Tag Archives: community

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

Community Cohesion

28 May

In the aftermath of Manchester’s terrorist outrage observers the world over have heaped generous praise on the way the community ‘came together’.

Some even went so far as to regard Manchester as exceptional: “a sense of identity that you don’t find elsewherealong with a hint of already being case-hardened – There is a deep resilience in this city and it’s kept people going in the past “.

What has certainly been evident over this last sad week has been excellent leadership – not just from the City Council Leader and the newly elected Greater Manchester Metro Mayor but also across the wider community from leaders in Police, Health, Education, Religion, Business, Sports and (especially in Manchester) Music.

That sense of ‘community cohesion’ should hardly be a surprise given such extreme provocation and intense media scrutiny. Yet in some sense it is instructive that the media should marvel at this combination of grief, steely determination and a proud local identity.

Community cohesion rarely gets the media spotlight and yet it doesn’t suddenly spring into life; the seeds are being constantly sown and nurtured in all communities. Communities – the tribes we work with, the crowds we shop alongside, the after-school clubs the children attend – are all part of a rich fabric that so many economists, policy makers and news reporters fail to notice. These things don’t get routinely measured and, from a distance, are rarely valued in the way that GDP, RPI, employment and consumer borrowing statistics are subject to intense scrutiny.

Why is so much attention paid to dismal national average data when so much of what makes life worth living is all around us in our multiple overlapping communities? Why should the central management prioritise policies that ignore the stuff of life? The answer, of course, is that with their merely average understanding they should not be worrying themselves about matters beyond their comprehension.

If Manchester is different it is because for years, like many other great cities, it has banged the drum for freedom to manage its own affairs. This is the essence of what is now called ‘place-making’ – determined locally directed leaderships that have transformed London, Bristol, Birmingham, Glasgow and umpteen others, often in the face of central governments reluctant to relinquish control.

Many of the levers of community cohesion and wellbeing are well known. If those levers are not being used it is entirely down to local leaderships who feel (rightly or wrongly) that they have not been empowered to take action. All communities are different and have different priorities but there’s a strong body of research that has probed how best to assess their economic and social fabric. And that assessment ultimately measures the quality of local projects that determinedly cut across the silos of top down management.

The great lesson from Manchester is the value of investment in those cross-cutting programmes that may seem insignificant to those focused exclusively on growth in the silos of standard economic sectors.

This is what some call ‘mission economics’ or ‘policy with purpose’ but down in this neck of the woods we just call it Community Cohesion.

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Knowing Your Place – part two

5 May

Knowing Your Place was originally written to support a proposed event in 2018. In that brief note I reflected on the new meaning of the phrase. Once it was just a parental demand for subservience and ‘not speaking out of turn’.   Now it’s a Place-Maker’s celebration of Open Data and a vastly greater understanding of the local economy and community needs.

In Part two my attention turns to the wealth of fresh economic thinking. I say ‘fresh’ but it’s evident that ideas currently regarded as radical or outside of mainstream conventions have been around for decades. The puzzle is to understand why these commonsense ideas have struggled to be accepted.

This resistance to fresh thinking is not uniquely British. Deeply embedded but demonstrably errant economic dogma is a global concern. That in large part reflects an intellectual legacy underpinning the formative education of folk who now govern or influence policy. The re-education process will take a fair few generations to resolve.

In the UK, however, we have a particularly virulent strand of dodgy economic dogma that thrives largely because we have a very very centralised economy. In other countries with a more federal approach there is greater scope for economic diversity and experimentation amongst regions or municipalities. But before that thought distracts you, let’s review a few of these ‘fresh’ thinkers.

Throughout the profession there are economists who understand that things are not quite right. Not surprisingly these thinkers often try to differentiate their ideas. Those alarmed by widening inequalities – for example Stephanie Flanders – would prefer Inclusive Growth.   Similarly we’ve had mechanistic approaches, Economic Sciences, Positive Economics, Humanistic, Social, Monetary and umpteen other variants. All these attest to the diversity of thought and their advocates’ desire to avoid (or downplay) addictions to never-ending growth, over-simplistic price/demand graphs, supposedly free & efficient markets or fully informed rational actors.

Others come to the field with environmental and sustainability perspectives. The Circular Economy notion – regenerative to minimise waste of natural resources – has given rise to ‘systems thinking’ as expressed in Ken Webster’s ‘A Wealth of Flows’. This exposes the complexities of our interconnected world and takes on board the feedback loops that old-school economists might too easily dismiss as irrelevant externalities – leastways until they show up during investigation of ‘unforeseen consequences’.

Yet others take exception to simplistic political notions that government is bad and only private enterprise is to be valued. Leader of that rebel pack is, without doubt, Mariana Mazzucato and her work on The Entrepreneurial State where she lays bare the vital contributions of state-led investments subsequently exploited by the private sector with insufficient returns to the public purse.

And then we come to Kate Raworth’s ‘Doughnut Economics’.   Kate’s economic map is not of the sugar-coated variety with jam in the middle. This doughnut looks to lift folk from social deprivations (visualised in the central hole) whilst curbing the tendencies to reach beyond the outer edge of the ring where collectively we might threaten the ecology. Far from ‘deregulation’, Kate speaks of ‘re-regulation’ to better align policy with purpose and operate within the ring. Here’s an attempt to marry ‘redistributive’ and ‘regenerative’ policies – tackling both inequalities and wasted resources.

Kate’s work is hailed as ‘fresh’ but it takes years to be recognised as an ‘overnight star’.   Her ideas have been articulated for nearly two decades. Much of her research highlights the way that in recent times mainstream economists have been highly selective in their references to early thinkers such as Adam Smith. Understanding those dogmatic distortions is helpful but what is new is the power of visualisation. The ring doughnut provides a handy graphic that helps frame policy debates but is not pretending to be a pseudo-science.

The common theme amongst all these works is that they are directed towards the State – national governments and the establishment. They come across as grand top-down ideas; yet more supermodels. Not surprisingly it is painful to bang heads on brick walls that are reinforced by decades of dogma and where radical change seems unimaginably complex without some miraculously orchestrated global enlightenment.   The exception to that general top-down prescription is, perhaps, amongst advocates of the Circular Economy where some demonstrable progress has been made by careful evangelisation amongst a few global enterprises.

So perhaps an alternative approach to implementing these ideas is to take a leaf out of Ellen MacArthur’s Circular Economy Foundation. They have identified large enterprises (like Phillips or B&Q) as business communities where ideas can be worked out. Why not then start by applying the ideas, not at central state (national) level, but in cities and communities where local needs are diverse and the appetite for fresh thinking is strong? Do not imagine that there is some perfect model – a panacea – but understand that these works provide great scope for stimulating local leaders, communities and citizens to envision a brighter future with all manner of local enhancements to wellbeing – be they economic, social or environmental – in this era of rapid digitalisation.

Which thought brings me back to ‘Knowing Your Place’. Only by understanding the real needs – the locally diverse requirements that fall outside of standard economic models – are we able to address the ‘real’ economy and leave behind the rough average approximations of theoretical economists in high (and often distant) places.

There’s a time (which is now) and a place (near you) for every purpose. Let’s not delay and let’s not direct our efforts towards the centre when all about us can be transformed. These are ideas that need to find their place.

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References:

Inclusive Growth Commission – RSA Report:

https://www.thersa.org/discover/publications-and-articles/reports/final-report-of-the-inclusive-growth-commission

Ken Webster, ‘A Wealth of Flows‘: ISBN 9 78099 27784

Mariana Mazzucato, ‘The Entrepreneurial State‘: ISBN 9 780857 282521

Kate Raworth, ‘Doughnut Economics‘: ISBN 9 781847 941374

 

Blowing towards Thrushgill – East of Lancaster

27 Sep

[‘From our own correspondent’ – visiting rural Lancashire to get a feel for great digital design]

Place your finger on the map at Lancaster and then move it across to the East until you find a large dark patch. This remote and roughly triangular terrain, in and around the Forest of Bowland, is not some black hole where civilisation vanishes but a place where businesses blossom and communities thrive.

brn-vanThese remote 53 parishes contradict the supposedly inevitable economic migration towards ever-more-complex city conurbations. In this rural patch you can find a world-leading example of sustainable digital infrastructure – largely because, in the rough-hewn ways across Lancashire/Yorkshire borderlands, the locals would have no truck with BT’s ‘phone-line broadband’.

If you live, learn and work in a remote area you soon learn a thing or three about resilience. Here you value the interdependencies on which communities build sustainability. For technologists and economists (and most politicians) there are huge design lessons here.   One might imagine (given the popular substitutes for five minutes thought) that densely populated cities would most readily justify the investment in future-proofed fibre. It might be assumed that remote areas would be the least likely candidates for great infrastructure investment.

In the UK (and particularly East of Lancaster) almost the exact opposite prevails. Larger places may be woefully underserved by dependence on a supposedly cheap short-term fix but, in this scattering of villages and hamlets, that same dismal design would deliver an even worse performance.   Not for them the inadequacies of variable and unreliable phone-line broadband. Digital technologies are a great enabler of economic well-being – but only if they work in all weathers all of the time.

That is why the B4RN fully future-proofed design is not just a great example for those who live learn and work away from large towns or cities. It also tells urban city dwellers that they too could aspire to something vastly better, more affordable and more energy-efficient.   Local governments are slowly beginning to realise that, whereas BT saw their copper network as a great asset, it is the holes and poles that are of greatest value in this digital era. It is unfortunate that most of those holes and poles are cluttered with copper cables but Local Authorities who have the good fortune (Like Bristol) to own alternative ducts are enabled to speed ahead.

This, of course, is not a problem East of Lancaster. There are precious few ducts and many of the poles are rotting relics of a bygone era. So the locals ignore any old holes and poles and, with a great deal of local community cooperation, dig their own ducts into their own fields and blow their own fibres through them.

  • Fifty Three parishes served by 25 nodes,
  • More than 2200 fully-fibred connections
  • Serving 65% of all properties,
  • A small army of local folk who have learned that this digital stuff is not rocket science
  • And what they get is 1000Mb/s in both directions.
  • For £30 month (inc. VAT)

But no one should pretend that this community-led effort is easy.   It requires massive motivation and collaboration (particularly from landowners) and astute management of the entire cooperative scheme. Some would say that the broadband service itself is only a small part of the benefit: making it happen demands that communities come together and develop greater cohesion. At the outset in 2011 it seemed like a pipe dream and potential funding was unlikely. Five years on B4RN has shown that it makes perfect sense and, as the Chinese proverb says, ‘Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it’.

Local Authorities everywhere are thinking (perhaps for the first time) that the holes and poles should be far better maintained and unclogged to make way for the future. Down in Westminster, BEIS and the IPA (HMT/Cabinet Office) understand the need for business investor confidence, particularly during the UK’s structural separation from the EU. The most immediate trigger for inward multi-sector investment to the UK would be to signal support for well-designed, resilient and sustainable pure fibre networks and replacement of legacy copper.

B4RN, East of Lancaster around the Forest of Bowland, may, on a draughty day, seem a very long way from Westminster but strategic connectivity lessons travel at the speed of light – in both directions.

blowing-towards-thursgill

B4RN – ‘Blowing toward Thrushgill’ by B4RN shareholder Walter Willcox.

The B4RN ‘Show-Tell’ day was sponsored by the network’s ‘blown fibre’ specialists – Emtelle

 

Online Success – on dodgy lines

7 Aug

UNPACS LogoCommenting on the UNDESA report showing the UK as the world leader in government online services, Julia Glidden, an international specialist in Open Data, makes an interesting observation about long-term policy investment.

Julia attributed the UK’s ranking in part to “a concerted national strategy, dating back to the establishment of an Office of the e-Envoy [in 1999, and the E-Government Unit in 2004] to integrate back office functions whilst simultaneously driving cross-government institutional coordination.” That’s a dedicated decade and a half of puzzling out the better delivery of public services.

Meanwhile those who campaign for vastly better broadband connectivity – seeing that as an essential enabler of greater online usage – would say that much of the last decade and a half has been wasted on short-term fixes that will inevitably need replacement in the push for future-proofing, operational efficiency, energy conservation and greater reliability.

The technologists have a strong case – and one that is gaining both media and political traction. The government may also be cheered by the UK appearing at the head of a global league table – particularly as, post-referendum, national advocacy is much in demand.

If the long-term stance had been taken for connectivity as well as services, would the outcomes have been even better? What explains the success of the latter, in a less-than-optimal infrastructural environment, is massive and often voluntary societal investment.

This is shown very clearly in the shortlist for the 2016 Digital Challenge Awards programme. Derived from an Open Call back in January the shortlisted finalists reflect what is really going on in corners of the country that media headlines very rarely capture.

The shortlisted projects for work in Digital Inclusion, Digital Skills, Digital Health and Open Data dominate the field. Sure, there are great projects in Network Innovations (from providers), Advanced Digital Applications (from university researchers) and in Rural Connectivity (by desperate country-folk), but these often more-technical pursuits are outshone by the devoted efforts of Charities, Local Authorities, Housing Associations and myriad public services agencies including the NHS, Schools and Libraries.

With their dedication to making sure that neighbours, communities and employees are not left trailing behind in our increasingly digitalized world, we should appreciate that the underlying reason behind the UK’s reported leadership is not entirely down to central policy wisdom.

In the next decade and a half we might even be blessed with fit-for-future connectivity – if the people get their way.

The O2 NextGen Digital Challenge Awards 2016

6 Apr

The O2 NextGenAwards2016hires

 

Yes – you read the headline correctly.   NextGen is delighted to announce that the 2016 NextGen Digital Challenge Awards now features O2 as headline sponsor.

The origin of the Digital Challenge 6 years ago may have been rooted in concerns for fixed-line broadband innovation but the awards programme has over the years increasingly featured the mobile sector. The worlds of fixed and mobile are in reality, highly interdependent and will become more-so as infrastructure planning for the next generation of 5G gets underway.

However, there’s another dimension in the emergence of public sector interest in services delivery. Speaking with Billy D’Arcy, Managing Director, Public Sector Business at O2, it’s clear that their interest in backing the Digital Challenge derives from a strategic understanding of the value of community champions. The public sector works on behalf of all of us to provide a number of essential services. At O2, we are committed to helping the public sector deliver the best experiences for citizens. We also want to make sure their employees, both customer facing and in offices, can work effectively. We do this by helping to simplify processes using ICT solutions while adhering to increasingly restrictive budgets. As a result, we wanted to work with NextGen to celebrate the organisations that go the extra mile. That’s why the O2 NextGen Digital Challenge Awards 2016 will celebrate innovation, success and leadership in the UK’s digitally focused economy.”

The Digital Challenge has an excellent track record of identifying and celebrating achievements in the public sector that, in the general flood of marketing messages, might be overlooked – and inadvertently overlooked particularly by policy makers in and around Westminster. With this year’s awards presentation scheduled for October 13th in The House of Lords these important public sector and community messages will raise awareness amongst key policy influencers.

Full details of the awards programme and how anyone can nominate projects that have impressed can be found here. This is an Open Call and entry is free. The Digital Challenge honours projects and digital endeavours from across all sectors of the economy. The independent judging panel is keen to acknowledge projects and team effort rather than specific products or individuals.

The Open Call ends on May 27th

Shortlisted Finalists for each Awards Category will be announced on June 15th at the Connected Britain/NextGen conference in London.

 

 

 

 

NextGen 15 and the growth of online platforms

15 Oct

The Call from a subcommittee of the House of Lords was just too tempting.

Their Lordships’ inquiry into online platforms was prompted by the European Commission – a classic legislative HoLresponse to mutterings that surely ‘something must be done‘.

But looking at the questions posed, it became clear that the great success of online platforms might be largely due to the fact that nothing much has been done.

There may be a case for consumer protection in a world of uneven comprehension but there is certainly little justification for market protection by over-egging regulation.

And, moreover, jotting down some notes for their Lordships’ committee, it became clear just how good the UK is becoming at this sort of innovation.  We may not be home to the Googles, Twitters or Skypes but we have no shortage of great examples of online platform innovation.

So it was too tempting – how could we not respond?

The NextGen Digital Challenge Awards – this year being presented in their Lordships’ House on November 5th – provides just the evidence they need to encourage lawmakers to desist from further lawmaking that might stifle our innovators and entrepreneurs.

For readers addicted to following the ways of Westminster, the full Call from the Committee  ( online-platforms-call-for-evidence ) will need to be read alongside the Groupe Intellex response to HoL subcommittee on platforms Oct 15

Alternatively, and far more fun,  you could attend NextGen15 on November 5th and/or the Digital Challenge Awards Dinner in the Peers’ Dining Room of the House of Lords – but hurry – registration for the latter closes on Monday 19th October.