beginning to exploit the powerful effects of networks; as Hilary Cottam says in her great book Radical Help which I strongly recommend, reverse the polarity of most public services which see demand as a drain rather than as a resource.
So, the times ask more of us and both individually and organisationally we need to be ready and prepared to step up to the plate. That is why Solace, under the guidance of Joanne Roney who has taken on the Learning and Leadership portfolio, is doubling down on its focus on professional and organisational learning and development as part of its offer to members.
Solace has a range of programmes for colleagues at all stages of their career - from established chief executives to emerging leaders – because we recognise that in a world of rapid change it is more important than ever before to invest in learning and development. Learning is the bedrock on which everything else stands. Investing in our learning should be seen as building a pathway to tomorrow; not as a luxury or a series of one off investments, but as creating the necessary infrastructure to help us get to where we need to be.
Infrastructures are ever present, facilitating our ability to achieve our goals and so woven into our lives that they go un-noticed until something goes wrong. But they nevertheless need constant maintenance and attention if they are to be effective. Infrastructures are a long-term good; they are a responsibility, not a nice-to-have. I think we need to start thinking about our commitment to learning in the same way.
And infrastructures support everyone. A commitment to learning and development should not be something that only applies to a select number of people in the organisation. Learning must permeate all parts of our organisations all the time and all parts of our sector. We must challenge our organisations, but we must also challenge one another to uphold these principles and exemplify this approach.
To my mind, this Summit couldn’t come at a more opportune moment. There is, of course, plenty to challenge and keep us awake at night. But there is also plenty for us to be optimistic about as we focus our energies on thinking about and planning for the future - helping our residents and organisations to respond positively to uncertainty and adapt to the rapidly changing world we operate in, with Solace in a stronger position than ever before to support us in that task.
Never before has it been so important that we take the time to reflect, discuss, share, learn from, and challenge one another to rise to the demands of the time. Never before has it felt so important to think seriously about building a learning infrastructure for tomorrow as well as today.
It is when the times are most demanding, that we must demand most from ourselves.
Gavin Jones, Solace chair and Chief Executive, Essex CC