The Graph of Doom!

20 February 2013

I had heard rumours of its existence from colleagues. At various Local Authority meetings, often someone would look at me meaningfully and say, "I expect you've heard about the Graph of Doom", I would nod.

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Images credits: The Guardian website and WordPress

The Graph, allegedly first used by Barnet Council in May 2012, is now being applied to the whole of local government.

The Graph of Doom, or sometimes the Scissors of Doom, is the view that if spending projections are accurate and if councils statutory responsibilities are the same then within the near future statutory services and social care costs will swallow up most local council spending leaving very little other services to the community such as culture.

At the Connected London event on Friday 15th February, just as the asteroid 2012 DA14 was approaching the earth, Adrian Harvey, Head of Research for the New Local Government Network, showed us the Graph at an event for partners from the Culture, Leisure, Education and Youth sectors in London.

Adrian and the discussion of the day did not, however, suggest we were all doomed. The key to understanding the importance of the Graph of Doom is that it's a projection based on the status quo being maintained. What Adrian outlined was a way in which local government can and needs to change in order to ensure Culture is a part of Place-making, the flavour that ensures people want to live there. The Status Quo needs to shift. According to Adrian the shift for Local Authorities is this;

  • To create value through Place leadership rather than making grants
  • To marshal resources to make the right cultural outcomes
  • To move from the certainty of control to the potential of influence

Clearly this is a challenge and there are many approaches to doing this. However, that afternoon, the roundtable discussion that I took part in, offered positive ways forward.

In Hackney, though several posts were being cut, the new position of lead for Culture transformation aims to coalesce the different departments. The Boroughs of Lewisham, Lambeth, Southwark and Greenwich have come together as the South Riverside Music Partnership, not to do everything the same way but to find ways of sharing when planning new initiatives.

From all there was a sense of the need to take time to look at the bigger picture and to find new strategies for advocating for the wider benefits of culture for young people and the well-being of a place.

A New Direction's New Models initiative offers some support for ways to do to find new strategies and new navigation.

Asteroid 2012 DA14 missed the Earth, one astronaut describing it as a "celestial torpedo across the bow of spaceship Earth". The Graph of Doom is not the way things have to be. It is a provocation to look at new ways of working that can navigate the cuts and realign the way young people access the great culture that exists in London.

And as Steve Moffitt, CEO of A New Direction, ended the day by saying, "One of the greatest assets we have in London is our young people."