Archive | May, 2018

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.


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.