A group of Ottawa residents began meeting two years ago to consider the problems in this community associated with "work." We chose to convene as a Community Inquiry, a way of addressing issues of local importance in a reflective and mutually respectful manner. We felt that the issue of work was of great importance and was troubling many people in the community in many ways.*
Individuals we heard from in our inquiry on work tended to see the issues from a personal or short-term perspective and to seek solutions on that basis. For example, there were many stories about work
overload (long hours, limited vacations, lack of family time). The problem tended to be seen as fallout from conditions at the individual's workplace: the "corporate culture." In other cases, where individuals were seeking income-producing work, they spoke of being unable to use the skills they had developed. And some, who have left (or not entered) the paid work force and would willingly work not for the money but for the usefulness and respect associated with work, are unable to find a role that feels "right."
These, it turned out, were hints. The problems expressed often seemed unconnected or only vaguely related. And they did seem to be increasing.
Trying ourselves to understand the issues, we came to see the problems associated with work as indicators of long-term societal changes. These changes, we believe, are not yet widely recognized or appreciated. We think that a coherent systemic view may emerge as more of us talk with each other about work and working. This could lead to a more balanced, productive and less stressed society.
The history of social change has taught us that "issues" develop only when we begin to recognize our own personal experience as part of a common shared experience. Work reform, as a social movement, has barely begun. But there are signs the public's faith in traditional working arrangements and its associated values and ethics is eroding. There is a noticeable receptivity to ideas that challenge conventional wisdom about work. We need to find effective means to further public discussion and debate about work and the work revolution.
What seems to be missing in our community is a shared sense of the "big picture" of work and working:
* scope -- work as an immense body of activity that could be defined as including much, if not most, of what each of us does daily
* recognition -- work as consisting of unpaid and also paid activity
* re-valuing -- unpaid work, including volunteer work, as the unacknowledged life-blood of communities
* distribution -- work as something that some people have too much of, while others are looking for more
* clarification -- work as an activity people may say they want when they really mean they want income, or respect, or colleagues, or something to structure their days, or feel they have a contribution
* awareness -- work as something that needs thinking and talking about to make our lives more satisfying and keep our communities productive
* flexibility -- working arrangements as inventions that can be altered
We believe that the public discussion of work, ranging from individual experiences to the larger picture, is important. What seems to be needed are opportunities to talk about work in settings where people
feel safe and comfortable about sharing their thoughts and feelings about work.
Our conversations generated many good ideas. Ideas that can be undertaken by any of us as we go about our daily lives. These included initiating informal conversations in our families, workplaces or in
social gatherings. On a broader level, it can be discussions scheduled at conferences, workshops, or through task forces. Organizations, alone or in partnership, can convene research projects or pilot projects. The community can be involved through discussions in public spaces such as shopping malls or community centres. Games can be developed to encourage small groups to explore the issues. Essay contests can engage the interest of some people, and discussion groups on community cable TV can generate yet more interest and involvement.
Our enquiry shows that we can all pioneer, in our own communities, innovative and creative responses to our work arrangements. This can occur through our own unique solutions or through adoption of ideas that have proved their worth elsewhere. Whatever we choose to do we will be doing ourselves and others an invaluable service.
Our hope is that this brief report will promote discussions about work that will contribute to the development of the kind of society we all want our work to support.
Sylvia Gold (convenor)
Anne Betz, Ann Denis, Marilyn Fevrier
Peter Johnson, Marilynn Kuhn, Pat Webb
(613) 729-0819, (613) 730-0283, (613) 730-2796
Gail Stewart Email: aa750@FreeNet.Carleton.CA
Ottawa September 1998
* Our interim and final reports on the concept of community inquiries and on work are available on National Capital Freenet.
[http://www.ncf.carleton.ca/] The final report on Community Inquiries includes guidelines for organizing community inquiries.
COMMUNITY INQUIRY ON WORK