The trouble with TimeBanking

TimeBanking founder, and ‘creator of the Co-Production principle’, Edgar Cahn was speaking at the RSA last night on Building the Core Economy. He described himself as a bit of a hell-raiser. While he is clearly an influential figure, for all his liberal disillusion with the business of … well, business, he is no radical. While I found his political philosophy unconvincing, TimeBanking as a tool or a technique for stimulating co-production has something going for it. As does co-production itself, which, as the blurb succinctly put it ‘turns recipients of service into co-producers of change’. You can deliver pizza, says Cahn, but you often can’t provide public services in this way. Particularly, I think, those services with a strong personal component such as social care. Instead it is necessary to ‘enlist people’, to make use of their assets and strengths to seek solutions, rather than seeing them as clients with problems. I have more than a little sympathy with this view. Both approaches tend to endorse a positive view of people’s capacity to change their lives and the communities of which they are a part. There is, he said, an ‘openess to these ideas that there wasn’t 20 years ago’. Cahn’s ideas are certainly increasingly attractive to those eager to find new ways to engage communities in delivering public services. It might be argued that he is an apologist for cuts to services. But that would be unfair. The real problem with TimeBanking is, as he admits, its focus on transactions. The introduction of time credits risk undermining the informal bonds by which communities function. As they say, time is money.

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