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Communities and their place-makers: the roots of the UK economy

20 Oct

The London-based Centre for Cities does exactly what it says on the tin. They advocate for better recognition of the economic and societal strengths of the UK’s major conurbations.

‘Cities’ according the Centre for Cities, ‘do not follow the national economy – they ARE the national economy’ – and their diversity demands that each of them have different priorities to meet the needs of their citizen and business communities.

This diversity of needs and priorities stands in sharp contrast to Whitehall’s grasp of the economy. The UK is, measurably, the most centralised of all developed nations.

Even with limited sub-national devolutions beyond England and the cautious local empowerment of Metro Mayors and City Deals within, it is clear that in so many spheres of our regulated regime, we have a complex challenge – an inability to align centrally planned resources with local needs.

None of that is news. The debate, like some slow-brewing tropical storm, has been building over the last three decades – centrally evidenced by the RSA’s City Growth Commission and today (rather more locally) illustrated by the energy around Bristol’s brilliant ‘Festival of Ideas’.   And this locally-driven rebalancing energy is also evident across many UK cities – at a pace, intensity, creativity and engagement that leaves Whitehall Departments in the shade.

This renaissance – the emergence of inspired local leadership and willing communities – is also a cultural expression that positions exponents at some distance from the tired dogmas of national political parties across the spectrum.

Critical impatience is, for example, articulated by Metro Mayors, regardless of Party affiliations. The Centre for Cities noted the marginalisation of these local champions at recent Party conferences and, this week, the C4C lead story is a repeat of a powerful post-election view of paralysis in parliament with a call for MP’s to support local initiatives.

I’m not a disinterested observer. I’ve written previously about Municipal Enterprise and the need to translate and apply the work of fresh economic thinkers like Kate Raworth and Mariana Mazzucato from national to more local perspectives.   I’ve watched the brilliantly creative work of Knowle West Media Centre building community cohesion in part of Bristol and for several years I’ve contributed to the work of the US-based Intelligent Community Forum with its global network of around 160 cities.

Whilst our national politicians are looking elsewhere, the new localism is an unstoppable force. This is an energy that is likely be further bolstered by the Intelligent Community Forum’s 2018 Global Summit when civic leaders, CIOs and community developers from many of the world’s leading cities come to London next June to share their experiences.   The current holder of the title ‘Intelligent Community of 2017’ is Melbourne, Australia. In recent years UK cities have rarely featured in the rankings but this year Knowle West was assessed as being amongst the Global Top 21 – a huge accolade for their imaginative creativity.

Let’s be clear (as politicians are fond of saying) communities are both economic and societal constructs – they embrace both the places where we work and where we live – and those of us who commute may belong to two or more.

In the gradual evolution of local empowerment, the creation of Local Enterprise Partnerships was supposed to have been a step along the way. No doubt they can claim some economic impact but for their wider communities these efforts pass largely unnoticed and, as noted in this week’s Economist, the divergences of well-being means that many feel they are being left behind.  Rather than celebrate diversities the good citizens of less-prosperous places are more likely to fret about ‘post-code lotteries’ when austerity drives down public service standards. Fortunate indeed are those places that rise above party politics to embrace inspired local leadership. But this is a balancing act – local threads woven into wider regional fabrics.

What marks out the new New Localism are signs of vastly greater local engagement – and with that higher-octane fuel the drivers of the UK economic performance and our social and cultural developments are very firmly in the hands of local communities and their place-makers.

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Challenges, Solutions, Achievements – and Trophies for projects that must be celebrated

15 Oct

 

Seven years ago the NextGen Digital Challenge Awards programme was designed to highlight the need for much stronger investment in digital access infrastructures.

The awards were very different from the usual run of industry accolades for people and products.

It took a while but eventually contenders understood that the winners produced brilliant and succinct project case-studies explaining their challenges, solutions and achievements.

Seven years on the rules remain but the field has evolved.  Every year the awards categories have changed to include new frontiers.

From the early, narrow, focus on Urban and Rural broadband deployments, the glittering trophies now also recognise innovative endeavours in the use of these utiities. That doesn’t mean any let-up in the push for better digital infrastructures but it does provide great inspiration for project teams grappling with the challenges of making all this connectivity stuff really useful.

We started again this year with the Open Call – to see what sorts of projects would be nominated. Only then were the contenders sorted, shortlisted and invited to submit their project stories for the 2017 selection of awards.

This process keeps the programme relevant – and, whilst some themes continue, others come into focus. Projects that might once have fitted a general ‘Digital Inclusion’ category may now find they are contenders for the Digital Skills Award.

Right now the Finalists for each of seven trophies are just one week away from hearing if their projects have convinced our independent judging panel. The 2017 awards will be presented at a dinner in Westminster on October 23rd.

  • Why, you may ask, is the Driver & Vehicle Licence Authority (DVLA) competing against an NHS contender for the Digital Health Award?
  • What sort of project, nominated by the Yorkshire Dales National Park, is competing against a Liverpool local currency for (new this year) the Place-Making honours?
  • How come a small village not far from Leeds is battling with the big beasts of broadband for the Connected Britain Award?

What is certain is the Digital Challenge Awards programme has once again served up a rich selection of project examples that will inspire and inform – not least because many of these stories will be used in schools, colleges and universities to stretch young imaginations.

The presentation dinner will not only bring these UK project champions together but will also raise the curtain on an even bigger gathering next year when mayors, CIOs and community leaders from around the world assemble in London for a three-day focus on the making (and sustaining) of Intelligent Communities – the purposeful outcomes enabled by ‘smart’ technologies.

Judging by this year’s crop of project endeavours, we will have many great examples to share with high-powered visiting delegations to the Intelligent Community Forum’s 18th Global Summit. And it’ll be the Finalists in the 2017 NextGen Digital Challenge Awards who will be able to say ‘We heard it here, first, on this channel’!

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Notes:

The 2017 NextGen Digital Challenge Awards dinner will be held at 1 Great George Street, Westminster, starting at 19:00. Former MP Derek Wyatt will introduce plans for the June 2018 events. The after-dinner speaker is Iain Stewart MP – Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smart Cities.

The seven 2017 Awards Categories are for exemplars in: Public Service Transformation, Digital Health, Digital Skills, Place-Making, Innovative Projects, Connected Britain and Networking Innovations. The brilliant hand-crafted glass trophies are the work of artist Helen Thomson (Fantasia Glass).

Dinner capacity is limited but requests for any late availability places should be routed to mailto:awards@nextgenevents.co.uk before 20th October.

For earlier commentary on the 2017 Awards Categories see: https://groupeintellex.com/2017/05/30/the-real-digital-trends-revealed-in-the-2017-digital-challenge-awards-programme/

 

Smart, Smarter, Smartest – Cities Seeking Superlatives

9 Aug

We all know – or think we know – that Smart Cities are driven by Smart Technologies, but what about the people?

In much the same way as industries hype their products (Broadband, Superfast Broadband, Ultrafast . . .) so it is with entire cities.

Beyond Smart Cities we have Social Smart Cities (tackling poverty), Green Cities (very Circular), Resilient Cities (prepared for the unexpected) and even Compassionate Cities – caring about digital inequity and boosting Inclusion. And whilst the ‘smart tech’ systems and infrastructures are key to enabling all these variants there is still the human element – the citizens and their business that must live work and play in these communities.

All the place-based systems in the world still need to serve the citizen – not the other way around.

So enter, stage left, the ‘Intelligent Community’ with its fabric woven from all the usual economic sector metrics and demographics plus the threads of social wellbeing policies.

The question is: Is your city ready? You may be contemplating an impressive array of investment proposals to deal with Transport, Air Quality, Housing, Social Care – the list goes on – but will all those plans knit together to match your citizens’ and community needs?

One way of finding out – free of charge – is to nominate your community for assessment by the Intelligent Community Forum.  Who knows, you may even be selected as one of the world’s Top 21 or Top 7 Intelligent Communities.  Melbourne, Australia, went on this year to be acclaimed as the Intelligent City of the Year.

That achievement was announced in New York at the ICF Global Summit last June. Next year’s great event (with mayors, civic leaders and community developers from across the world) will be in June, in London – the first time in two decades that this very special occasion will be held outside of North America.

You could be there – and your community could find its place on the global stage.

Nominations before 13th 21st September via http://www.intelligentcommunity.org/nominations

 

DEADLINE FOR NOMINATION EXTENDED – now 21st September

For more information please contact David Brunnen or call 07714 325 657

Common Ground: the strength of local leadership.

24 Jul

What do Belfast, Bristol, Glasgow, Manchester and London have in common?

They may have very different needs and priorities but they share a common interest in resilience – a determination to be prepared for whatever.  They are all members of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Network – 100RC.

Today marks the start of the 2017 Urban Resilience Summit – a major gathering of Urban Resilience experts in New York.   Local leaders in the UK – even if not attending in New York – will listen to the proceedings with keen interest.

We didn’t need this year’s terrorist incidents, floods and a tower fire to highlight the need for enhanced response-abilities but local Chief Resilience Officers know that proficient planning pays dividends.

100RC is just 4 years old but in that short time the network has made great strides – fuelled by Judith Rodin’s ‘Resilience Dividend’ and financed in large part by 100 ‘Platform Partners’.

Resilience is a hugely important theme for local leaders and sits alongside a series of programmes that have a huge influence on local economic growth and community wellbeing. With cities growing fast the challenges of local management demand ever-greater empowerment to develop local responses to local priorities.

Some put their faith in technology – enhancing the scope for knowing what is going on across all aspects of urban life – traffic, weather, crime, health, air quality, river levels and a host of environmental factors.

Conventional sector-based economic analysis in this context provides few useful clues. Far more importantly, the themes that cut across sector silos provide a rich agenda for Urban Resilience Officers.

  • Business start-ups and many established ventures need knowledge workers and a host of new skills.
  • Hospitals need citizens who can engage with remote diagnosis. Commuters need better information on public transport.
  • Whole cities need skilled advocates to attract inward investment.

These are just a few of the themes that mark out the differences between ‘smart cities’ and those who could claim to be developing intelligent communities.

Investing in resilience is far more than assurance against unexpected disasters – for some shifts might be better-described as lost opportunities. The key lies with mayors and local leaders who are enabled to develop a holistic view of local needs – not just for economic growth but for wider societal wellbeing.

That is why, in June 2018, the Global Summit for the Intelligent Community Forum will be hosted in London to bring together mayors and civic leaders from around the world. Resilient Place-Making – a local priority – has become central to survival.

Community Cohesion – Part 2

18 Jun

‘Sombre’ was the word chosen this week by Her Majesty to describe the UK’s mood following the awful fire tragedy in West London.

Once again the media lauded heroic responses and the generosity of the wider public towards those shattered families who have lost everything.

Once again great community strength was exposed – and this time, sadly, evidenced by their repeated well-documented warnings of a disaster waiting to happen.

 

But, this disaster was very different.

After the Westminster Bridge car rampage, the bomb in Manchester, a terrorist arrest in Whitehall and the Borough Market/London Bridge van and knife rampage , this week’s consuming fire was  entirely of our own national making with no reason/excuse to attribute blame to some other malignant force.

This disaster was also very different in its aftermath.

Whereas in Manchester the local leadership response was strong and immediate (and in Central London we marvelled at the 8-minute incident closure) local citizens and the media have rounded on the apparent lack of Governmental and Local leadership actions.  The entire incident – from cause to conclusion – is raising fundamental questions.

Government Ministers, past and present, (and property-owning politicians with Landlord interests who voted against regulations on ‘fitness for habitation’) cannot escape or avoid deeper examination.  Those who happily presided over the debilitating drive to cut costs and reduce Local Authorities to mere agencies for the delivery of top-down austerity will be held to account.  As MP David Lamy said, we must now ask if the post-Thatcher shift away from public duty and towards private profit in the name of ‘efficiency’ requires us now to consider if the nation still believes in a welfare state with a safety net for citizens who fall on hard times.

The underlying design story is still unfolding – not least the marginal capital expenditure savings in chosing the cheapest building materials, the lack of sprinkler systems and alternative escape routes – but, beyond the physical, design failures in local empowerment and national democratic accountability cannot now be overlooked.

There are many factors that contribute to community well-being.   One of those is Resilience – particularly the preparedness for unexpected disasters.  From around the world, most of the examples of  Resilience programmes stem from ‘natural’ disasters – floods, tsunamis, earthquakes and wildfires.  But Resilience needs also to be present in systemic design of administration and governance.  The plight of ‘I Daniel Blake’ and a thousand other cuts to dignity imposed in thrall of efficient markets and a demonisation of local leadership has been exposed for its rampant retreat from the societal values that most of us hold dear.  Deep down, naively perhaps, we do not expect leaders to lead us astray.

Not surprisingly local people in West London are now angry.  They are now moving beyond the instinctive community-led support for their neighbours and re-examining these fundamental questions.

A week is a long time in politics.  The recovery from this dreadful week will take years.  It will demand new leadership at all levels of society.  In that process there will be a great deal of learning – and it is in that reflection, as a nation, we may find some redemption.

‘Sombre’ has more than a hint of thoughtful silent sadness.  The mourning process must be sober.  A national get-well plan is urgently required.

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See also earlier blog:  Community Cohesion – 28th May 

Picture source: BBC

Enough is Enough: Being Growth Agnostic is not an Extremist Position

6 Jun

[Why I took Doughnut Economics[1] to the 2017 ICF Global Summit]

The time for tolerance of misguided creeds is over. That’s an existential issue for politicians searching for economic growth.   The relentless pursuit of progress has not suddenly vapourised but its measurement is, at last, being sidelined.

Economists and politicians have known since the 1930’s that GDP is a poor proxy for progress. The conventional metrics do not come anywhere near measuring the value of real activities. But even if GPD was better formulated it misses the point. The purpose of policy should not be some slavish devotion to a metric and particularly not to one so unfit. But arguing for some higher purpose begs the question: without growth are we doomed to decline? Nobody surely votes for making things worse?

Dissatisfaction with GDP growth addiction is deeply rooted. For decades economists have tried different rationales. Could we, please, have Green Growth (more sustainable) or Inclusive Growth (more equitable) or even Humanistic Growth – presumably less inhuman? The rationales for policies to be regenerative (less wasteful) and redistributive (fairer) are well argued and sometimes non-contentious – leastways, perhaps, at some future ‘transitional’ time if not inconveniently right now. These growth-variants may not immediately upset the supposedly free market dogma. But they are still argued in the context of never-ending growth that will somehow ease the pain of eventual readjustment – really?

Take away that prop – declare that we need not overly care about economic growth – and the well-established response is that the sky will fall down. This growth detox is one of the central tenets of Kate Raworth’s unexpected best-seller ‘Doughnut Economics’.  Kate is the latest in a long and fine tradition of economic re-thinkers starting in the 1930’s with Simon Kuznets who first defined what was then called Gross National Product. He well understood its shortcomings and mourned its excessively ill-informed but widespread application.

Being Growth Agnostic, as much as it may offend all right thinking dogma-driven hard-liners, is not some denial of economic variability – the course of life rarely runs smooth (in sickness and in health) – but is simply a matter of therapy for the growth-addicted and a reminder that true leadership should aim for some deeper (or higher) purpose like societal safety and wellbeing.  And whilst we are in brain reboot mode, can you please stop calling all those investments that happen not to be to your liking, by the derogatory label ‘subsidies’?

There are many reasons for reading Kate Raworth and her illustrious forbears such as Donella Meadows and Manfred Max-Neef (and more recently Lorenzo Fioramonti) but expecting her book to somehow magically reprogramme the deeply embedded dinosaurs of national politics is not one of them; far better to take her inspiration and apply it locally within your own community.

Mayors and civic leaders are desperate for direction every bit as much as they are constrained by top-down austerity. In the search for ‘taking back control’ these community champions can use the doughnut (and other frames) to spark imaginative and enterprising routes to greater public, private and environmental wellbeing. Low flying demands great skill and is risky but it gets stuff done under the radar of the high flyers.

Enough is enough. It really is time to shake off our tolerance of dented and dodgy rulers. We must not rest until we’ve rebuilt our local communities. If that reconstruction of better places turns out to be Growth Agnostic, well so be it.

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[1] Kate Raworth, ‘Doughnut Economics‘: ISBN 9 781847 941374

Reviewing the situation . . . .

19 May

Ofcom’s recent ‘separation’ stricture has ensured that BT Group’s annual results presentation to the city gave greater airtime to the leadership of its now semi-detached property, Openreach.

Investors need to understand past performance and assess the forward risks and opportunities.  The bigger picture – mighty ships battling against headwinds – was roundly ridiculed as thin cover for self-induced blunders rather than unknowable forces of nature.   Could that overall decline, investors might ask, be offset by Openreach’s discovery and ultrafast colonisation of new Gigabit lands?

Last week, the captain of BT’s Openreach gave his crew early warning of a new direction. But his ship’s crew comprises far more than loyal employees – it’s a complex weave of stakeholders including investors and wholesale customers (Communications Providers – the ‘CPs’) – so the occasion provided anxious risk-takers with opportunities to read the runes.

Openreach chief exec Clive Selley was reported as saying; “So it is my job to collaborate closely with all the other CPs to figure out at what pace we roll out the ultrafast platforms. And we are going to do that hand in glove with the CPs, because ultimately they are the ones that are going to have to compete and beat the alt-nets in the market place.”

Inevitably the tech-media headlines shouted ‘Fibre Rethink‘. But the espousal of an enhanced collaborative credo suggests more than relationship counseling. Was this a concern to nip in the bud any hint of a wholesale mutiny or jumping ship? Why so? It’s a reflection of finding a radically different market situation to that for which the CP crew had first been recruited. They signed up to flog phone-lines and ‘leased lines’.   Now they need to shift to new services that need far greater reliability and capacity and have little in common with the old voice telephony. The CPs have laboured long with short-term fixes and unlikely performance claims. Now they are increasingly attracted to work with those alternative network pioneers and are held back only by the rate of pure fibre deployments.  Meanwhile Openreach still holds to seeing those very different, vastly superior and ‘fit for future’ networks as direct competitors rather than contributors to the greater good.

Other (imaginary) voyages of discovery

Imagine if you will, dear readers, that this is the year 1500.

The good ship Openseas is sailing nervously towards the previously presumed precipitous edge of a flat world – and the crew are mightily troubled by the rumoured fate of earlier voyagers who did not return. On the bridge the captain anxiously scans the horizon but he and his crew are alone. Their resolve to push on can only come from an inner determination. These are complex and confusing seas with shifting currents and a need for confident navigation. With no hope of external assistance they must overcome fears or resign to their fate but they will earn (eventually) the accolade, ‘pioneer’.

And now, friends, imagine that we are in the year 1839.

In the latest episode Dickens’ Fagin is casting around for a way out of social storms on all sides to secure his survival. Desperately he considers the alternatives:

“This rotten life is not for me.

It’s getting far too hot for me.

Don’t want no one to rob for me.

But who will find a job for me,

There is no in between for me

But who will change the scene for me?

…I think I’d better think it out again!

Hey!”

There is, of course, no one to ‘change the scene’ – he alone must choose a new path. To survive, his enterprise must think again to find a new re-formed direction that rejects all previous convictions and missteps along the way. That resolve may be prove to be beyond his reach.

And so, back now to 2017.

Is it any wonder that Openreach is ‘Reviewing the Situation’? Is this the end of ‘the line’ or is this, beamed through pure fibre, a new, low energy, low maintenance, high performance, enlightenment that costs far less and shines far brighter for his enterprise and for the for the entire economy?

So, let’s wrap up this reflection with the answer to a light-bulb joke. It takes only one psychotherapist to change a light-bulb but that light-bulb must really want to change.

 

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