Archive | Sustainability RSS feed for this section

That Was The Week That Was

31 Mar

It may be over, but I have no intention of letting it go.  It was far too good a week to forget.  Indeed this week will linger long – not just in my memory but in the renewed public spirit that has been engendered.

I’m not, of course, claiming to have been the first to notice.

To be honest I doubted my sanity in a week when the weirdness of Westminster gripped the nation.  But I wrote my thoughts on Tuesday March 26th and then promptly placed them on ice.  I was more than cautious – this was my first day of release from medical mayhem.  It was highly likely that the new medication was warping my wishful thinking mind.

But the words could not be constrained and I published them the following day.  Even then I hedged my bets for fear of immediate castigation.  But I dared not hesitate – I sensed a great change was underway and, although the body politic, the media, the entrenched combatants, were all running on the same old tracks, I found it undeniable that relief was at hand.

Maybe it was the weather.  Maybe it was the sheer relief from months of pain. Maybe it was a hymn of praise to the brilliant talents of our NHS.  Maybe it was my odd early-morning choice of Leonard Cohen’s “You got me singing’.    Whatever. This spirit of joy was unquenchable. ‘Everyone Suddenly Burst Out Singing’ captured exactly how I felt – and amazingly my little inconsequential networked world agreed!

By the end of the week even dedicated politicians were tentatively, cautiously, quietly suggesting a ‘change of tone’.  They were pushing this forward even in the midst of outraged screams of betrayal by ardent Brexiteers.

But this is no time to stand down – the struggle is not yet done.  In Tolkien’s The Hobbit (There and Back Again) Bilbo Baggins utters what would later became one of his favourite sayings.  Bilbo had narrowly escaped from a very angry encounter with the dragon.  “Never”, he said to himself, “Never poke fun at live dragons – you’re not halfway through this adventure yet.”

And that was a very timely thought.  It would have been too easy to ridicule.  Too easy to pour scorn on those in pain.  Too easy to not understand the deep roots of their desperate delusions. Too easy to crow.  Far too easy to seek vengeance.  Even slightly (or grossly) demented dragons need and deserve our help.

All at sea?

We are, still, only halfway though this adventure.  The tone has changed, the tide is turning but renewed purpose has not yet been confirmed.  I’ve been sailing offshore when a storm has devastated the plan. The ship is damaged, the crew scared witless. There is no going back.  This is the time for renewed purpose – a new destination.  Only a few alternatives come easily to mind – but my crew need, more than anything, clear intent to deliver us safely home.

The hand on the helm may be uncertain but the crew can pull together. Time now to steady the ship and seek that new unifying purpose.  Let the restoration of sanity and purposeful survival now flow through the  life-blood of our nations.

(and here endeth the lesson for Mothering Sunday!)

Wake Up – the new series

26 Sep

Hibernation normally occurs in winter.

Activity is minimised. Survival burns through reserves.  The frenetic return is driven by a new hunger.

This year the seasonal cycle was flipped – must have been the heat, or just a weak spring

But – ‘Hej, we’re back now’, and the return is celebrated by Wake Up – a new series of reflections on the scramble to understand what exactly is going on.

Part 1, ‘So You Did?‘, kicked off with a curious blend of a World War 1 recruitment poster and Archbishop Welby’s speech to the TUC conference.

Slightly more awake, Part 2, ‘What Happened’ is out later today. and Part 3 will follow in a week’s time.

Waking Up to the realities of the wider world – new perspectives or just the old ones seen in a new light – dances around the dawn.

We might, of course, hit snooze and slip back into deep slumber – but the alarm is sounding.

Only when properly awake might we realise that we are letting go of something we’ve not fully grasped.

Welcome back.

___________________

UPDATE 01/Oct/2018:  Part 3 ‘Contra Dictions’ – the battles between Facts and Fictions.

UPDATE 09/Oct/2018:  Part 4, the series final, sets the Brexit agonies in context – a blip that now seems insignificant against global imperatives.  It questions the quality of leadership and has a former Dean of St Pauls turning in his grave.

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.

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.

_______________________

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.

With the benefit of hindsight

14 Jan

My first blog of 2018 ‘Unintended Consequences and Digital Dilemmas’ reflected on the recently aired ‘backlash’ against addictive smart phones and other concerns around popular platforms.

There is always an undercurrent of discontent and discomfort around disruptions engendered by new technologies and it’s far too easy to blame lack of foresight on those who have pioneered new online systems and digital devices. This time around, however, there’s an interesting reaction from within the tech community itself.

There’s a growing realization that this innovative industry needs to be far more than ‘clever clogs with computers’ obsessed with technological novelty and inventing yet more uncalled for stuff. “Hey Google. Who needs wireless woolly mittens to tell your smartphone you have cold hands?”

 It’s not just the digital industry that’s learning to focus on real needs. Across all sectors the question ‘And your point is?’ focuses minds on real purpose – ‘what exactly are we really trying to achieve?’ Even (some) economists are learning to strip away layers of substitutes for common sense and question mechanistic devotion to dogma.

In these ‘hindsightful’ hours there’s space to reflect that if there’d been some adherence to basic principles we’d not now need remedial actions. And, more than that, there is scope for those blessed with sharper minds to restate those principles.

My blog on the Medium platform points to an example of some basic principles for inspired local leaders. I also reflect on the relative deafness of macroeconomics – the fluffy blankets of average ignorance cloaking the insights and priorities of hugely diverse local economies and communities that still lack the freedom to seize their destiny.

A toast to 2018: Greater Granularity: delight in diversity.

________

 

On the move – fresh impetus for local leadership

30 Nov

Sometimes repetition works. It’s brilliant for children’s stories.

Sometimes – particularly in politics – reinforcement is needed for messages to penetrate.

Sometimes audience boredom blunts the impact.

But then, amazingly, the message arrives on a different train – a fresh perspective – and the audience is shaken from slumber.

That is why this Social Mobility report is required reading.

I have lost track of the number of times I’ve written of the UK’s economic diversity and the inadequacy of over-centralised policy responses.  Despite the daily evidence the march of the macros remains the average response.

Teasing apart the policy knots (treating causes rather than symptoms) does not come easily to the average big number addict.

At the heart of the Social Mobility Commission’s report the challenge of reconciling the National with the Local is exposed. Umpteen flavours of economic and demographic analysis may have said all this before but now . . .

‘There is enough evidence from around the world, in our country’s own history and, contemporaneously, in local areas to know that, with the right approach, the transmission of disadvantage from one generation to the next can be broken.

‘There is, however, a mind-blowing inconsistency of practice. It is the breeding ground for the local lottery in life chances that exists today. It is, of course, a matter for local decision-makers to attune their policies and priorities to the needs of their local communities. In a heavily resource-constrained climate, local councils are continually having to make difficult choices about where to allocate resources and focus efforts in order to get the biggest bang for their buck. But all too often schemes start up and then wither away. Initiatives often lack scale. Experience is usually not pooled. Most worryingly of all, evidence about what works to improve social mobility is, at best, not properly embedded in local policies and programmes. At worst, it is ignored. When that happens, precious public resources are wasted and the potential for social progress is lost.’

Despite the pleas for consistency – the outrage against ‘postcode lotteries’ – there is also recognition of the need for local leaders ‘to attune their policies and priorities to the needs of their local communities’. That required flexibility is certainly not lost on the recently appointed Metro Mayors and has been a consistent refrain from many city leaders. But after years of denigration (and austerity budgets) Local Governments have lost much of their authority. It’s a rare and brave soul who has leadership strength to develop local economic and community development policies that really meet the needs of their people.

And yet, despite constraints (real or imagined), it does happen. The report cites evidence of places where fortune has changed through dint of local effort. But the report also highlights how those flashes of brilliance are rarely shared.

Perhaps more than the myriad metrics around economic performance and evolving demographics, this Social Mobility study underscores that need for local collaboration and inspired leadership.

This is precisely the agenda planned for a unique 3-day conference in June 2018.

‘Intelligent Communities’ are places that may have the benefit of smart technology and future-proofed infrastructure, but they also prosper under the guidance of gifted local leadership.

This is not new – they’ve been studied in depth by the Intelligent Community Forum for the best part of two decades.

Next June such places from around the world will send their delegates to meet and mingle with local leaders from the UK, share their ideas and successes, form new bonds, learn of new opportunities and celebrate their delight in a renaissance of the places they call ‘home’.

 

Cross-Party consensus and other ‘escape hatches’

27 Nov

It may not have been the first such example but the pre-2015 election consensus around long-term infrastructure planning was certainly a ‘learning moment’ for Westminster. The lessons have not been lost – despite the divisiveness of ongoing policy power struggles.

The case for removing infrastructure from knockabout political games was, eventually, grasped by Party leaders despite their decades of devotion to partisan debate. Endless arguments and prevarications get in the way of well-considered solution investment whilst the people, emulating Doogle, shake their heads sorrowfully and mutter ‘What a way to run a railway’.

Even building that infrastructure consensus was hard fought. Never mind that the life cycle of governments was far too short for serious investment. Never mind that the lobbyists were routinely exposed as short-term market manipulators. Never mind that the complexities of major projects didn’t fit into 78pt tabloid headlines. It was no small wonder that anything was ever achieved in the febrile atmosphere of Westminster party politics.

But opening an escape hatch requires broad recognition of some impending disaster.

With today’s launch of the White Paper on Industrial Strategy it is timely to review the Green paper comments from industry and academia. The Policy Lab led by Kings College London (KCL) observed, ‘It is difficult to sell a big change to the entire country without a sense of crisis’ and went on to ask whether ‘a burning platform exists to launch the industrial strategy from?’

Last week’s budget scene-setter strived to embed ‘productivity’ as a central motivating focus but was that sufficient to establish a ‘war footing’?   The KCL input was as positive as possible – suggesting unity around securing a ‘peace dividend’ ‘as the country moves through this time of profound change and heightened disruption’.   They didn’t dare suggest that Brexit was itself a sufficiently severe and imminent unifying threat – a diplomatic caution that serves to underline the long road between rhetoric and reality.

Getting consensus around infrastructure planning set the scene for further calls to remove contentious arenas from everyday politics.  Writing in the December issue of Prospect magazine, Diane Coyle’s candidate for cross-party consensus is Economic Strategy.

Writing as a member of the independent Industrial Strategy Commission, Diane concludes that, There must be a commitment, across party lines, to strategic management of the economy, monitored by an independent body analogous to the OBR. The strategy must go far beyond a few eye-catching sector deals and be aimed at long-term challenges, such as decarbonising the economy and delivering health and social care for an ageing population’.

That plea for cross-party consensus was echoed again last week when 90 MPs repeated calls for removal of the Social Care/NHS policy complex from the political maelstrom. The BBC reported, The letter argued that only a cross-party NHS and social care convention – a forum for non-partisan debate – could deliver a sustainable settlement for these services where conventional politics had failed to do so.’

What may have started with independence for the Bank of England and the creation of the Office for Budgetary Responsibilities and a seemingly endless list of ‘arms-length’/independent regulators seems now to have become the model for a new hands-off school of government.

That withdrawal, however, is a prospect that now seems far more likely to succeed at a local level closer to the people and their communities. An alternative ‘escape hatch’ for conflicted macro-managers is to back-off and devolve issues to regional/metro and local governments where attending to the great diversity of needs can help untangle the centrally knotted issues. The other great advantage of letting go is that local political discourse is far more inclined towards the consensual and the emergent White Paper is certainly not short of placed-based aspirations.

The UK is, arguably, the most centralised of all advanced economies. Sadly, subsidiarity is often and erroneously painted as some dark and suspect EU concept but as any parent with teenagers will know, there comes a time when youngsters must be let go. So it is with Mrs and Mr Whitehall – the offspring must be trusted to provide the energy for the entire family’s next generation.

And I wrote all that without using the F word.

_________