Peter Kent-Stoll | Santa Cruz, CA – M.A., Medicine, Health, and Society, 2017
Peter Kent-Stoll grew up in Santa Cruz County, California and attended University of California, Irvine. He is now a first year M.A. student in Medicine, Health, & Society at Vanderbilt University, where he is studying the social determinants of colorectal cancer among African American men. His service project will take place in the east London borough of Newham, where he will focus on working with a local organization that assesses community members’ perceptions about the health services they receive. Through this project, he hopes to learn how local health organizations frame and then act upon issues related to chronic disease risk and how these issues are framed differentially based on racial and ethnic statuses.
Blog Post One:
While OACS London 2016 has many connections and activities related to the London borough of Newham, most of my weeks will be spent in the neighboring borough of Hackney. This Wednesday I attended and assisted in an event where leaders of grassroots organizations in Hackney networked with each other and provided introductions to the purpose and the vision of their work. I was introduced to organizations who respectively work on educating policymakers and the general public about the social model of disability, advocating and providing HIV related services to the Hackney community, fostering a healthy social space for older people, and reconnecting parents with their children—just to name a few examples.
During this short event, it seemed that organization leaders ceased the opportunity to connect with folks who they may not normally coordinate with during the daily proceedings of their organizational work.
I am reminded now of the ongoing conversations surrounding single issues-based policy advocacy in the U.S. and to what extent this model of activism is effective in bringing about long term social change. In the context of Hackney – a place a professional I recently spoke with describes as a borough with growing income inequality that is driven by and exacerbated by surging property values– I wonder in what ways organizations that often help address the downstream impacts of social inequality also work to address the large upstream factors that cause the issues these organizations, often strained for financial resources, are left to deal with.
I now introduce two key questions that I have explore since the first week of my service experience:
-What competing narratives exist between the secure provision of health and social services from a centralized government and other efforts to move in the direction of putting the onus of securing key services upon individuals?
-How are these narratives taking shape in the wake of recent debates surrounding immigration and race?
I suspect that one critical site to continue to explore these questions is at a CVS (Council for Voluntary Service). Each borough in the city of London has such a council. Such a site seems to serve as a nexus for grassroots organizations, large funders who may contact a local CVS to find out more about the grassroots organizations, and volunteers and employees at a CVS who serve as guides for the grassroots organizations. As all these actors come together, competing, ambivalent, and parallel narratives of whose responsibility it is to provide social services and what types of interventions should take place to address inequalities may come to the fore.
I learned this week after a meeting with a project evaluator that many of the standard practices of qualitative inquiry in the social sciences are not always translatable or valuable to a small organization working in the voluntary sector. Organization leaders, often strapped for resources and time, do not always have the money to hire a quality assurance team or the time and training to conduct inquires themselves. Nonetheless, there is a push for more credible evidence sharing among the voluntary sector. What are the positives and negatives of such a practice? Does the practice encourage more transparency? On other occasions, what types of community organizations might be pushed out or marginalized by more stringent requirements for evidence? Is there a potential that the bar of evidence will be set higher for organizations seen as more controversial?
For future blogs, I plan to comment more on how these issues come to the fore within the context of Hackney and how these issues maybe different or the same within a US context.
Blog Post Two:
It is difficult to sum up how I feel about the experience, but what I can say for the moment is that my time spent crafting an evaluation report has given me an opportunity to gain some of the tools needed to conduct assessment work under time and resource constrained circumstances. I received a warm goodbye from staff at Hackney CVS (HCVS) and will miss the fast-paced and friendly atmosphere in the office. HCVS’s Senior Organisational Development Manager, Kishore Kanani, was enthusiastic about the fact that I completed 11 interviews and an evaluation report of the first year of the organization’s Delivering Change program. I was equally enthusiastic to have had the opportunity to improve my skills in conducting semi structured interviews and to learn more about the local and national politics of small charity organizations in the process.
Me (left) and Kishore Kanani (right) on my last day of the evaluation project at Hackney CVS.
I am hesitant to be boastful about making any claims yet about a lasting impact. To make such a claim would be to gloss over the ongoing efforts put forth by those organizational leaders who I interviewed and it would also be a very premature claim. Funders have yet to read the report. So, with anxiety I wait to see what impact the report may have. But, for the time being I am confident that at the least the report helped lay a foundation for future evaluators to work on the project and at the most will help Hackney CVS’s Delivering Change program secure funds for future projects.
In regards to my research interests in studying the racial and gender politics of social movements in the U.S., this experience has offered me a hands-on opportunity to consider in what ways national and local ideologies and national and local funding structures impact how social movements operate on the ground level. I look forward to continuing to reflect upon how I can integrate my experience and knowledge gained here into my work back in the U.S.
In regards to other aspects of the OACS program, some of the major highlights from the experience were as follows:
- Meeting with the mayor of the London borough of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, and discussing issues related to housing and healthcare
- Sitting in on a Newham cabinet session that focused on housing and education
- Visiting the Tate Modern and the Hackney Museum and analyzing how histories and memories of war, immigration, and race based and class based violence are depicted in the UK
I send a warm thank you to Ed and Janice Nichols for helping to make this wonderful opportunity a reality and I look forward to continuing to build upon the knowledge and wisdom gained from my time in London.