Joining the Dots: A Common Field

The Relationships Project is working with others on sharing and discussing ideas. We hope this work will ultimately help to grow the field.

We’re starting a new, open blog series – ‘Joining the dots’ – that will be collectively owned and developed. This blog series will sit alongside, and complement, Shift’s existing work.

As the conversation builds, we will try to give it structure and direction. The common threads will be the simple conviction that relationships matter and an interest in engaging with some of the knotty questions.

So far, we are Iona Lawrence, Michael Little, Rufus Olins, David Robinson, Immy Robinson, Ray Shostak, Nick Stanhope, Clare Wightman and Steve Wyler. Please join us.

In this first blog of the Joining the Dots series, we set the scene and outline a plan.

The hook worm was paralysing entire towns in the rural south of the United States in the early part of the 20th Century. Passed by bare feet in unsanitary conditions, the disease required not only effective treatments but also improved sanitation, mass education and new rules.

The Rockefeller Foundation convened doctors, engineers, town planners, teachers, parents and government officials. They tackled the hook worm together and created what would become “Public Health”. The Foundation went on to work with partners on developing the field across the world and on helping to catalyse other “fields” in areas as diverse as molecular biology and artificial intelligence

It is a simple insight: We can do worthwhile things by ourselves but sometimes it is only by coming together with people who have different skills, experiences and perspectives and cultivating a common field that we can really break new ground.

Many places, one field

Experience and expertise in relationship centred development is to be found in many places:

For some relationships are an end in themselves, befriending schemes or social care programmes for instance tackle loneliness and meet an acute need.

Schools and hospitals and businesses are primarily interested in educational achievement, health care and selling more products but see relationships as the means to the end.

Others focus on individual wellbeing or community cohesion or a combination of objectives but again place relationships at the heart of the enterprise.  

And, of course, a relational approach is not limited to organisations or services. The relationship centred economy, a relationship centred democracy and, in aggregate, a relationship centred society are all vital and timely ideas.

We are interested in learning from and with one another and, ultimately, in the possibility of influencing and supporting the long term trajectory of knowledge, policy and practice across the sectors.

Why now?

This is a positive agenda as we focus on potential to do better but it is also a response to adverse trends that have reshaped our lives in recent years:

Technological advances have been good for many but not everyone and not always.

Cross party political orthodoxies have championed individualism and moved popular attitudes towards self-interest and division.

And organisations, systems and structures have got bigger and more remote.  

Each trend has reinforced the others effecting the quality of our lives, diminishing our collective capacity to support one another and changing a society which is built from the aggregation of personal relationships. Where these bonds fail whole communities are weakened and fragmented.

More to know

There is much to learn from existing experience and there is also more to know. For some sort of collaboration to add to the sum of the parts we need to dig deeper and mix learning from different places. Over the next three months we hope to better understand who is interested in what, the priorities, the opportunities and the barriers.

We will be curating with a very light touch. We want to include different opinions, experiences and ideas.  As the conversation builds, we will try to give it some structure. The common threads will be the simple conviction that relationships matter and an interest in engaging with some of the knotty questions. For example, we might talk about…

  • Accountability, fairness or power
  • Bad relationships
  • The role and use of measurement
  • Behavioural and / or systemic change
  • Money

Or maybe none of these things! We will simply see where the conversation leads us over the coming weeks. We hope that it might give us the foundations of a collaborative community interested in helping to take the thinking forward and in helping to shape and develop the field but we shall see.

To begin …

Sign up

First and foremost, sign up to follow the conversation.


Beyond the usual rules about on line behaviour we are interested in every point of view. Please leave your comments below. 

Submit a blog

We’d love to hear what your working on or grappling with in the world of relationship centred thinking. Email us if you’d like to contribute a blog to this open series, or if you’ve got an idea for one that you’d like to chat about.