Tag Archives: empowerment

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 September via http://www.intelligentcommunity.org/nominations

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

Growth Myth-Takes

16 Jul

Some notions are so firmly embedded in mainstream minds that they seem impossible to debate.  They might once have been classed as ‘truths we hold to be self-evident’, ‘rocks to which we cling’, or ‘life’s firm foundations’.

If not learned at our mothers’ knee, some notions are dinned into us through school, college and both corporate and political manifestos.  These notions are not just deeply embedded but often, it seems, beyond questioning – sacrosanct.

Politics, commonly regarded as the ‘art of the possible’, is more often the graveyard of ‘supposedly impossible’ concepts that may not, should not, WILL not be uttered, or considered.  They are thoroughly ‘beyond the pail’ as might once have been said in ring-fenced Dublin.

In February, college sophomore Trevor Hill stood up during a televised town hall meeting in New York and posed a simple question to Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives. He cited a study by Harvard University showing that 51% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 no longer support the system of capitalism, and asked whether the Democrats could embrace this fast-changing reality and stake out a clearer contrast to right-wing economics.

Pelosi was visibly taken aback. “I thank you for your question,” she said, “but I’m sorry to say we’re capitalists, and that’s just the way it is.”

The footage went viral. It was powerful because of the clear contrast it set up. Trevor Hill is no hardened left-winger. He’s just your average millennial—bright, informed, curious about the world, and eager to imagine a better one. But Pelosi, a figurehead of establishment politics, refused to – or was just unable to – entertain his challenge to the status quo.

Sources: Fast Company newsletter – 11th July 2017 and Washington Post

Capitalism aside, the centrality of ‘economic growth’ in most mainstream debate is another sacred cow. It is not just that, in pursuit of growth goals, the way we measure our success is deeply flawed and massively misleading. It’s as if we have collectively forgotten the distance between crude approximations represented by economic models and reality.

GDP, the primary measure of economic activity, “does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play . . . it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” Robert Kennedy

But even if some can acknowledge the definitional downsides, the centrality of the drive for growth is assumed to be one of those tenets that cannot, should not, WILL not, be shaken – or even lightly stirred. Fortunately, despite the suppressive weight of custom and practice, some economic re-thinkers are, very gradually, gaining greater airtime and setting the myth-takes in their original context.

“And so, over half a century, GDP growth shifted from being a policy option to a political necessity and the de facto policy goal. To enquire whether further growth was always desirable, necessary, or indeed possible, became irrelevant or political suicide.”

Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics, Chap.1 p40

But the show rolls on. Rebellious economists may pour scorn on economic myths. Satirists can stretch popular imaginations to sow seeds of doubt. Cartoonists can seize upon contemporary comedic contradictions. Film-makers and writers can expose deficiencies and ‘events’ can throw a spotlight on issues that have escaped serious attention. But despite all these angry shouts from the sidelines, the players on the field carry on within the established rules of the game.

Following years of great effort, two of Kate Raworth’s central themes have shifted towards wider acceptance. Folks may not yet picture a ring doughnut whenever they hear a Treasury Minister, economic correspondent or Bank Governor, speak of economic imperatives, but these speakers do seem (subject to delivery) to have grasped the need for redistributive and regenerative economic policies: Redistributive to tackle gross societal inequalities and Regenerative to avoid trashing the planet.

But the 3rd of Kate’s principles still sticks in the throat and, if uttered at all, is in a thin voice as if from the back of the class, hiding from attention. The idea that infinite growth is not central to survival is, for many, problematic.  Kate’s approach is not, as the alarmist popular press might presume, a denial of the search for economic growth.  Rather, this enlightened economist argues, growth (devoid of objective purpose) should not be central or mandatory.  We can, Kate argues, be Growth Agnostic.

And in that drawing back from directional determination, we have another touching contrast between Economics (as pseudo science) and the reality of everyday life.  For many of us have, sometimes permanently and at other times ephemerally, created our own economic and societal unions – commitments that do not have growth as the central, essential, exclusive objective: ‘for better, for worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health’. Whatever.

Central government will inevitably continue to depend on the economic approximations of models and metrics that are ill-defined and adrift from reality.  That is all they have to go on.  They depend on averages, and, on average, their conclusions are pretty average.

The UK economy is the aggregate of many diverse local economies each with its very own needs and priorities.  If some forms of positive growth occur (whether it’s new ventures or improved citizen wellbeing) they will reflect local activities engendered by investments and creative endeavours within those communities of citizens, businesses and shared services.

This will not happen merely because Growth has been mandated from on high. Nor will it happen if (for the bottom-protecting-avoidance of any risk) it is forbidden to engage in local endeavours for which short-term cast-iron profit-certainty is not assured.   This is something well understood within far less centralised, more federal, more locally empowered, continental communities.

Dogma-driven theorists still know little of locally nuanced needs.  Local leaders, on the other hand, are better placed to understand the complex warp and weft of their economic fabrics and societal priorities. Local leaders should be committed, as in marriage, to ‘honour and comfort’ their communities.

Set aside the myths. Blow away the fog.

Move on from the growth myth-takes of past regimes.

The place-making re-enlightenment of local leadership is underway.

________

 

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.

___________________

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.

_______

 

Managements Sans Frontières

15 Mar

thinking_heads smallWith great respect to the brilliant medical charity, their title springs to mind as I try to make sense of a minor deluge of academic reports and real world experiences.   Boundary issues abound – and not just in the contexts of Humpty Trumpty’s Great Wall of Machico or the UK’s Brexysteria.

Deep down we all like the comfort of borders but so often spend our lives trying to break down barriers. Parents observe that unruly/spirited teenagers need some boundaries. Accountants would be lost for numbers without tidy columns.  Regulators regularize.  Centralist governments prefer broad-based averages.  Mass marketers shriek Sun-like headlines. But devolutionists see city-states as empowering even as citizens complain of postcode lotteries.  And businesses everywhere seek differentiation by ‘redefining’ markets.  In the 1970’s Tom Paxton would sing ‘The Thought Stays Free’ and, like wireless signals, ideas do not respect borders.

So the Work Foundation report (Working Anywhere) says 2017 will be another peak – the last gasp of working 9 to 5 (that will no longer be ‘the way to make a living’) as the daily trek is commuted to life outside of an office for the average commuter.   They will, of course, still have boundaries. They will still log in to their networks (their presence measured) and no-one yet is predicting the end of corporate monthly reports – not least because bean counters hunger for beans to count and managers imagine they are managing.

There are boundaries we willingly choose to adopt (like marriage) and there are those we (mostly) tolerate for a peaceable society – like speed restrictions. Then there are the envelopes we’d like to stretch – or rip apart. The constantly changing balances between wrapping things up and encouraging creative agility is not something that can be bolted down. Great enterprise leaders know that rules are ‘made to be broken’ (sometimes) and urge their law-abiding followers to ‘think differently’ – ‘outside of the box’.

At this time it is difficult to comment on EU affairs without offending (for myriad reasons) all 784 (28 squared) sides to immigration debates but it is surely blindingly obvious that people will always wish to move and economies need to import and retain talent. With extreme provocations the future tides of humanity will, like the weather, be increasingly difficult to anticipate and, as Canute demonstrated at the shore, unconstrained.   National identity is increasingly a curious notion – especially for the English where ‘ish’, sort of, defies the absolute.

Travel is said to broaden the mind and, in these networked days, virtual travel is a great substitute for the physical effort of getting from A to B – which is partly why the Work Foundation predicts the decline of inflexible working.  But traveling (physically or intellectually) has great inequalities. Academia has huge capacity for stating the blindingly obvious – but sometime it needs to be said.  Pointing out that the  Further_We_Travel_the_Faster_We_Go is not some supposedly great insight designed to justify investment in the UK’s HS2 project but anyone contrasting the time and effort needed to get to London with the effort of travelling within the place will get the point.   But the real point, surely, is about journeys of the mind; ideas. The more outlandish they are the greater the chance they’ll make a real difference. The further you reach the faster you’ll get there – compared to some gradual, incremental, barely-noticeable, short-term, thoroughly non-alarming, improvement process.

We (being very English) often frown on ambition. Centuries of terribly polite censure have curbed our creativity but digitally-networked borderless freedoms cannot now be denied.  Empowerment (the need for it) has wrong-footed those once-great institutions that presume they know best. Who needs all that bandwidth?   What for, exactly? The defence of their comfortable market borders gets in the way of ideas flow – the brick walls can but delay their decay.

So why not? Why not demand a Gigabit? Why stick at home when your partner’s work is far away. Go with him and let the global network handle your usual work-flow. Why return home and only then shop for food when it could have been pre-ordered online from your hotel bed on the far side of the world? It needs only the very real experience of a three-way Skype call with callers in Hampshire, a colleague now in Argentina and a customer in his car somewhere on the M6 to prove the point that, increasingly, borders are meaning less.

Can we manage without borders? In work, in life and in politics we have little or no choice. Ring-fenced isolationism will not (cannot) relieve any of us from responsibility. The best that management can muster is to invest time and effort in avoidance of unexpected consequences and not inadvertently trigger catastrophic outcomes – like civil wars. A bit of forward planning might help. Will the economic decline of London be stalled by a fully-fibred future? Are we, in Europe, ready for a great American exodus if Trump triumphs?

So, yes we need some borders and others we need to relax. A single market across Europe is brilliant. Greater devolution of central authority to Manchester can be empowering – if you trust in the mayor’s capacity to manage.  Localism with expansive freedoms will always contend with the average central reductionist.  Maybe, one day, someone, most probably some uncouth little chap, most probably from some distant place via an online device and twitter, will point out that some wee emperor is nae wearing any clues – and the whole world will once again collapse in a sea of irreverent laughter and/or tears.   Dougal will shake his head, sorrowfully, and say ‘what a way to run a country’ and the credits will roll – leastways for one last time.

Managements Sans Frontières?  We should follow where the angels have dared to tread – beyond the borders of your mind.   If you stretch the imagination it rarely goes back to its original shape.

 

 

What we all know

7 May

What we all know . . . . . is mostly based on old assumptions that may well have been rendered obsolete.   Evidence-led policy/decision-making may limit forward thinking but at least it doesn’t negate the need for ‘reviewing the situation’.

This need for current evidence is hugely important to local authorities as they seek (or are given) more responsibility to support their local economic growth.   Empowerment, devolution and decentralisation are all in the melting pot for any new government – and the currency of the evidence base is particularly important in policy areas where the fundamentals are rapidly shifting.

Fiber optics

Fiber optics

Take, for example, what we know about investment in future-proofed Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) broadband infrastructure. What we all know is that it’s horribly expensive, of dubious viability and there’s uncertainty around whether folks really need it.  BUT, what we all know is largely based on analysis that was produced more than a decade ago – analysis that some would say was a wee bit suspect even back then.

How important then is it that Local Authorities seeking to spend public sector funds on digital infrastructure are fully aware of cost reductions, improved deployment managements, dramatic shifts in uptake of better services and the scope for increased revenues for network operators and dividends for investors?

It should not be a surprise that the old ‘rules of thumb’ have shifted a bit – and it should be no surprise that hindsight reveals the unintended consequences of now-outdated motivations.

By bringing together best-practice experience from our own and other countries new models for investment can now be considered – and, moreover, considered in the context of what we can now deduce will be future requirements.

Based on his multi-country experience, Richard Jones, Chief Commercial Officer of VentureNext, has offered has offered to share an interactive business model that illustrates some of the challenges with investment in FTTH. Knowledge sharing in this arena is beneficial for all parties – investors, suppliers and citizens – and provides a way to refresh ‘what we all know’ in this vital area for future economic growth and societal development.

Further details

The Value of ish

15 Jun

multi-culture

Prompted by debates about British Values and reports of racial intolerance, we have written a reminder of the the significance of ish.

Read the full story – ‘The Joy of ish‘ – and embrace the future whatever.