Tag Archives: empowerment

Knowing Your Place – Local Fabrics

5 Apr

Local Fabrics [part 1 of a nine-part weekly series]

Why do some places thrive whilst others decline?

How can we shape the future of our communities — the places we call home, the places where we work, the places where we relax?

This nine-part guide to knowing (really understanding) the fabric of communities will explore those questions.

Questions of local prosperity and wellbeing are now far more prominent for many reasons — not least because so much more is known about the huge diversity of local economies and the very different needs and priorities of people who spend time in them. Awareness of these complex local fabrics — each one woven differently — prompts questions over the adequacies and limitations of centrally-driven top down policies.

The flood of new local insights stems from better data and deeper analysis. The realisation (or rather acceptance) that national pictures do not adequately describe the UK economy is a challenge for Whitehall. Tabloids may decry post-code lotteries. Funding formulae handed down from Whitehall are bitterly contested. Local leaders campaign for greater empowerment — some even arguing for ‘city sovereignty’. And, in the Brexit context, questions of national, regional and local identity and belonging are under the spotlight.

International relationships and high policy arenas may seem way out of reach and, for many people, it’s the stuff closest to hand that is important in any quest to ‘take back control’. In this series, therefore, the focus is entirely on local communities and what can make them healthier — prosperous, engaged and sustainable — in a world where the free flow of data demands careful application.

Great cities may be keen to adorn themselves with ‘smart’ technology to further hone their inner workings. Old mechanistic approaches to economies are, however, being supplanted by thematic models — exemplified by Kate Raworth’s ‘Doughnut Economics’ and Marianna Mazzucato’s ‘Entrepreneurial State’. These describe, safe places for policy makers to intervene on socioeconomic issues without straying beyond ecological boundaries. The new economics are also delightfully cross-sector with themes cutting across the old silos that fuel so much of central policy and ‘industry’ regulation.

Conventional economic analysis and management is rooted in vertical sector silos, geospatial metrics and demographics. The more-qualitative themes that create local fabrics and bind communities together are the cross-cutting place-making threads shown in figure 1.

Each of the horizontal threads will be explored in the next eight weekly episodes of this place-based series.

Because all places are different these themes will have variable relevance for the community that you know best — the place that you call home. But the activities and priorities that create these threads are all indicators of community cohesion and future prosperity.

The UK economy is only the aggregate of local placed-based activities. Any sense of national cohesion depends on the strength and design of these local fabrics.

These indicators are not new — they are distilled from years of observation. They are at the root of ‘intelligent communities’ and derive from the long-term observations of a global think-tank that gathers annually to celebrate forward-thinking communities.

The episodes will be published weekly throughout April and May 2018 with the full set complete before the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) next gathers in London to ask again ‘Why do some places thrive whilst others decline?

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Knowing Your Place – that place we call home

4 Apr

From tomorrow (April 5th) and for the following eight weeks we’ll be publishing a series of reflections on aspects of Intelligent Communities.

These will also appear on the Medium platform (Groupe Intellex) and on LinkedIn.

Full announcement sets the context for the series in the run-up to the Intelligent Community Forum’s Global Summit in London (June 4-6)

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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The NEW New Localism

19 Sep

According to Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak (Brookings Institute) “Power is shifting in the world: downward from national governments and states to cities and metropolitan communities; horizontally from the public sector to networks of public, private and civic actors; and globally along circuits of capital, trade, and innovation.”

It’s not surprising that much of their evidence for this stems from the USA. More recently they have written (p22, Prospect, October 2017) “The emergence of ‘New Localism’ is partly due to the abdication of higher levels of government“.

Search on Google, however, for ‘New Localism’ and the top hit (Wikipedia) roots the term in the early part of the UK’s Blair government and the realisation of an increasing understanding of the limitations of centrally-driven policy implementation’.

Cautious devolution and local empowerment has since featured Gordon Brown’s ‘Sub-National Economic Growth’ plans, Regional Development Agencies replaced by Lord Heseltine’s Local Enterprise Partnerships, George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse, the RSA’s City Growth Commission, a variety of City Deals, half dozen new Metro Mayors and a new national industrial strategy that has space for Place-Making.

And yet, the UK remains one of the most centralised of all developed nations.

Even now, with a hint that Local Governments might once again be allowed to retain revenues from business property taxation (‘Business Rates’), there’s debate over the potential for relative inequities of city honey-pots and their less well-endowed commuter hinterlands – not to mention the latent heat of ‘post-code lottery’ outrage if any place dares to fare better than any another.

But we know that there is no national economy – only the aggregation of many local economies each with different demographics, different cultures, different business interests, different leaderships and different needs calling out for different priorities.  More significantly, as the UK tumbles towards Brexit, cities and their communities have diverse cultural and commercial international linkages that impact on future prosperity here at home.  Should we need to ask why some local economies and their communities prosper whilst others seem to wither? How can we have more prospering and less withering?

Central policy makers may desire national economic growth but that can only happen with the success of diverse local economies. So it’s not surprising that the Department for Business (BEIS) has strategically enshrined Place-Making, but as yet there’s very little flesh on those bones.

With the benefit of an 18-year world-wide study of what makes communities prosper, there are, it seems, some fundamental indicators but even these are evolving as we adapt to a more digitally-enabled era. Just as in business, enterprises that have not adapted find themselves in treacherous trading waters: communities, their citizens, employers and local leaders need to adapt. Sometimes it takes a crisis to spur action. Perhaps a more-mature approach lies in planning futures than reach beyond short-term electoral cycles.

To find the new New Localism – to flesh out the bones of Place Making and local economic/community development – Leaders, civic and commercial, should study the outcomes of on-going research.

In late October, the world’s Top 21 in the 2017/18 research cycle led by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) will be announced. By early next year those 21 communities will have been whittled down to just the Top 7. Then it will take a few more months of patient investigation and assessment to declare a worthy successor to Melbourne – the current holder of the title ‘Intelligent Community of the Year’. That announcement will take place next June in London in the company of mayors, CIOs, enterprise and civic leaders from communities around the world.

Between now and next June all the participating cities/communities will learn much about themselves and be readied to share their successes, to network their ideas, to inspire others, to find new opportunities, but also to learn how they might further adapt in this fast-moving world.

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See also http://www.gs-sg18.co.uk/about/www.gs-sg18.co.uk/about/smart-smarter-smartest and associated links.