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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.

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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.

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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.

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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