We have talked a lot about value both on this blog and in our conversations as a research team. It has recently come up for me in the context of one of the chapters I’m working on for my PhD. I’m arguing that one of the reasons the women in self-reliant groups value their involvement is because it helps them meet the expectation set for them by the job centre and work programmes. Thus the groups become valued on these terms. My supervisor asked me whether I thought that this meant that the women had simply taken on board the values of the job centre…or is there something more going on?
I can think of many examples of ways that they want to challenge and rail against that system so my immediate answer would be ‘no’. Nevertheless I can’t ignore the fact that women are framing some of their values in these terms. The women talk about lots of other things that they value and aspire to in their lives which challenge the expectations of the job centre and other such structures. In the here and now what is important, and therefore valued by the women, is the fact that certain aspects of their involvement in the SRG will help them justify their time and experience within the terms recognised and valued by the job centre. This can, in the words of one of my respondents, ‘help get the job centre off my back’.
However, it all gets more complicated when you consider that there are times when the job centre and related institutions do not recognise the value of the SRG. Nevertheless, by framing the value of SRGs in terms of skills development and confidence building the SRG members can claim that the groups are more effective at delivering on ‘work-readiness’ than any work programme delivered by external agencies.
This means women in groups can simultaneously claim a certain amount of social worthiness (in a context where paid work is valued above any contribution they make as mothers, carers, volunteers etc.) as well as challenge some of the assumptions about what they can expect for themselves in the longer term as the recognise the potential for SRGs to create work spaces that are sociable, in which they are considered as equal and there is a sense of ownership and pride in their jobs.
If we are to measure value, whether in quantitative or qualitative terms we should be considering why certain things are valued over others and who is setting the terms. Within organisations are values set by external factors related to funding or other external pressures or do they relate to the intrinsic purpose and nature of the organisation- is it both? How do they measure it? Which values are prioritised? We should also consider the timeline or context of value- is it seen in the here and now, meeting an immediate need for money, safety, employment or might it be valued in the longer term in relation to raising aspirations, challenging a status quo or reducing inequalities.