What do I do?

Portrait of me working by my 7 year old daughter

I sometimes get asked what I do, professionally. As a freelance working across multiple projects, I find myself struggling to answer, despite it being ten years next week since I stepped down from my role at the Equality and Human Rights Commission to begin this working life.

My paid work is as a consultant, but this sometimes blurs into unpaid activities, in particular to try to win change when it comes to social care.  My work has spanned strategy and policy development, qualitative research, strategic communications, training and workshop development and facilitation, convening and strategic grant-making.  I’ve worked for and with Parliamentarians, European Union bodies, the UN, funders, universities, public bodies, professional organisations, charities and provider organisations and community groups.   How to make sense of all that? On the whole I’ve taken to describing myself as being about achieving social change.

In terms of recent work, SocialCareFuture has formed a big part of my life since 2018.  I help convene it alongside Martin Routledge, Anna Severwright and Julie Stansfield and most of what we do is unpaid.  I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved and it’s great as a freelance to feel part of something bigger and ongoing.  I was paid as a consultant for some of the work I led on the research and guidance on how to change the story of social care to build public support to transform it.  I managed the overall project, co-commissioned the research with Equally Ours, reviewed the findings and co-authored the reports and guidance, which came out in April.  The vision is being widely adopted and the narrative can be seen finding its way into the discourse already which is great.  I’ve been doing various presentations about it for a variety of organisations, including NGOs, providers and councils who want to use it in different ways.  In September we’ll be rolling out workshops with Equally Ours, covering strategic communications and framing generally and with specific reference to social care.

I’ve also been part of a team, with Equally Ours and Savanta ComRes on a project for the Centre for Ageing Better on Reframing Ageing, advising at the earlier stages on what the data was telling us about how ageing was understood and talked about.  That was such a helpful piece of work to be doing alongside the Social Care Future work given the crossover.

My journey into work on framing and strategic communications began as Director of the Thomas Paine Initiative from 2012-18, a multi-donor strategic grantmaking initiative set up to support human rights advocates to become more effective at influencing public discourse and mindsets about human rights in the UK.  The initiative supported seminal research and the development and growth of new communications and convening architecture including Equally Ours, Each Other (formerly Rights Info) and the Human Rights Consortium Scotland.  It’s great then to have just been appointed to carry out scoping work for a major organisation in the justice field to explore how it might employ strategic communications to influence how the rule of law and access to justice are talked and thought about.

The rights of disabled people have been my main focus of both work and activism over the years and so it was fascinating to be asked to work alongside Professor Mark Priestly last summer to conduct a review of mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, talking to people globally, inside and outside the UN system to gather their views.

I’ve also been leading two studies by European Disability Experts for the European Commission, one on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the responses of government’s across Europe on the rights of disabled people, the other on whether digitalisation and digital transformation is proving to be disability-inclusive. I previously worked with EDE’s predecessor, ANED, on a European-wide study into progress on the transition from institutional care to independent living.

Digital technology is a growing theme in my work.  As well as the EDE study, I’ve been working with the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex to explore the human rights implications of introducing new and emerging technologies into the field of care for older people.  I’ve also been working with In Control to explore the pluses and minuses of digital technology during the pandemic for people that draw on personalised care.

Finally, the rights of people living with dementia have become an increasing focus for me, both because my dad, who died last September, had Alzheimer’s but also because around the time in 2014 when he was diagnosed, I was contacted by Peter Mittler, an academic I had known years earlier for his work on inclusive education (and because he tutored my mum at the University of Manchester).  Peter was now living with Alzheimer’s and wanted to put dementia on the disability rights map and bring disability rights to the debates about people living with dementia.  It was great to work with Peter and through him to be made aware of the growing dementia self-advocacy movement.  This summer I’m going to do some work for the Dementia Care Action Network (DCAN) pulling together evidence to underpin the case for personalised care for people living with dementia.

In between times I find myself blogging, both via my own blog ‘Making Rights Make Sense’, via socialcarefuture, or as a guest blogger on other sites, spending far too much time on Twitter, torturing my family as a I try to learn how to play the Ukelele and trying desperately as only an almost 50 year old man can to stay fit by going out for a run every other day.

So there you have it – a flavour of what I do (and here’s some more if anyone is interested).  And hopefully an explanation as to why I struggle to explain it easily!

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