Final call on KIN

May 6, 2019

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by Ben Thurman, Policy and Development Officer, Carnegie UK Trust

Over the last year, the Kindness Innovation Network has been on a journey exploring a difficult question: how to encourage kindness in communities and organisations across Scotland. At the end of March, the Carnegie UK Trust hosted the final event of KIN, providing a chance to reflect on what we have learnt.

KIN started from a positive place, thinking about some of the simple, low-key things that we can do to create the conditions for kindness. Through this process we have learnt so much more about the themes that we wrote about in the Place of Kindness. And by focusing our thinking around themes like ‘food sharing’ and ‘unlocking spaces’, we have heard about the interventions and conversations that enable us to engage in an authentic and human way.

But we quickly came up against the limitations and barriers of organisational cultures: thinking deeply about the way that rules-based systems, performance management and a risk averse culture drive behaviours and outcomes. We have heard many stories of people breaking the rules to be kind. But we cannot expect individuals – and especially those at the frontline who are paid and valued the least – to hold the tension between personal values and organisational procedures.

This has taken our work on kindness to a different place: where we are looking at the system level, and thinking about what we can do to make kindness, and other values in the National Performance Framework, real.

KIN has thus illuminated both the importance and the challenge of this work. And so we were delighted to be joined on the day by Christina McKelvie MSP, Minister for Older People and Equalities, and four ‘keynote listeners’ from across the UK and Ireland: Cormac Russell, Nurture Development; Katherine Trebeck, Wellbeing Economy Alliance; Robin Banerjee, University of Sussex; and Steve Cranston, Office of the Future Generations Commissioner.

Their presence and contributions both reflected the significance of the work of KIN, and also offered further insight into some of the features and complexities of kindness.

·         Kindness is unobligated: it cannot be mandated, it must be enabled. This fundamentally changes the nature of a Scottish Government that seeks to both encourage and be defined by kindness.

·         A lot of discussion is about kindness as an ‘antidote’ to social problems – whether that’s loneliness or improving outcomes in services. But it’s also an ‘inoculation’: it’s about prevention, which means designing it into the system and embracing the human.

·         But this leads to a tension between the individual and the institution. At KIN we have talked about radical kindness, as something that demands institutional and structural change. However, this should not cause inertia at an individual level. As the example of KIN clearly shows, the action of enough individuals can and does have an influence on changing the conversation.

·         And finally, how does kindness change our approach to measurement and performance management? There is a sense that designing in kindness necessitates a ‘trade-off’ with something else. But how do we measure the impact of something that is inherently subjective? And does attempting to do so dilute the intuitive and responsive nature of kindness?

The next step for Team Kindness will be to share what we have learnt – and we will continue to reflect on these questions and provocations as we write our final report, which will be published in the early summer. Twelve months on, kindness remains a difficult and challenging concept. But what KIN has shown, is that there is a growing level of interest and enthusiasm for this work, which suggests that, in Scotland at least, kindness is not something that is going to go away.