Monday, 12 April 2010

Inverting The Institutional Narrative

Fascinating to see big charities accuse big business leaders of putting their own interests first in objecting to Labour's planned increase in National Insurance. The charities insist that their own constituents - older people, lone parents and environmental groups - are all capable of great influence on the electoral outcome and we should be focusing the debate on them.

Either way, it's ironic that NIC changes - which will affect all taxpaying individuals - are being subverted by institutions seeking to draw the electoral battle lines around their own 'vested interests', rather than the needs of individual voters.

Another example centres on the rise of Google as a force in the consumer advertising market. Newscorp claims that Google is getting a 'free ride' on Newscorp's content. Local newspapers also claim to be victims. And Europe's big Telcos recently leapt onto the bandwagon, claiming that Google is getting a 'free ride' on their networks. I guess TV and other device manufacturers and electricity companies will be the next to climb aboard.

The problem with such narratives is they ignore the 'elephant in the room' - that individuals are ultimately responsible for each wave of service provider overtaking the last. You decide what to pay and to whom, and whether to pay at all. The real complaint for Newscorp, big telecos and the like, is an internal one. They've lost sight of their role in solving consumers' problems in favour of solving their own. They have ceased to be - and ceased to be rewarded as - facilitators. Unless they can regain their role as facilitators of people's actual and desired activities, they will die the lingering death of the spurned institution.

The institutional narrative dominates in our society, yet research shows faith in our institutions has plunged over the past few decades, and we have turned to direct action and single issue campaigns as an alternative to formal politics. A Eurobarometer poll also found that only "50% of EU citizens trust their local and regional authorities, a level slightly higher than for the European Union (47%). This level of trust in the local and regional authorities is considerably higher than the level of trust in national governments or parliaments (34%)."

So, while it is dominant, the institutional narrative is also misleading. To properly understand our motives at the ballot box or in favouring the rise of email over posted letters, or internet shopping over some high street retailers, or Google over Newscorp, and where that may lead, the narratives of history and current affairs - and of the future - need to be told from the bottom up, not the top down.

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