The Intelligent Community

31 May

The Intelligent Community

Kate Raworth, the ‘renegade’ economist and author of Doughnut Economics, knows only too well that ideas are born when and where they are needed most.  Fresh thinking takes time to be accepted.  Darwin’s evolutionary insights are still resisted.  Climate Change science still denied.  Flat Earth advocates still cling to the edges of their world.

It is not enough to gather evidence.  Mass acceptance of fresh thinking oft requires a crisis of sufficient scale to overcome complacency.   Sufficient scale?  Massive impacts for a few may be discounted by those looking at bigger pictures.  Responses reflect agency – the ability to make that difference.  And therein lies the power of localism – the strength of the place, the community, the neighbourhood. That ability to JFDI.

The emergence of Intelligent Communities – places that are not resigned to some externally-imposed fate – reflects locally perceived priorities.  These are communities that really do ‘know their place’ and know it in colours, details, depths of complexity – ‘nuanced knowhow’ that often eludes the averaged ‘higher’ authority.

BUT (and that’s a big but) the vital essence of such communities is difficult to measure and analyse. Qualitative research methods do not easily answer the question:  Why do some places succeed whilst others decline? We can, however, spot the signs – the indicators of prosperity, confidence, wellbeing and community spirit. That is why, over two decades of research, the Intelligent Community Forum has assessed hundreds of places and selected a few as exemplars – communities that may serve as beacons for others.

Every year ICF has brought these communities together to share their learning.   Until now that global gathering has always been held in North America.  2018 is different.  For three days of next week the ICF Global Summit will be held in London.  In preparation for that event (and for the benefit of those new to the notion of Intelligent Communities) we started publishing a weekly series of notes covering several of the primary indicators – the signs of local activity that ICF’s researchers have, over the years, seen time and again in the most successful places.

The series was first announced in a brief note ‘Looking Sideways at that Place We call Home’,and closely followed by ‘Local Fabrics?’ to set a framework for the rest of the series.  Subsequent episodes were:

All of these themes and their local action programmes (calibrated to match local economic and social priorities) are common indicators of Intelligent Communities.

Next week, ICF’s Top7 communities from around the world, together with an array of top flight speakers, will share their experiences with delegates from near and far.

The full 3-day programme includes details of evening receptions and, on June 6th, at the Summit Dinner, Melbourne Australia will hand over the accolade of Intelligent Community of the Year to one of ICF’s 2018 Top7 Communities.

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Facing Disasters

27 May

For a brief moment I hesitated.

Interviews with survivors of the Grenfell inferno reminded us of the horror and the tragic consequences of an avoidable and predicted disaster.

Last Wednesday the UK’s national news media was dominated by two events – the 1st anniversary commemorations of Manchester’s Arena bombing and the start of the Grenfell Tower fire enquiry.  Both sobering and intensely local.  Both respecting their community responses.

Last Wednesday I also hesitated – but not in the face of any disaster. On that day it might have been timely to reschedule the last two episodes of the Knowing Your Place Series.  It might, perhaps, have seemed right to bring forward the comments on Resilience and defer the scheduled episode on Sustainability.

But no. Manchester’s memorial moments needed no further comment at that sensitive time – the learning can follow.  West London’s respect for Grenfell’s grieving will, we are assured, gain the time it deserves.   Both are about aftermaths.  The ‘Knowing Your Place’ series is more forward looking.   I pressed ahead with publication of Keep on Running – in circles’.

It’s true that proper local consideration of the need for sustainability can be triggered in the pit of disasters.  In Part 8 of the series the primary example is of the renaissance of a rusting and decrepit steel town but, with evidence already to hand, we need hardly wait any longer for the very worst impacts of climate change to strike.  We’ve surely already waited long enough.  Alfred Russel Wallace (a contemporary of Charles Darwin) wrote of man-made environmental damage in 1898.

Working to avoid disasters – to bequeath to future generations an environment in better balance – doesn’t grab media and political attention with the same force as people perishing right now.  Two of the leading approaches to ecological sustainability are rooted in science and economics – and are closely intertwined.  The economist Kate Raworth questions underlying assumptions and Ellen MacArthur asks how resources can be re-used. The answers are being written not by national governments but by citizens, communities, city leaders and their local universities.

If you get the chance to read ‘Running in Circles’, do follow the links to Kate’s and Ellen’s work.  Both will inform future communities and city leaderships who do not want to sleepwalk towards disaster.

The final part of the series, ‘What If?’ will appear, as scheduled, next Wednesday – just in time to complete this primer ahead of the Intelligent Community Forum’s 2018 Summit in London.

How Much? Railing against the machine.

8 May

Buying a ticket from that machine at the rail station can be a very frustrating experience.

No problem, perhaps, when the ticket office is open or the train guard understands the system’s weaknesses but otherwise desperately annoying.  Ordering tickets online for collection at the same machine is not always possible and incurs a booking fee.

At root – and the great challenge for software designers – is the huge complexity of UK ticket and train options.  So complex in fact that demands for a grand review of ticket pricing are now battering at the doors of choice options masquerading as competition. On this cold wet morning I just want to get on the train and not debate faux market theory.

If, on this damp morning, one is feeling charitable – and that is unlikely as the train approaches and one is stillsans billet – you might pause to marvel how the user interface designers have made the transaction simple enough for ‘popular’ journeys.  My problem occurs because London Waterloo is not, apparently, a popular journey – and I want to travel off-peak and with the benefit of a Senior Railcard.

So, while my feet dry (see below), this journey is now spent pondering alternative designs.  At first sight the long screen-tapping trail seems logical.  Choose destination.  Choose ticket type.  Choose quantity. Discover cost and then pay.

Some of that could be simplified for my irregular but frequently repeated journeys.  The system could, perhaps, be prompted, say, by my railcard or credit card to remember my usual journey choice.  But that would demand an initial touch-screen option – ‘use regular choice?’ – and probably confuse all but the casual commuter.

Another alternative might be to take an entirely different design approach. If you are setting off on a well-worn route it’s highly likely that you have a fair idea of the cost.  Why not start by choosing how much you expect to pay and then select from options around that target?  I’m sure there are several places I could reach for around £27 but they could be listed by proximity to cost and distance.

So the touch screen options would now be:  Likely cost? Single/Return? Railcard Type? Choose destination.  Finish/Pay. Remember me?

‘How much do you want to pay?’  That may seem a strange question but, in the arcane world of ticketing machine design, it’s not entirely new.

Travelling from Tokyo to Yokohama 14 years ago I encountered a machine (before the touch screen era) where travellers started their transactions by inserting cash – prompting all available station buttons for that amount to glow.  It was memorable because I had just used an airport cash machine that issued high denomination notes.  One of those notes produced more destination choices than I thought possible.  After selecting Yokohama – WOW – a massive cascade of small change as if I’d hit the jackpot on a fruit machine.  With pockets packed with yen-pennies I spent the journey contemplating the cultural divide.

Now, as I’m getting near Waterloo, I can at least take comfort that these words will make another story.  Who knows if some software designer may be reading this on a train as he commutes towards his destiny with a ticket machine?

But I’m not alone. Many passengers, standing puzzled before that errant robot, have clearly made a deep impression.  Maybe it’s best if I go and get some tarmac to fill in that annoying rain puddle right in front of the darn machine.

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Where are we heading with this?

28 Apr

There’s a moment on any epic journey – a brief moment, maybe of self-doubt – when you pause (mid-sentence, perhaps) to wonder exactly where you’re headed.

This week’s pause, this check, comes just as we approach the midpoint of the KYP series – four done, five to go.  Time, then, to check the plan, time to summon energy, time to pull together and push on.  Time, maybe, for a small course correction?

KYP – ‘Knowing Your Place’ – was always an unlikely blog series but from the outset it had great structural underpinning.  Most of the episodes had been well rehearsed – albeit with different headlines – and needed only an injection of current relevance for a new audience.

With just one exception the planned topics were neatly summarised three years previously in the concluding chapter of Brain Gain – a book that captured more than a decade of learning through the Intelligent Community Forum.

The single exception is a key indicator that has since crept far more clearly onto the community agenda – largely, it should be said, through the work of the Rockefeller Foundation and their 100 Resilient Cities network.  It might once have been argued that Resilience was but a subset of a longer-standing ICF Key Indicator – Sustainability.  However, headline tones get burdened by baggage – a peaceful green is not on the same wavelength as urgently-flashing red and blue lights of public safety.

When the Intelligent Community Forum gathers in London next June, their 2018 root theme, Humanising Data, will no doubt be coloured by recently raised awareness of data privacy issues and the impacts/consequences of ‘artificial intelligence/ignorance’ – but in our KYP series the blog-prep for Sir Nigel Shadbolt’s input is still two weeks away.

For readers remaining mystified, links to the series so far are listed below.  At the outset, the central question, the question that is bringing so many brilliant speakers and community leaders together next June, was deceptively simple: Why do some places thrive whilst others decline?

I’ve checked the waypoints.  We seem to be on course, but the next five weeks is a long journey.  Still to come in this series are thoughts on local Advocacy (Who do we think are?), Open Data (AI in city infrastructures), Innovation Capacity (Pacemakers for Place-makers), Sustainability Engagement and finally Resilience.  Fortunately, ICF is inherently collaborative and, with inputs from summit speakers, the driving can be shared.

By the end of May, homework complete, all delegates – whether from the UK or the other side of world – will be fully prepped and prompted to probe the great gathering of expert speakers and community leaders at the ICF Global Forum.

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Notes:

Brain Gain, Bell, Jung and Zacharilla, Intelligent Community Forum, ISBN: 1499228023

Knowing Your Place – that place you call home.

The series so far:

Local Fabrics?

Connected With Success?

Where Have All Our Flowers Gone?

Altogether Now?

Part 5 – ‘Who Do We Think We Are?’ is scheduled for publication on 2ndMay.

Connected With Success – the final cut

14 Apr

Part 2 of our series posted on the Medium Platform reflected on the theme of Connectivity.

As we approached the deadline for publication of Connected With Success the editing pace quickened. An earlier draft drew great suggestions from the Steering Group for the 2018 Intelligent Community Forum’s Global Summit in June.

Fiber optics

First up our friends in the Northwest shouted for inclusion of the Health and Education impacts of future-proofed networks – particularly for remote rural areas.  Then we had late confirmation from Sweden that VXFiber’s Mikael Sandberg would also be speaking at the Summit.

But the FINAL final cut was hugely informed by Bruce Katz – co-author of The New Localism.  Bruce gave an inspiring address this last week in the Centre for Cities ‘City Horizons’ programme – so the final cut gave voice to a wider view of networking.

Those of us with a background in telecoms are well at ease with the physical (holes, poles and cables) but pay less attention to the connectivity of ideas – the creative fusion when local leaders us their ‘convening power’ to bring talented minds from all quarters to focus on specific local issues.

Regular readers may recall that we reviewed Bruce’s work last October in ‘The NEW New Localism’ but now, six-months on, the willingness of folk to hear and understand his messages about the innovative power of communities is far more firmly established.

And so, in the nick of time, the final cut for Part 2 of this 9-part series balanced technical takeaways with the creative intellectual impacts.  In large part that is why the ICF Summit is so very useful –  the components are fascinating but it is in their networking that they become hugely valuable.

Next week we are writing about how communities build and maintain a Knowledge Workforce – Part 3 – ‘Where Have All our Flowers Gone?‘ will appear on April 19th – assuming we survive the edit process!

 

Programme (also evolving!)

Knowing Your Place – Local Fabrics

5 Apr

Local Fabrics [part 1 of a nine-part weekly series]

Why do some places thrive whilst others decline?

How can we shape the future of our communities — the places we call home, the places where we work, the places where we relax?

This nine-part guide to knowing (really understanding) the fabric of communities will explore those questions.

Questions of local prosperity and wellbeing are now far more prominent for many reasons — not least because so much more is known about the huge diversity of local economies and the very different needs and priorities of people who spend time in them. Awareness of these complex local fabrics — each one woven differently — prompts questions over the adequacies and limitations of centrally-driven top down policies.

The flood of new local insights stems from better data and deeper analysis. The realisation (or rather acceptance) that national pictures do not adequately describe the UK economy is a challenge for Whitehall. Tabloids may decry post-code lotteries. Funding formulae handed down from Whitehall are bitterly contested. Local leaders campaign for greater empowerment — some even arguing for ‘city sovereignty’. And, in the Brexit context, questions of national, regional and local identity and belonging are under the spotlight.

International relationships and high policy arenas may seem way out of reach and, for many people, it’s the stuff closest to hand that is important in any quest to ‘take back control’. In this series, therefore, the focus is entirely on local communities and what can make them healthier — prosperous, engaged and sustainable — in a world where the free flow of data demands careful application.

Great cities may be keen to adorn themselves with ‘smart’ technology to further hone their inner workings. Old mechanistic approaches to economies are, however, being supplanted by thematic models — exemplified by Kate Raworth’s ‘Doughnut Economics’ and Marianna Mazzucato’s ‘Entrepreneurial State’. These describe, safe places for policy makers to intervene on socioeconomic issues without straying beyond ecological boundaries. The new economics are also delightfully cross-sector with themes cutting across the old silos that fuel so much of central policy and ‘industry’ regulation.

Conventional economic analysis and management is rooted in vertical sector silos, geospatial metrics and demographics. The more-qualitative themes that create local fabrics and bind communities together are the cross-cutting place-making threads shown in figure 1.

Each of the horizontal threads will be explored in the next eight weekly episodes of this place-based series.

Because all places are different these themes will have variable relevance for the community that you know best — the place that you call home. But the activities and priorities that create these threads are all indicators of community cohesion and future prosperity.

The UK economy is only the aggregate of local placed-based activities. Any sense of national cohesion depends on the strength and design of these local fabrics.

These indicators are not new — they are distilled from years of observation. They are at the root of ‘intelligent communities’ and derive from the long-term observations of a global think-tank that gathers annually to celebrate forward-thinking communities.

The episodes will be published weekly throughout April and May 2018 with the full set complete before the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) next gathers in London to ask again ‘Why do some places thrive whilst others decline?

Knowing Your Place – that place we call home

4 Apr

From tomorrow (April 5th) and for the following eight weeks we’ll be publishing a series of reflections on aspects of Intelligent Communities.

These will also appear on the Medium platform (Groupe Intellex) and on LinkedIn.

Full announcement sets the context for the series in the run-up to the Intelligent Community Forum’s Global Summit in London (June 4-6)