Freeing minds

An excerpt from Tim Montgomerie’s assessment of the impact made by Michael Schluter, untiring advocate of an alternative to the materialism of Left and Right.

The Jubilee Centre and its leader – Michal Schluter – offered something different. Something that found comprehensive expression in the book he co-wrote with David Lee in 1993; “The R Factor”.  Inspired by the Bible, Schluter found evidences for private enterprise (in God as Creator and man made in his image, for example) and for state action (in, eg, rendering to Caesar) but – most of all – he found evidence for a philosophy of valuing relationships. Noting, for example, the Bible’s repeated calls to care for the widow, the orphan and the alien (migrant), his “Relationships Foundation” recommended what it called a “triple test” for all of public policy:

“We want all parties to subscribe to this basic premise: that policy development, proposals for legislation, and government action should all be subject to a triple test – economic, environmental and social. The economic test has long dominated political debate.

Recently, however, policymakers have begun to move towards a second test by recognising the importance of the environment and seeking the tools necessary to address that vital sphere of life in their assessments. We now need to go further and add to this double test the neglected third element – the social test… 

The social aspect of ‘The Triple Test’ is fundamentally about relationships… Public policy is never neutral and we believe that policy makers and implementers should always test their proposals not only to ensure, as far as is possible, that these do not damage existing relational links, but also to see if ways can be found to encourage people increasingly to connect with each other in the public sphere. Strong communities and extended families can build financial and social capital, increasing wellbeing and reducing long-term pressures on public spending.”

I can’t do justice to the wealth of research and policy tools that Michael Schluter and his institutional creations have produced over the years (and wouldn’t defend or subscribe to all of them either)… but in projects like its “index” measuring the cost of family breakdownthe family testKeep Time for Childrenpromotion of relational justice; and the promotion of better relationships in the workplace – Schluter has stood apart from the almost absolute materialism that has not only dominated the political left and right but which has too often captured the church and other institutions that should have known (and should know) better.

Like the work of one of my other intellectual heroes – Michael Novak1I’m not sure there’s yet much evidence from the public policy world that Schluter-ian relationism is on the rise. But free minds are still free minds even if they’re not victorious in what they argue for. And in Putnam, Murray, Brooks, Hilton and others – his ideas’ time may be finally edging closer, at least in the intellectual arena. I hope so.

Excerpt courtesy of

Photo by Johnny Green / PA

Full article can be found here.

Expeditionary learning goes to the heart of Westminster

The Relational Schools Foundation was delighted to launch the ‘super-cut’ of its new film – We Are Crew – on 9 January 2018, at an event in Westminster hosted by Jeremy Lefroy MP.

(You can view the 9 minute film here)

The film, a short edit of RSF’s longer documentary on the impact of expeditionary learning, follows a relational research project at the XP School in Doncaster, and explores how a pro-social curriculum focused on teamwork and character development both in and out of the classroom can have remarkably positive – sometimes transformational – results.

(You can purchase the full 45 minute documentary for £10 here)

The movie was followed by a panel debate featuring former Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan MP; CEO of the British Exploring Society, Honor Wilson-Fletcher; Director of Educational Innovation at the University of Cambridge, Professor Colleen McLaughlin; CEO of the XP School Trust, Gwyn ap Harri; and XP School student, Grace.

Hosting the debate, Dr Rob Loe, Director of RSF, said: “The findings of our research are important; they are an important tool for education leadership. We know that public policy or organisational change can either increase relational distance or overcome it. Through our work so far, we also know that those schools – like XP – which we would classify as ‘relational’, returned not just lower levels of bullying and absence, and improved wellbeing, but also superior academic outcomes.”

Indeed, just a few months after RSF’s study at XP School, Ofsted inspected the school for the first time, judging it to be ‘outstanding’ in all areas. Specifically, it’s report highlighted students’ outstanding academic progress, because ‘there is no ceiling to the standards that pupils can reach’, with disadvantaged students often outperforming their peers ‘because staff and leaders know these pupils very well’.

Speaking in the film, Tony Little, former Headmaster at Eton College, now Group Chief Academic Officer at GEMS Education, puts it like this: “The purpose of a school is fundamentally social. It is to enable young people to learn how to navigate the adult world, to learn how to develop relationships, to learn how to deal with the rough as well as the smooth. It’s all these things which, loosely, could be termed development of character.”

XP School’s Executive Principal, Andy Sprakes, commented: “Relationships at XP are wholly positive and supportive. Students describe the concept of ‘Crew’ as family and there is a collective sense of purpose which enhances individual achievement and common goals. This was underlined at the launch by our own students who spoke so impressively and passionately about their school and its ethos. Beautiful work, kindness, integrity and a sense of responsibility for yourself and each other are the glue that binds us. This report underlines that and how powerful it can be within a school.”

For Gwyn ap Harri, CEO of the XP School Trust: “Working with Relational Schools was a very reflective process for us. We intuitively and passionately feel that what we do here and how we do it has a significant and positive impact on our staff and students. To see this belief reflected back in a respected and empirically sound report and film, feels like something to celebrate and share. What we do works, but it adds even more to the value of this when these findings can become a useful and powerful tool to enhance and enable other schools and students.”

Concluding, Dr Loe added: “I was particularly drawn to the human scale values of XP, and the significance they place on building a genuine community of learners inside and outside the classroom. What is vital to understand here, is that their approach is so uncomplicated in its design and execution, and is delivered within a framework of stretched budgets and limited resource, in a system which currently seems to promote competition and individualism. Any school, anywhere, can choose to create the conditions in which relationships flourish, and are learned. What is represented here in these films is a shift in mind-set about how education can be conducted, based on the creation of a genuine community in which people treat others as ends in themselves.”

Working with relationship algorithms

The inaugural Stakeholder Relationship Algorithm workshop by Consult Ren was held on 7th November 2017 in Singapore.

This workshop is designed to help participants breakdown the complex algorithm of forming strong relationships into simple steps. Through hands-on activities and reflective drills, this engaging workshop will change the way participants think about relationships and equip them with tools that could help them build strong relationship bridges.

The workshop’s content draws on the wisdom and expertise of 20 years of research and development in Relational Thinking.

In this workshop, participants learn how to:

· Identify and Map Key Stakeholders

· Quickly discover the DNA of any relationships

· Understand and apply the Relational Proximity Framework™ with their stakeholders

· Use the Relational Lens to diagnose any problem

After the workshop, one participant shared that he felt he should start engaging a very important key stakeholder which he had avoided due to personality differences. After going through the Proximity model, he could identify the areas in that relationship that requires attention and come up with an effective engagement plan.

Another participant discovered that even the most insignificant person can indirectly affect her performance. It is important to find out who are the performance affecting stakeholders in her workplace and start to build good relationships with them.

The most satisfying aspect of this course from my perspective was that at the end of the workshop, participants demonstrate that they understood and knew how to apply Relational Thinking into their situation. Previous courses were more knowledge based and participants usually were not able to articulate understanding. Without intentional practice, it is difficult to make Relational Thinking work for anyone.

This workshop has the potential to help people engage Relational Thinking in a practical and sustainable way that will be the catalyst to transform relationships and culture in any organisation. To find out more, please contact

3 Big Relationships Questions and Opportunities for 2018

Even the new physics tells us that matter is merely the manifestation of spirit, but spirit, consciousness, relationship itself is the real thing.We used to think all the energy was in the particles of the atom; now it seems that energy is, in fact, in the space between the particles.

Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs

For most of us the space between the particles – between you, me, others – our relationships, will be defining regarding how the year 2018 unfolds. The same is true for Donald Trump, Time Magazine’s Person of the Year 2017 and President of the so-called “Divided States of America.” His success will greatly depend on how he navigates the relationships of ardent supporters and determined opposition.

But it is also true for each of us. While New Year’s resolutions often focus on weight-loss or exercise – our hopes, dreams and goals for 2018 will be greatly impacted by the support, indifference or resistance from our relationships. I have written extensively about our collective relational decline including my book, This Land of Strangers – The Relationship Crisis That Imperils Home, Work, Politics and Faith based on six years of researching the cumulative social, emotional and economic impact across our lives.

Since completing the book I created a Flight From Relationship index comprised of 16 key metrics ranging from the rise in single-parent households, loss of “go to” friends, turnover of skilled employees including CEOs, and defections from political parties and religious affiliation (Ron Fournier, NationalJournal wrote about it here). The net: over several decades a 214 percent increase in our flight from relationships. If productive relationships are among our most valuable and value-creating resources – my research says they are – then a central question for the good of our health, wealth and well-being is: What is the current state of my relationships and what are my intentions for 2018? Let me propose three questions to help us examine our relationships.

1. Are your relationships big enough to get the job done?

The short answer is that often there is a mismatch between what we aspire to accomplish and the strength of our relationships to get them done. We might call it our “relationship deficit.” In 2016 I spoke at an international conference at Cambridge University in the midst of lively discussions prior to Great Britain’s “Brexit” vote. Another speaker prophetically posed leadership guru Steve Radcliffe’s question – “Are your relationships big enough to get the job done?” In retrospect, the surprising vote to exit the EU similar to President Trump’s victory, seemed to unearth a “relationship deficit” in a group of voters feeling relationally neglected.

It raises the issue of how relationships become depleted when they are taken-for-granted or ignored. In working extensively with inner city homeless families, I have found that most often the trip-wire for becoming homeless is not when someone loses their last dollar but when they “use up” their last relationship and a relative or friend kicks them out. Personally and organizationally, we have hopes, dreams and goals for this next year that are at-risk because of “used-up” relationships – too small, damaged or passive for the aspiration we intend.

I have coined the term “disengagement economy” to describe the costly drag on an entire economy hobbled by weak, broken or “used-up” relationships. Relationships that are “big enough” depend on your strategic goals. Do you have enough relationships? Are they the right relationships? Are they diverse enough? Are they strong enough? It may mean attentively strengthening your marriage, initiating relationship-building in other departments at work, developing more friend-relationships outside work or volunteering with those in need.

Where have we become relational “users” or even abusers, growing a relational deficit in pivotal parts of our lives? In 2018, where must we increase or re-allocate relationship investment?

2. Where have difficult or offensive relationships dis-empowered you into a victim role?

The only thing worse than difficult or even oppressive relationships is self-inflicted, victim-behavior that damages us more than others could.

We have all suffered relational offense. “Offense” comes from the Greek word skandalon for trap – like an animal trap – referring specifically to the mechanism that holds the bait. When we allow ourselves to become victimized and powerless due to others’ offense – trapped in anger, fear, self-pity – we are literally holding on to the bait that imprisons us. As victims, a part of us becomes paralyzed or even dead – as if the blood stops carrying oxygen there.

When we redirect our energy by letting-go – we escape the trap and become alive again. In 2018, it is time to let go of the bait and move on – which may mean leaving the relationship, asserting oneself or letting go of old feelings. The key is deciding to become proactive, alive and empowered to move forward.

3. Where is the ease and “convenience” of avoiding relationships costing you?

Too many of us have become seduced by the relationship control we now have. We choose selective exclusion – living, working, and socializing in our own siloed, homogeneous tribes.

In a global world of international travel and a world-wide-web – we keep narrow-casting. In these cocoons, we keep getting surprised – 9/11 attacks, Brexit, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump – there are large numbers of “others” out there who see things differently. The more we talk about diversity and inclusion the less we actually engage it. Too often we use our personal and organizational leadership power to exclude and silence inconvenient differences.

And, admit it: Part of what we love about our technology is the ways we can lazily communicate from afar – avoiding engagement. Communication is often designed to hide our feelings, obfuscate our intentions, and protect us from messy engagement – 160 character texts, 140 character tweets and Moji graphics constrain us. Email protects us from frowns, scowls, tears, stressful tics and unwelcome emotions; but, also exuberance, joy, and surprise. Where am I just waving and smiling electronically – relationally lobotomized? So where do all the bottled-up emotions go? Some show up in toxic – but safely distanced -social-media-enabled political and theological food-fights.

It is time to take inventory of our relationships and decide: Where am I under-invested, dis-empowered (self-inflicted) and avoiding the very relationships central to my best opportunities in 2018?

By Robert Hall

IMAGE: Rufino Hermandad 

Why is it only 31% of people thrive at work?

The latest RBEFF call was held on the evening of 28 November 2017. As the name suggests the call is for anybody interested in the role that relationships play in any of those three overlapping worlds – business, economics and finance.

The format for the calls is simple. One of the participants is earmarked as the “presenter” and they talk for 15 to 20 minutes on a subject of their choice, as long as it is vaguely themed on relationships in the B, E or F world. We then have as long as everybody wants for Q&A and discussion based on the presentation.

So far using this format we have had a call on using the Relational Proximity Framework in a real corporate situation, we have had a call on the fit of relationship within the Blueprint for Better Business and we have had this call, led exceptionally well by John Kay, on Thriving People, Thriving Organisations.

If what follows makes no sense, or is inaccurate in anyway then it my reporting, not John’s excellent insights.

The opening premise is the well-known statistic that only 31% of people thrive at work. As John pointed out, over all his years at PA Consulting, and I can echo this from my experience at KPMG, he participated in, was subjected to and subjected clients to, thousands of initiatives from the HR profession designed to help people thrive at work. And yet only 31% of people thrive at work. What is going wrong?

Of course, the stated intention is rarely to help people thrive but more often to help them excel, or succeed more, or exceed expectations. Whilst the first is about the individual, the latter three are all about the organisation and everyone knows it.

What John and his colleagues have done is to formulate a vision of four areas that contribute to a thriving work place. The first is the Person. People need to be able to feel their own value and arouse their own self-worth in order to thrive. The second is Relationship. Our relationships can free us or bind us and how relationship manifests within the organisation determines our capacity to thrive. The third is Work Community. This is the network of other organisations and people in the outside world that the person comes into contact with through their work. Again, this network of interactions and relationships can either help or hinder the individual’s ability to thrive. Lastly there is the Environment. That is the national and sometimes international paradigm that surrounds the organisation and its sector.

The lines between these four areas are not rigidly defined. The Environment both incorporates and influences the sector and the sector is both in the environment but very much part of the culture that creates the Work Community. To the person who is thriving they might see themselves as sitting on top of this tree. To the person not thriving they might see themselves as beneath it.

For the person to thrive effort is required in all of these areas. If as a manager in an organisation I am determined to help my people thrive but the organisation nurtures rivalry between departments and the promotion of bullies and charlatans, then I will fail. Not only will I fail but I will also not thrive myself. Similarly, a sector might develop many approaches to collaboration and innovation and an atmosphere of exciting possibility, but if that is in the context of a depressed economic landscape, weak government and governance then the collaboration and innovation will most likely be wasted.

It is not for one person or one organisation to build all four areas but for governments, corporations, civil society and individuals to do this in harmony. However, every person and every organisation have a contributory role to play in building all four areas. What I do, as an individual, influences the Supportive Environment for better or worse.

John talked us through the four models or tools that he saw fitting each of these four areas best. Models that might be used to shape our thinking and ultimately our interventions. For the Person that model was The Map of Meaning ( Working with an individual with The Map of Meaning is about helping them understand their personal perspective (and potentially to challenge that perspective) across three dimensions – Being/Doing; Self/Others; and Inspiration/Reality.

The model John uses for relationship is Relational Proximity. This is the model that all members of the RTN will be familiar with from the work of Michael Schluter, David Lee and many others. In essence this is a social constructivist model of relationship that has been widely used to help strengthen individual and group relationships by lifting the dialogue out of the immediate challenge and into the parties’ ability to operate human to human. This sounds airy fairy, but it is not. In practice it is a powerful way of creating positive change.

The Blueprint for Better Business is proposed as the framework for the work community. This is a set of principles, promulgated by the NGO of the same name, and a framework for decision making that puts respect for the human person at the core of all corporate decision making.

Finally, the concept of Social Capital is put forward as the dominant tool for the Environment. Where Social Capital is high we can say that the society is rich in collaboration, diversity, contribution and community engagement. Politics is about creating goods that are common to the whole of society, not just about pitching segments against each other.

After John had clearly articulated the four areas and their related tools on the call there were a few questions and comments from the participants. Our conclusion overall was that we had been introduced to a way of putting together layers of thinking about some fairly existential questions in business, combined with some of the best thinking for each of those layers as to how to engender positive outcomes within and beyond them.

We aim to hold these RBEFF calls roughly every two to three months. New speakers are always welcome as are new participants. If you would like to be on the mailing list to find out when the next one is you can contact either Scott Gray ( or Vincent Neate (

By Vincent Neate

The art of lazy leadership

Much of what was once done by congressional legislation is now done by judicial decrees, agency rules or presidential executive orders. The New York Times5/14/16
Baylor’s senior leadership lacked consistent or meaningful engagement. The New York Times 5/30/16

Lazy leadership is a growth industry: a President issues executive orders rather than engage congress and citizens to address his agenda; law-makers become warriors in “opposing” but deserters in “advocating”; deadbeat dads abandon their families fleeing responsibility; corporate leaders exercise force to obtain employee compliance while disengaged in building commitment; religious leaders find hateeasier than labor-intensive love for advancing their cause.

Lazy leaders – like imperial rulers – in fits of fight and flight spare themselves the heavy-lifting of engaging difficult, conflictive issues. Whether transgender bathrooms, abandoned kids, disengaged employees or floundering flocks – lazy relational leaders make the devil’s deal: embrace short-term gain that yields long-term chaos, loss and pain. Disturbing headlines about deposed Baylor University leaders – found to ignore sexual assaults in support of a wildly successful football team – are but the latest example.

All of us are leaders in one way or another – the question is: Are we relationally lazy leaders? Lazy is defined as “disinclined to work.” “Relational laziness” is a special strain. Many leaders are otherwise hard-working but disinclined to relational efforts like engaging conflict, hurt feelings, and estrangement. The yawning generational divide between baby-boomers, Gen X and Millennials has only added to the relational demands on today’s leadership. Perhaps the rise in assertive, highly informed stakeholders contributes more to the problem than any rise in lazy leaders. Regardless, there is growing demand for more relationally engaged and assertive leaders.

Relational leadership is often misunderstood as simply being nice. It is much more than that. Robust relational leadership aims for productive relationships through accountability, encouragement, tough-love, forgiveness, stretch goals, demanding skill development, a kick-in-the-butt, and visionary purpose.

Here’s the rub. It is impossible to have all the diverse attributes or endless energy to fully meet today’s needs – the demands of leadership always exceed supply. Plus, some traits are virtually mutually exclusive: being visionary, diving deep into details, wooing people, holding people accountable, administration, dealing with naysayers.

The good news: We don’t have to be omnipotent. Leadership laziness does not come from our personal inability to do all things, but from our lack of intention to develop a team that collectively might. Leaders often ignore or loathe those things they are not good at (remember General Douglas MacArthur’s dig at General Eisenhower, “best clerk I ever had”). The first job of relational leaders is to identify their strengths and then to account for, and provision for, their weaknesses – and then do the same thing for each member of their teams.

The great news: relational leadership does not require us to fake being what we are not. Rather real relational leadership requires three things:

Show up and do the work. Building productive relationships is hard work. Success requires committing to a workout routine no less rigorous and regular than those of professional athletes. The relationship routine starts with dedicating your most precious resource, your time to productive relationships. Carve out time for key relationships – direct reports, bosses, the troops, colleagues, customers, and other key stakeholders. Allocate time for interruption – another word for “stakeholder-led priorities.”

What if President Obama and key members of Congress had committed early-on to the hard work of building productive relationships? Things might be different. Ask yourself everyday: What difficult or frayed relationships am I avoiding? Ask about obstacles, listen, and work to remove them. It is a powerful way to show up for your team.

Delight in and organize around strengths. Relational leaders delight in levering their own and everyone else’s strengths. Gallup reports that team success ties most directly to this question: At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day? Yet, notice how different are the implicit strengths of great leaders. Steve Jobs: “Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought possible.” Jobs’ reputation for being almost impossible to work for was offset by his strength in inspiring people to stretch for an unimagined vision.

Contrast that to Bono, leader of the Irish rock band U2 and worldwide icon in enlisting uber liberals and conservatives in fighting poverty. Fortune Magazine’s “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” featured Bono’s advice: “One, spread the credit liberally for every success. Two, remind people that they are essential to the mission. Three, ask for more. Repeat.” His signature move is engaging the strengths of people with intense differences.

President Abraham Lincoln led by getting the best out of a team of rivals at a time of fierce division. Getting that team to commit their strengths productively in the midst of the Civil War surely took special skill and energy. Relational leaders are in the business of finding and enlarging strengths every day – ours and those we work with. Often a team member (think human resources) is crucial in helping us organize around strengths and work on individual and team development plans.

Admit your weaknesses. Confession is not just a biblical or legal concept; it is simply admitting what everyone else sees. In leadership as in law, often it is not the crime that does you in, but the cover-up. Today’s leaders do not have the luxury of denial. We cannot manage what we will not admit.

Richard Rohr says, “All spirituality is about what we do with our pain…our wounds are God’s hiding places and hold our greatest gifts.” We cannot optimally engage other people’s strengths without knowing our weaknesses. Our pain can be not only our gifts to others but to ourselves when we name it and organize accordingly. It can free us and our resources for productive use. Admission of weakness leaves space that invites and empowers others’ strengths.

By hiding in denial, lazy leaders live immersed in the misery of unused and misused talent. Nothing tires a leader like the emptiness of unproductive relationships. Nothing energizes an organization like productive relationships – where strengths are prized.

By Robert Hall

View of the Relational Lens

“There is widening acceptance that organisations – large and small, public and private, commercial and charitable – may be failing to meet the wider needs of their societal stakeholders.  This has, in some cases, caused a rupturing of trust, a loss of social licence.  To restore trust, organisations will need to look at themselves through an entirely different lens – a Relational Lens.  This book not only provides a compelling rationale for doing so.  It equips companies with the tools to begin the slow process of rebuilding trust, relationship by relationship.”

Andrew G Haldane,
Chief Economist
Bank of England

“Had the Volkswagen engineers and managers read The Relational Lens before installing the software in some eleven million diesel cars in order to cheat emission tests, they might have thought twice. What the authors comprehensively and convincingly demonstrate is that stakeholder relationships extend well beyond the more proximate or the more obvious. In VW’s case they included not only shareholders and top management, but agents, distributors, not to mention customers, and school children being taught what is right and wrong in preparation for life. It’s too late for current VW engineers and managers, but I hope future generations of engineers, managers, directors, presidents, deans, all people with multiple stakeholder responsibility will see The Relational Lens as essential reading.”

Jean-Pierre Lehmann, D.Phil
Emeritus Professor of International Political Economy, IMD, Switzerland

“All organisations – whether public or private – are complex webs of human relationships dedicated to a common purpose.  The Relational Lens explains how our organisations actually work: it is essential reading for anyone with management responsibilities in government, charitable and corporate sectors.”

Lindsay Tanner, former Minister of Finance in Australia

The Relational Lens supplements the approach to corporate governance in South Africa beautifully. One of the notions underpinning the King III Code is the African concept of Ubuntu which is captured by the expression ‘uMuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’ – ‘I am because you are; you are because we are’. It is a recognition of the relational nature of our human-ness. As the authors illustrate so well, the relational is pervasive and this is as true for organisational and governmental endeavour as it is for the individual. The value of The Relational Lens lies in taking relationships from the realm of the abstract to the concrete through liberal use of case studies and examples. We all can work towards better relationships for the greater good.

Ansie Ramalho
King IV Project Lead, Institute of Directors in Southern Africa

How to achieve Strategic Development Goals

This is a report of a round-table dialogue, organised by the Relational Thinking Network in Geneva, that took place in April 2016.

“The implementation of the SDGs will only be possible by challenging the existing economic paradigm,” said Ms Beris Gwynne, the Head of Programmes of the Relational Thinking Network (RTN), as she introduced the subject in Geneva on 20 April 2016. “There is a need for a quantum shift in the way we do business if we are serious about achieving the SDGs and all that they entail.”

In preparation the main presenter, Dr Michael Schluter, the founder of RTN, wrote a relational critique of the SDGs and this roundtable was meant to enliven the conversation around the subject.

Dr Michael Schluter’s presentation

Why is there little attention to relationships when we know it’s so crucial for outcomes? The main reason is that it is very difficult to measure. Measurement becomes important in making the argument for thinking (and acting) relationally, according to Dr Schluter.

In praise of the SDGs he said that the 17 goals were put together in recognition of an unfair world and that they were of great purpose “but that it is even more important that we can get it right.”

Before he dived into his ‘critique’, which you can read here, he acknowledged that any broad change to the agenda involves an underlying world view and three concerns: “It’s like the foundation of the house: You can’t see it – it is out of sight. But I will try to lay bare some aspects of that in what I say today.”

Concern 1: An individualistic underpinning of the SDGs

The Western worldview characterised by materialism runs deeply throughout the SDGs. A few examples:

Rights versus justice. Human rights have become deeply individualistic because of the courts deciding on the legitimacy of advancing a right.
Land as ‘asset’ rather than ‘roots’. The social, psychological, and religious value of land needs to be recognised, rather than its productive and economic capacity measured in terms of food and other agricultural outputs, so that land is not treated merely as an object to be bought and sold, used and discarded.
Education. The SDGs speak of equal access to education for boys and girls. But what about parents? What does it do to parents if they are not literate but their children are and they need to ask them for help reading text on packaging or a road sign? How can you maintain respect in the household when focus is on individual rights and needs instead of that of the household?

Concern 2: Definition of ‘poverty’

Is poverty only financial? Is it defined by access to public sector sources? Or should we
be thinking of it as a relational rather than a financial condition?
Exclusion. The SDGs do not address this kind of ‘relational poverty’.
Omission of relational pressure. The SDGs do not address issues like debt that can
cause enormous suffering and can increase pressure on family relationships. The SDGs are concerned about poverty but not ‘emotional poverty’.

Concern 3: Language of development needs to be reconsidered

What does ‘development’ mean? Is it about institutions or something deeper?

In the UK over half a million children are abused each year. 3.7 million children are in the court system and there is about a 50 per cent divorce rate. Is that the aspiration of the Kenyans or Indians when they think about developing their nation?

Is that what we want? If not, then what is our vision of a ‘developed’ country? Can you describe it? If not, what does the term “SDG” mean with the word ‘development’ in the middle? What are we striving for?

Measuring the outcome

If we talk about relationships and measuring the quality of relationships, what are we talking about? Schluter defined five areas that have an impact on our communication with each other:

Story – How much time do we invest in relationships and how much continuity is there? Information – Do we know the other only in one context (for example as a colleague at work) or do we also know them in other situations (playing sports together, know their family etc). What do we share?
Power – Participation, sharing of risk and reward – is there ‘fairness’ in the relationship? Purpose – Do we share values and goals?
Communication – How do we communicate, do we meet face-to-face?

Key to measuring the quality of one or more relationships (between partners and organisations in commercial and non-commercial spaces) then is the process of filling out a questionnaire. This is done by both parties which consequently opens up the possibility of a dialogue.

The bottom line in all of this is that we do need some kind of review of targets and indicators to bring SDGs more into focus so they will find real traction in countries. They will need to connect more closely with underlying values of the communities in which they will be introduced.

Mark Halle’s response

Mark Halle, of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), was the first respondent to give feedback on what he had heard and read. He agreed that there is a danger of undervaluing relationships. Countries very often are subject to economic measurement approaches that they don’t like. However, the fact that the SDGs at many points focus on individual rights and freedoms, he perceived as “in line with the vast bulk of international law, and very prominently the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There is no other body of international law on which these suggestions might repose. Sound as they are, there is no place to start from but here and no time but now.”

He agreed that the SDGs have gaps and holes but considering the long process of negotiations, the outcome is a real achievement: “The process leading to this text was the most open and participatory in the history of international cooperation. And although the result might be a compromise, it is preferable over no agreement. Now they are adopted, let’s put the critique aside. We have to get on with it… The basis for Agenda 2030 is national implementation – bottom up. Countries have a lot of freedom how to go about it, and how they value the relational aspects of the development process. They can build on strong community engagement.”

He also commented that the 2030 Agenda cannot be implemented within the existing scheme:

“The initiators had no idea of the far reaching consequences when they put it together. Implementation is only possible through challenging the existing overriding economic paradigm. A social paradigm includes employment favourable policies and allows for a great diversity of path and addressing equity.”

According to him, international progress on any agenda, for instance climate change, will be difficult “because they ducked the challenge of equity. We have to change that paradigm and start looking at things like redistribution.”

Lichia Yiu-Saner’s response

Professor Lichia Yiu-Saner, President of the Centre for Socio-Eco-Nomic Development (CSEND) noted that the SDGs do not present one straight line. There is room for feedback. She also emphasised that transformation is about changing our behaviour and that is really hard. “How long does it take for us to take on board that smoking is a bad thing?” she asked.

“Looking for technical solutions we might overlook the qualitative solutions. Relational Thinking allows us additional space for analysis and solution development which is good,” she said.

As for the SDGs she questioned how we prove that a goal like “access to water” contributes to the well-being of everyone?

“In order to prove that, we have to go back to the fundamentals. Cognitively we need to be able to switch from technical to relational, from high context to low context, from quantitative to qualitative and to not leave one of those out of the equation. That is what Relational Thinking can bring to the table in as a practice.”

She also briefly mentioned the issue of equity: “What does it mean – access to reasonable housing or schooling? There is more to it. What if we could propose a relational impact assessment to a community? This will create opportunities to (re)create relationships.”

Finally, knowing the situation in Geneva, she also addressed the challenge of coordinating efforts in attaining some of the SDGs.

“We’ve been struggling with silos and fragmentation and haven’t really started to talk about inter- organisational partnerships. There are new competencies and roles needed in the context and realisation of the SDGs. And I endorse the idea of implementing Relational Thinking in the process of achieving the SDGs – in the instruments, the building of bridges and mechanisms, and to not be wasting resources.”

Samuel Gayi’s response

Dr Samuel Gayi stated that the SDGs were a compromise coming from competing interests from different constituencies. However, they are an improvement on the MDGs and in that sense progress has been made.

He was of the opinion that the paper as presented by Schluter brought fresh perspectives on development that one does not hear much of in the current climate.

After some reflective comments he spoke on the issue of land: “We see it as an asset but that’s not right. We need to incorporate the idea of rights whether it is with regards to the individual, community, social, but we can’t treat it just as a ‘bundle of rights’. Where I come from land is where your ‘umbilical cord’ is buried. This goes beyond economic value.”

He also said that we see it as an asset with individual ownership versus community ownership, which should not be the case. He cited the example of an indigenous communities land title approach (the Customary Right of Occupancy) pioneered by a Masai leader, Edward Loure, in Tanzania, who recently was awarded the “Environment Prize”. This approach ensures the co-existence of traditional land organisational techniques of the Masai and Hadzabe with nature, preserving wild life, herding cattle and goes beyond individual land ownership.

On the issue of poverty, Dr Gayi supported Schluter’s notion that poverty has more than a ‘financial face’ and has a Relational component:

“Social capital is an invaluable mechanism for economic growth. It hinges on ideas of trust and reciprocity. In addressing poverty we therefore must go beyond financial aspect”.

On the question of what is development, he said that development was a multifaceted concept that is about more than increasing income. The political, institutional, cultural aspects are as important as the economic ones.

However, he admitted, it has become an economic term where it is measured by what we accumulate and GDP. Does this mean that if it is not increasing, a society is not developing? There are other aspects one should look for such as the hours of volunteering that are being done, etc.

Gayi, at the end of his response, stressed the need for implementation and monitoring of the SDGs at the country and community level: “We’re are still sitting with the issue of measurement. If something cannot be measured people think it’s not worthwhile. We should get traction if we can measure some of the ideas or proposals we discuss.”

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Image result for clive wilsonWritten by Clive Wilson. Clive is the Director of Primeast and is a truly passionate keynote speaker, facilitator and coach, whose main focus is the purposeful alignment and leadership of individuals, teams, organisations and communities. Experienced in working with both leaders and groups of absolutely any size across the world, Clive is committed to both organisational sustainability, as well as improving the effectiveness of social entrepreneurs in the developing world. He currently chairs the United Nations Association (Harrogate) as an advocate for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“The results of our relational survey were staggering!”

The Relational Schools Foundation (RSF) was asked by the XP School in Doncaster to evaluate the impact of its team-focused ethos, focusing in particular on its Outward Bound expedition for Year 7 students in their first week at the school.

As Dr Rob Loe, RSF’s Director of Research comments: “The results of our relational survey were staggering! Students in all year groups reported significantly closer relationships with one another and with their teachers than we find in our benchmark data. Through our work so far, we know that schools like this which we would classify as ‘relational’, return not just lower levels of bullying and absence, and improved wellbeing, but also superior academic outcomes.”

Indeed, this was reflected in Ofsted’s report, as part of its ‘outstanding’ judgement of the school in September 2017. The inspector highlighted students’ outstanding academic progress, because “there is no ceiling to the standards that pupils can reach”, and commented that disadvantaged students often outperforming their peers “because staff and leaders know these pupils very well”.

The XP School in Doncaster has a very distinctive approach to teaching and learning, and a very distinctive ‘crew’ culture, formed in large part during an Outward Bound expedition in the students’ first week of Year 7. In 2016, XP’s CEO, Gwyn Ap Harri asked RSF to measure the impact of this Outward Bound trip on relationships between the students and with their teachers, and to explore how these were sustained back in the school as students progressed through to Year 9.

The study, based on 533 completed questionnaires, found that relationships between students and their teachers, and with other students, were much closer, deeper and more purposeful than the averages in RSF’s benchmark data.  Relational proximity, the charity’s measure of how well an individual engages with the thinking, emotions and behaviour of another, was generally high across all elements measured in the school. Specifically, for Year 7 students:

Teachers scored their relationship with the students at 83% (25% higher than the norm)

Students scored their relationships with the teachers at 78% (16% higher)

Students scored their relationships with other students at 64% (19% higher)

What makes these results so impressive is that the data was only collected two weeks after having only just met each other. In other words, two weeks earlier students and teachers had no relationship at all! This indicates that the four-day Outward Bound expedition, in which the incoming Year 7 students get to meet, interact and form relationships with their teachers before the school term begins, had a very positive impact on the quality of relationships in the school, and quickly enabled the creation of school culture, or ‘crew’ culture, as the school describe it.

Influenced by Ron Berger’s Expeditionary Learning schools in the US, XP aims to model its students’ highly developmental experience of learning-outside-the-classroom, and ‘bring it back in’. As such, XP students learn through projects, or expeditions, and work closely together in teams. This ‘crew’ culture is distilled through the entire organisation, and appears from the data to enable the students and teachers to sustain their positive learning relationships.

Dr Loe concludes: “The catalyst for the relational proximity we found was quite clearly the Outward Bound expedition. The influence and impact that this experience had was profound. The challenging environment had forged connectedness, belonging, understanding, respect, and an alignment of purpose and goals. As the teachers and students themselves identify, being with one another in contexts that not only push them outside of their comfort zones, but which also demand a high level of cooperation, has influenced the way they see each other, and the extent to which they are prepared to work to sustain their newly formed relationships. What is represented here is a shift in mind-set about how education can be conducted, based on the creation of a genuine community in which people treat others as ends in themselves.”

To find out more about the way RSF measures relationships, see and