Looking for the hard to reach? Try your local chief executive’s office
I’m grateful to Beverley Huie of the Clapham Park Project in south London for redefining the unfortunate phrase ‘hard to reach’.
Hard to reach is one of those instant labels that’s peppered throughout government documents, the musings of policymakers and the grand plans of strategists. It refers, usually, to members of the public who happen to be poor, ill-educated, unemployed, a member of a minority group, or some combination of all of these.
Hard to reach people cause officialdom problems because they don’t come along to meetings, don’t read the publicity and - crucially - don’t subscribe to our terms of reference. In short, they’re a pain.
But who’s really hard to reach? When the staff at Clapham Park wanted to get people involved in regenerating their estate, they found that the hardest people to reach, the most uncooperative, the least interested, were Lambeth Council social services.
For members of the public, the hard to reach often wear smart clothes and have a university degree. Who decides how many police will patrol your street? Who draws up the budget for local health services? If you haven’t been schooled in the minutiae of the public sector and don’t have ready access to the internet, you might flounder for weeks.
A list of people who are really hard to reach from the point of view of an ordinary punter would make interesting reading. No doubt it would include many local government executives. But there would also be hospital managers, head teachers, business leaders, highways engineers and any number of specialist professionals whose decisions shape our lives. No wonder the first response to so much consultation is the cynical view that the decisions have already been made.
For the professional classes, being hard to reach carries certain advantages. For a start, it means you can get on with your work undisturbed and unchallenged, which is not only handy, but can seem more economical - think of the expense that might be incurred if we have to reconsider complicated ideas.
But then, think of the expense we needlessly incur by failing to allow our thinking to be challenged and influenced at the outset of a project or programme. Think of the political, social and economic costs we impose by being hard to reach.
Julian Dobson, editor
- New Start Online Online magazine