The hard road to social development goals

The implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (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 during a Roundtable Dialogue on the issue 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 and Chair of the Relational Thinking Network, wrote a relational critique of the SDGs trying to address the ‘missing dimension’ and this roundtable was meant to enliven the conversation around the subject. He highlighted three main concerns namely what he perceives to be an individualistic underpinning of the SDGs, as well as questions around the definition of ‘poverty’ and the use of the language of development.

Three respondents gave their feedback on Schluters paper and presentation and their views of the SDGs and the challenges around implementation and monitoring. They were Mark Halle, of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Professor Lichia Yiu-Saner, President of the Centre for Socio-Eco-Nomic Development (CSEND), and Dr Samuel Gayi.

The full report can be downloaded here: ReportSDGsRoundTable-FINAL.

You can download Dr. Michael Schluter’s paper here: SDGs paper 22 4 2016 – FINAL2

Photo: Riccardo Mayer

Drugs: “a war on” or “a relational approach to”?

LONDON /CAMBRIDGE – The story of Johann Hari has a complicated and dark chapter. In 2011 the  ex-columnist fell from grace after it turned out that he had been plagiarising.   Reading the interview with Hari in the Guardian in which he speaks out for the first time about ‘that time’, raises a lot of relational questions.  Perhaps it should not be surprising that it surfaces in his new book on the war on drugs as well: “What I learned is that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is human connection.”

Hari wanted to write this book, not to have an argument but “to understand it”. He traveled the world, met people all over who in one way or another were interested or involved with (the war on) drugs. One of them, a retired psychology professor in Vancouver, opened his eyes to the ‘relational’ factor. Experiments with rats showed that they were more likely to take drugs when they were isolated and alone, than in an environment where they could flourish with space, things and friends to play with. Professor Bruce Alexander discovered “that we’ve fundamentally misunderstood what addiction is. It isn’t a moral failing. It isn’t a disease. Addiction is an adaptation to your environment. It’s not ‘you’; it’s the cage you live in”, says Hari.

And according to him this understanding should have massive implications for the war on drugs: “Our laws are built around the belief that drug addicts need to be punished to stop them. But if pain and trauma and isolation cause addiction, then inflicting more pain and trauma and isolation is not going to solve that addiction. It’s actually going to deepen it.”

The “war on drugs” needs to change its approach. It is calling for a relational (social and political) answer, and not just for an individual change of heart.


How a relational approach saves the justice system money

AUSTIN/CAMBRIDGE – When Texas Republican Congressman Jerry Madden  was appointed as chairman of the House Corrections Committee in 2007, he did so by saying, “Don’t build new prisons. They cost too much”. Since then Texas saw crime levels reduced and three prisons being closed, according to a report by Danny Kruger for BBC News. But that’s not where it ends. The most interesting part is that the project that started out of a financial concern, now receives applause for its relational and inclusive approach.

So what is it that Texas discovered? The impact of relationships! Don’t treat the offender as an individual unit of criminality. Instead of an institutional approach and trying to tackle socio-eonomic factors that might have made the offender more vulnerable to commit crime, the “The Right on Crime”-initiative started looking at the offender and his or her personal choices. Another key point is that most offenders are getting worse instead of better when in prison. Incarcerating offenders together carries the risk of forging closer relationships inside the criminal community. And finally, the importance of keeping an offender connected to the world and community outside prison. Initiatives developed in Texas include a scheme where prisoners are matched with business people and where they, upon release, are settled in residential community. And the statutory system offers “immediate, comprehensible and proportianate sanctions for bad behaviour plus accountaibility to a kind leader and supportive community”, writes Kruger.

Despite the apparent success of the Texas-aspproach, what seems to be missing is the reference to the relational context of the offender and the impact on third parties. A large number of crimes are committed against other individuals, and represent a trauma within a particular relationship – even if the offender and the victim have not previously interacted. Also, criminality itself is often associated with problems in offenders’ past relationships, including, typically, a dysfunctional family background or a sense of exclusion from social groups. In other words, it is hard to understand or rehabilitate an offender if the relational context is not being taken into account.

But in the end, what the story does highlight is that money cannot solve problems that are caused by a lack of strong relationships. As Kruger states: “It cuts crime, saves money and demonstrates love and compassion towards some fo the most excluded members of society. It is, in a sense (…) a realistic visionof a smaller state, where individuals are accountable for their actions and communities take responsibility for themselves and their neigbours.”

For more on Relational Justice, please read further on our website page Relational Justice



Family proofing policy: Time for implementation

CAMBRIDGE – British Prime Minister David Cameron announced today that domestic policies will have to be assessed for their impact on families. The idea of ‘family proofing’ of policies however is not new.  The Relationships Foundation, a member of the Relational Thinking Network, has been making a case for this since the run-up to the last elections with the publication of several papers.

In a response the organisation states that it not only welcomes the announcement but also points out that “a family test has been promised before (in October 2011) so it is essential that this time the government clearly set out how, and by whom, it will be done.”

For more on this, and the three papers on the subject of family-proofing policy, setting out the case for family-proofing of policy, assessing the international experience and laying out a conceptual framework for its implementation, see Family Policy: where next?