Social Cohesion and Elections

By Jack P. Kruf

One of the documents we had on the table during the founding of PRIMO in Strasbourg, back in 2005, was the policy report by the European Council “A new strategy for Social Cohesion“. It is still ground breaking because of it’s integrated approach of social cohesion and the hereto related public risk governance. It came directly to my mind seeing the series and documentaries – before and during the presidential election – about the state of US society. It is one of the frames which could be relevant for the coming 2017 presidential and federal elections in European member states as France, Germany and The Netherlands.

Yes, the people of the US have spoken this week. And yes most of us were surprised on the outcome of it. Again all the main part of media, pollers and analysts didn’t foresee or predict this result. Why? In short: the ex ante measurement was insecure. Of course all evaluations and ex post studies will prove right to the results and will bring in the arguments which factors and parameters were crucial for the result. Looking back is much easier than predicting. That is why risk management so incredibly difficult.

An in-depth look at the results of these elections shows us that the public value of social cohesion is at high risk. Many people voted as a protest against their situation in the perspective of society and related to their own place, role, rights, income, feelings and chances. This ‘public’ risk of social stress, friction and fragmentation apparently does need much more attention and addressing followed by appropriate governance and management.

What do we know about the risks related to social cohesion? I think a lot. It is mentioned and elaborated in so many scientific reports and surveys of the last 10 years. Public risks are increasing rapidly, the causes are well described. We know from those reports that the political establishment is not connected anymore or at least less connected to the roots of the cohesion in it’s own society. Being surprised on election results is then a logic outcome. Considered from ecological perspective every group chooses it’s own leader. The leader actual reflects what the majority of group feels and thinks. The leader chosen can only be the true leader of society as he whole if he addresses the feelings and thoughts of the group as a whole. In the US this will be very difficult because the actual majority voted otherwise.

The US presidential election results points strongly in the direction of a need for better and much more guided and intrinsic – not running to solutions – driven governance and management of the social values and cohesion of it’s society. With a more integrated and multidisciplinary approach with a responsive, dialogue oriented focused leadership on this public value. Managing social cohesion demands stewardship 2.0, because this incorporates the binding principles and care for all people, interests, stakes and believes and considers society as one. Now the approaches of most political parties are segmented and focused on parts of it: backgrounds, class level, income, worship, language et cetera. The society as a whole seemed not to exist during pre-election time. Groups against groups. The campaigns were in this regard segmented in all possible ways.

Politics – according Machiavelli in essence the world of power and influence – seems to be more and more disconnected from it own citizens and the true insights in the social cohesion. Public risk management is about a new craftsmanship which in this holistic perspective on society should be put back on the table. It should be refreshed and refurbished in many ways. And it all starts with a proper diagnosis of what is going on. The US presidential election showed us again that this apparently is not so easy as we think it is. There is huge need for improvement of diagnosis. Some methods – and here comes my mathematical background in – can be compared with counting the trees of a forests and then conclude which forest ecosystem is in place.It is truly much more complicated then the simplifications in suggested correlations between factors. Despite all the efforts it is difficult as one of the main investors in the US stated to be precise in predictions: “our polls showed at least a 7 point difference with the actual situation”.

For a better understanding and framing of the public value social cohesion we recommend this European document from 2004. It is noteworthy and actual. It is about finding the equilibrium.

“No society is fully cohesive. Social cohesion is an ideal to be striven for rather than a goal capable of being fully achieved. It constantly needs to be nurtured, improved and adapted. Each generation has to find afresh a manageable equilibrium of forces. This is a constantly shifting equilibrium which has to adapt to changes in the social and economic environment, in technology and in national and international political systems.”

This document can give guidance because of the implicit suggestions for political parties, public leaders and managers. Managing social cohesion – with the starting point of society as a whole – is public governance at the highest level. This we know is challenging and that places public risk governance in the center of public leadership.

Towards a balanced Society is one of the four values PRIMO has chosen as driving force for it’s public risk management approach,  i.e. managing the equilibrium of society and mitigating the deviations of social cohesion. The outcome of the US presidential election confirms the strong need for a more dialogue oriented approach of public value and risk management with an holistic view on society as starting point.

So, this week again was a very hectic election process. It felt by many as a wake-up call. It makes politicians insecure for coming elections. On the other hand and considered from a more system approach, every election can to be considered as a regular and built-in feed-back loop within democracy. So actual nothing new. It is wise for public leaders not keep reflecting and commenting on the voting results of elections, because they are always true. The people have spoken. Better it is to focus on the heart of society, i.e. the citizens and the key factors which are at the fundaments of the equilibrium of social cohesion.