This site, at times, has been used as a tool by certain individuals to spread myths and conspiracy theories about Common Purpose
We decided to contact this training organisation to see if they would allow us to interview them.
As we wanted a thorough full and frank conversation with them we decided it would be best if we send their communications officer a list of comprehensive questions and asked that they supply us with detailed answers.
This they did, we have not edited any of the responses and would like to point out that every question asked of them has been answered.
1] Give us the history of your organisation, who formed it, when and why it was formed.
Common Purpose was founded by Julia Middleton in 1989. Julia Middleton’s vision for Common Purpose is grounded in the belief in education as a way to effect positive change in society. Julia developed this idea during her years at the Industrial Society ““ learning about leadership and leaders, about how essential it is to have effective leaders in organisations and how to design and deliver leadership programmes. As she says: “[she] knew that collaboration and the ability to build productive partnerships was going to be a big issue for leaders in the future”.
You can also read our history here: http://www.commonpurpose.org.uk/about/history, which includes an outline of the launch, the initial funding and the brand development of Common Purpose in its earliest days.
The Common Purpose brand is now international, with a varied mix of our courses taught in 11 countries around the world ““ but with the same vision and purpose.
2] What is the main aim of Common Purpose?
We help people learn to be better leaders. What that means for society is that, if people of all ages, backgrounds and cultures, work together and more effectively within their organisations and communities, everyone benefits. Most people work within one sector or environment and become tied to one particular way of doing things. We aim to help people work with other leaders in other sectors or places to find out how they do things, and the impact their decisions have on the community, and as a result develop their collaborative, strategic and management skills. We don’t do this in a classroom and we don’t teach this from a textbook ““ our participants learn from doing, in workshops, from listening and discussing leadership with other leaders, and on visits to different working environments.
3] Who would the Common Purpose courses most benefit in our society?
The people that would benefit from doing a Common Purpose course is anyone looking to be a leader or to be a better leader, and that’s a fairly large group of people. So, while our courses are not necessarily for everyone, they are applicable to a wide range of people. We provide courses for a range of “Ëœleaders’ ““ from local youth group leaders in Greater Manchester to chief executives in major banks in London, or policy managers in central government departments and fundraising managers for charities.
Who benefits most in society is, quite simply, everyone. If we have more effective leaders who are able to work together or just work better, that’s of benefit to their organisation and to the community as a whole. Good leaders within businesses contribute to making the business run well ““ that means they stay in business and flourish and are able to offer people in the community more employment opportunities. Good leaders within the public sector develop strategic and efficient ways of managing budgets, programmes and services for the benefit of the community, and the same applies to non-profit organisations with the benefit going to service users, people in need and aid beneficiaries.
4] As a business leader myself and as someone who runs a hyperlocal news site, what would someone like me get out of a Common Purpose course?
You would gain an understanding of the leadership issues facing organisations and people in your region. You can also gain an understanding of how your region faces similar challenges, or potential opportunities, that exist in other cities around the world. This would enable you to provide a well-informed information source for your local community because you would be very aware of the various factors that would influence what information they need. As a comparison, a community development manager may also see a method for engaging local people on local issues in Glasgow that they hadn’t considered before.
You would also develop your style of leadership and examine when, why and how you lead, and meet people that you might never otherwise meet. This would provide you with a unique perspective on how to lead in different situations.
As an example, our Profile course would be ideal for you as you are focused on a particular region. In the event that you were new to the area ““ or wanted to fast-track and enhance your knowledge of the Stoke region ““ you would learn from a range of leaders what the key trends and organisations are, and who the key stakeholders are, in your local community. These leaders would outline what issues might be facing your community ““ and that could be anything from recycling programmes to employability concerns or increased crime rates ““ and how they’re looking to work together to tackle those issues. So you would then be able to provide a knowledge base with a clear perspective on what factors impact on the community in which you live.
But Profile is really intensive and an express course ““ it runs over two days and is fast-paced. Matrix is also very focused on particular areas, but runs for 10 days, and then Meridian allows a bit of a “Ëœpick and mix’ for participants on specific topic areas, and requires a time commitment of up to 90 hours over five months. The differences in the courses enable us to provide a focus on a different place to suit different people, and also to provide a course that suits varying amounts of time that people can dedicate to their learning. It’s much the same as deciding to do a course on marketing as opposed to journalism, and whether to do it online, by research or by taught modules, and whether you study part-time or full-time.
5] As we have seen numerous times on our website, why would people be suspicious about the Common Purpose Organisation?
I have no idea. We are an international and independent charity that runs training courses to develop leadership skills across the public, private and third sectors. We are simply an education service provider and we register our accounts with Companies House and report annually to the Charity Commission.
There is a great deal of confusion out there about why we run our courses under the convention of Chatham House Rules ““ which is widely accepted practice by many leadership and training organisations. This does not mean what we do or what we teach is secret. It simply means that although people can freely speak about who they met and what they learned and discussed, they just can’t attribute personal statements.
Why do we do this? Well, it’s probably best illustrated by an example. We had a senior member of staff attend from a FTSE company who was able to express ““ without attribution ““ which he didn’t believe that corporate social responsibility had any impact and could not understand why budget was dedicated to this area in his organisation. If not for the Chatham House Rule applying, he would have been hesitant to express this view on account of CSR being a key brand value of the organisation he works for, but because it did apply, he could express this view as an individual. This person was then challenged when visiting a local school in his community as he saw, at first hand, the positive impact that CSR investment from companies really has ““ in terms of money, mentoring and in-kind support. It completely changed his perception and will mean that he is far more supportive of CSR initiatives within his organisation as a result. It was an incredibly valuable lesson and there are many examples just like this one we can cite that express the need for people to be able to express what they find challenging in the undertaking of their leadership role.
We are aware of the conspiracy theories about Common Purpose. The allegations are misleading, misguided and not true and they extend to defamatory and potentially libellous claims about individuals. Our Chair of Trustees in the UK has recently issued a statement on this matter, which is publicly available on our website: http://www.commonpurpose.org.uk/about/governance/trustee-statement
6] How are potential graduates chosen? By application? Or recommendation?
All applications for courses are reviewed by local advisory groups in each region around the UK ““ and throughout the world. Our advisory groups are comprised of representatives from the private, public and third sectors and their role is to ensure the integrity and transparency of our application process. Advisory group members are appointed by Common Purpose’s board of trustees, who are also not employees of the charity but volunteer their time to oversee the governance of Common Purpose. The advisory group members are appointed on the basis of their dedication to leadership and some of them ““ but not all ““ have previously completed a Common Purpose course.
The criteria to apply for a Common Purpose course is outlined on our website: http://www.commonpurpose.org.uk/courses/application-process
The advisory group members are careful to ensure an even balance of private, public and third sector participants to ensure that everyone attending benefits from the value of a varied mix of views and exchange of ideas throughout the course.
7] How does the Common Purpose training benefit those in public service i.e councillors, LA Officers, Politicians, Police, fire service etc?
I think I’ve outlined this clearly in my response to question 3, but, just to be clear ““ public sector organisations, like any other organisation, have a responsibility to develop the skills and capacity of their staff. People working in the public sector and for public service organisations need leadership skills just like anyone else, and we are one of many training providers that deliver this service. What our courses do is broaden the horizons of these people. The courses help them manage better, work in partnership with other organisations more effectively and understand what impact their organisation’s and their decisions have on the community. So again, just to illustrate the point, a leader within the fire service may be struggling to find new ways of training his or her staff or engaging with his or her community. This leader might meet a human resources director or corporate social responsibility manager within a FTSE100 company, or a sports club manager, who provides a fresh perspective on how to overcome this challenge and as a result, this vital emergency service will function more effectively for the community in which they operate.
8] Does Common Purpose have a part to play in Community Cohesion as your website talks about bringing communities together and encouraging diversity?
We don’t have an agenda, so Common Purpose is not an organisation that develops or implements policy on community cohesion. We simply provide courses that help people develop leadership skills and the ability work in collaboration across sectors and within their organisations. One of the outcomes of this ““ we hope ““ is a more diverse, cohesive and healthy community on account of the fact that we have helped leaders do their jobs more effectively.
9] Why do Chatham House Rules apply to your training courses?
Please refer to my response to question 5.
10] Why do some sections of the media, and certain Internet sites, describe Common Purpose as a ‘secret society’ and ‘mason like’?
We are aware that some sections of the media, internet sites and individuals describe Common Purpose as a secret society or mason like. They are misinformed – we are not a secret society and we are not “Ëœmason like’. We aren’t for everyone because to apply for our courses you do need to demonstrate that you have the capacity to be a leader or that you are a leader. This might mean that a young person has organised a fundraising campaign for their local sports club. It might mean that a marketing executive has demonstrated initiative and ensured that the organisation they now work for sources its print material from renewable sources, or that an individual has dedicated their working life to managing people, strategy and budgets. We help people realise their potential to be leaders, or to be better leaders. Our definition of “Ëœleaders’ is, however, quite broad. So when we say “Ëœleader’ we could be referring to a youth group leader or a marketing director, as we’ve explained previously.
11] What does the future hold for the Common Purpose organisation and how will those CP graduates in my City make it a better place to live?
We are expanding internationally ““ with our most recent development in India, which is very exciting. We are also looking to provide our alumni with increasing and enhanced ways to connect online and continue to broaden their horizons in this ever-globalising world.
Any Common Purpose alumni in Stoke will take the learning from our courses and be able to work in collaboration with their teams, with other departments in their organisation, with other organisations outside of their own and in other sectors, and with their community to make sound leadership decisions. Their leadership decisions going forward will take into account their various stakeholders’ needs, and that will make them better leaders.
Pits n Pots would like to thank Lyndal at Common Purpose HQ for her co-operation and the full and frank answers to our questions.