“A tale of two cities” – that’s how a colleague described Bristol when I asked for an introduction. There’s something ominous about the image of parallel universes inhabiting the same space. In the Charles Dickens novel, the two cities are Paris and London in the late 1700s as social order breaks down under the burden of inequality and industrial transformation. The political and industrial revolutions were tipping points from which unforeseen transformations followed around the world. We may be at a similar point now, and in April 2020 we will host a one-week ‘Round-Tables for Experienced Managers’ to examine what’s happening at the front line, in the experience of people who are leading, managing and organising businesses, public services, social enterprises and cross-sector initiatives.
Participants come from all over the world, with contributions from world-leading experts including Professor Henry Mintzberg and Professor Jonathan Gosling. In 2020 the RoundTables will be hosted for the first time in Bristol, in partnership with UWE’s Bristol Leadership and Change Centre. As well as those lucky enough to take part in the whole process there are opportunities for local organisations to host short investigative visits, when they will be subject to curious but friendly scrutiny – always a source of intriguing insight and provocative questions.
Titled ‘Managing Around the World’, the programme concentrates on the challenges that each person is facing. In structured, progressive peer-to-peer exercises we analyse and re-frame those challenges, bringing fresh insights and broader perspectives. We visit local organisations (in multi-national teams) and delve into the dynamics of ‘two cities’ Bristol.
The outcomes are likely to be personal and practical for most people because of the focus on each organisational predicament. Most of the activities are readily adapted to use in organisational and community settings. Equally exciting is the opportunity to pool all this experience of leading, managing and organising towards fresh insights of what’s happening on the ground, around the world and in Bristol: are we really at a tipping point? Where are tangible and significant responses to the climate emergency, artificial intelligence, post-colonialism? What are the most hopeful of these, and what more could each of us do?
The RoundTables programme has previously inspired significant projects, such as Professor Peter Case’s work with front-line health services in Zimbabwe, Namibia and Eswatini. Eliminating malaria is a real possibility after years of successful control; but success depends on active intervention on a case-by-case basis. This in turn relies on local knowledge, resourcefulness and cooperation across health and community activists, and on the ability to invent customised responses in unpredictable and complex environments. Because ‘Managing around the world’ combines systemic perspectives with focused attention to each actual challenge, and does so with the front-line people involved, it has been a means for organisational re-invention – in humble, particular, humane ways, and demonstrably effective. In fact the model developed in Zimbabwe has now been adapted again to support the integrated care process in several parts of the NHS.
But back to Bristol – can this one-week programme be an effective catalyst for the ‘two cities’, and for the way we organise, lead and manage? A catalyst is a temporary architecture that enables new realities to emerge. That’s our aim for ‘Managing Around the World’, which will take place at the MShed on Bristol’s historic harbourside from 26th April to 1st May 2020.
As the local host, we pleased to invite current and former students of UWE, Bristol and members of our networks to join the programme at a discounted rate, or to accommodate visits from the programme participants. The programme will be co-directed by Anita Gulati, a long-term associate of UWE and lead for the Bristol Leadership Challenge programme delivered across the city in 2017-18.