The value of kindness

June 11, 2018

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By Jennifer Wallace, Head of Policy, Carnegie UK Trust

Today the Scottish Government launches is revised and updated National Performance Framework.  First set out in 2007, the framework sets the purpose of the Scottish Government and identifies National Outcomes that all public bodies (including the Scottish Government itself) seek to achieve.

While there have been minor changes along the way, this is the first full revision since 2007.  It brings with it a number of innovations. The purpose now includes the role of government in securing wellbeing for the people of Scotland, and the outcomes are aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals. For those interested in the detail, there are some significant changes to the indicator set to bring it more up to date and better able to measure social progress.

Each of these sets of innovations will be analysed and commented upon by the large number of organisations (public, private and voluntary) that take an interest in the future direction of Scotland.

But one innovation is likely to receive fewer comments.  In the centre of the new visual is a semi-circle that sets out Scotland’s values.  The values statement came as a direct result of public engagement carried out by Carnegie UK Trust, Oxfam Scotland and the Children’s Parliament. It reads:  We are a society which treats all our people with kindness, dignity and compassion respects the rule of law and acts in an open and transparent way.

At Carnegie UK Trust, we have been working since 2015 with a range of partners on understanding the value of kindness and its ability to spark different conversations about communities, public services and social progress. While many people have argued with us that we should use a more technical word, like social capital or relational welfare, we have resisted. Kindness is a word that people across Scotland understand and that resonates with them. For people, it makes sense, for public servants it reconnects their personal and professional identities.

By putting kindness in the National Performance Framework, the Scottish Government is recognising a value that most in Scotland would know is part of our culture. Later this summer, CUKT will have new data coming out that shows just how much kindness there is in our society. By recognising this, the government are encouraging us to go further, to use kindness to support each other to reduce loneliness and social isolation and to improve outcomes from public services. We know patients do better when they experience human touch, we know children need love to help them grow and form attachments. We know relationships matter.

Values statements are tricky to get right.  We use them to remind ourselves of the things we hold dear. And as a recent RSA podcast on values concluded, for it to be worth stating that something is a value, it has to be in tension with other values or outcomes.

So what is the value of kindness in tension with?  Our work to date suggests a number of things.  It is in tension with the managerialism of our general approach to public services. Our desire for professionalism, efficiency and risk management crowds out the space to be kind.  To be kind in a community setting brings with it the risk of being rebuked, misinterpreted or simply getting in too deep.  To be kind in a public sector environment is often taken to mean ‘to go the extra mile’, which by its nature cannot be mandated.  Such flexibility is profoundly at odds with the dominant culture of top-down command and control that still governs much of our public sector.

In a service setting, kindness requires discretion, to notice, to care, to spend another few minutes with someone. But we know that discretion is implemented unfairly.  We are more likely to be kind to those like us. So the second tension is between fairness and kindness.  Given the Scottish Governments commitments to fairness, they will be well aware of this tension. Elsewhere in the National Performance Framework there are exhortations to value fairness.

To overcome the tension between kindness and fairness we must apply a more radical concept of kindness.  If kindness relates to treating people as ‘kin’, then the value of kindness in the National Performance Framework must be radical kindness – to treat people who are not like us as if they were kin.

This will not happen organically, it requires time, thought and support.  The Carnegie UK Trust is delighted to be convening the Kindness Innovation Network, a network of 100 people from across Scotland who are committed to developing kindness in their organisations and communities.

Kindness is a value, not an outcome nor an indicator. Experience tells us that as the new NPF is implemented the focus will be on the measures of social progress. In a technocratic and managerialist process, the value of kindness gives us route to a different type of conversation about the relationships that really matter to our wellbeing.

Endnotes

More information on our work on kindness can be found at https://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/project/kinder-communities/

I am indebted to Simon Anderson (Simon Anderson Consulting) and Julie Brownlie (University of Edinburgh) for the concept of radical kindness which was developed during their work on Liveable Lives (supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation).