Tag Archives: ICF

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

6 Jun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___________

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

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.

_______

 

We were ‘Sixteen, going on seventeen’: growing through turbulent times

2 Jan

hi=-tech buildingAs 2016 fades away and we embrace the New Year, we take a moment to reflect on the seismic shifts that make any predictions seem hazardous.   Some of those upheavals arrived packaged with polarized opinions and dubious evidential credibility. Other shifts gained far less media attention because they do not yet lend themselves to snappy headlines or slogans. These ‘straws in the wind’ are however just as real and may well have far reaching impacts – not least in the management and wellbeing of local communities.

To capture the uncertainty of what community leaders are heading into, lyrics from the Sound of Music may seem a very unlikely text. In the musical, young Leisl places her trust in someone just a year ahead – not much older, certainly no wiser and about to betray her trust.  Convenient calendar coincidence aside, the sense that we are now sailing into the latter stages of ‘troublesome teens’ is a handy metaphor for anyone concerned with the local development and wellbeing of communities. And in these turbulent times, those UK readers who are concerned will find it challenging to fathom the realities, see bigger pictures or plan for longer-term futures.

You might imagine that vast years of experience would suggest otherwise. Our diverse UK communities are, however, more Unique than United and, when academics study community wellbeing, the current research papers might sometimes seem to have been written on (or of) a different planet.

Take, for example, John Lauermann’s Municipal Statecraft: revisiting the geographies of the entrepreneurial city. It is, undeniably, a splendid work with many interesting insights.   But many UK readers will find his observations on post-growth diversification of entrepreneurial policy impacts to be several light years ahead of prevailing realities in our over-centralised State.

He contends that the search for economic growth is no longer the primary or dominant rationale for local initiatives.   Narrowly-defined growth goals, he argues, have become just one of many local policy objectives across a wider societal spectrum.   In truth there may well be far greater Municipal Enterprise being practiced across the UK but, with few exceptions, local leaders dare not highlight these efforts for fear of (a) harsh media scorn, (b) an irrational blame culture and (c) central financial penalties for daring to find creative alternatives to austerity cuts. Look no further than the momentary media outrage about hospital car-parking charges.

Lauermann’s acute observation that the historic rationale for municipal enterprise (boosting economic growth) has evolved into a more diverse and imaginative focus across multiple aspects of public/social policy will, however, mean little to those who have yet to fully embrace Heseltine’s (‘No Stone Unturned’) 2012 notion of Local Enterprise Partnerships. Being this far behind the curve might, however, provide scope to leapfrog the learning process but only if local leaders adopt a less insular perspective – a notion that, with few exceptions, runs counter to prevailing politics.

The theme of an evolution in economic thinking is also evident in Erik Beinhocker’s ‘Evonomics’.   His Oxford-based New Economics programme has a mission to identify and address the large gaps between prevailing economic theory and reality. He does not underestimate the scale of the challenge. So an explicit, widespread use of new economic approaches to policymaking may require some education of citizens, the media and politicians themselves on the risks of overconfident top-down solutions, and the importance of small-scale failure as a way to learn and prevent large-scale disasters.” His theme of multiple and local small-scale experimentation (inevitably with some failures) is, he would contend, vastly more likely to induce success.

There is no shortage of instructive reading for the UK’s local leaderships. The RSA’s Inclusive Growth Commission, led by Stephanie Flanders, still bangs the drum for local economic growth but sees that ‘place-based’ growth as moderated in ways that would counter run-away social inequalities. Inclusive growth is about living standards and earnings, as well as in-work progression and tackling long term unemployment. It offers a social return in helping more people participate meaningfully in the economy, but it also has an economic rationale, with the potential to address some of the key drivers of the UK’s productivity puzzle.”

The Inclusive Growth Commission’s final report in March may be a useful stepping stone but no-one should underestimate the scale of political and public education that will be needed to counter four or five decades of ill-informed governance.

Similarly Mariana Mazzucato’s work is gaining traction but the fact that her ideas are often described as radical is a sure indicator of the depths to which economic and regulatory management has sunk in the hands of unconstrained admiration of over-simplistic, supposedly ‘free’, market mechanics.

In the old musical we may have pitied teenage Leisl’s naivety, but we should now also feel for city and community leaders, who must cast around for clues in these uncertain times. Who can they trust? What are the local priorities?   A recent discussion note written in preparation for the 2018 Global Summit pointed out that in the last six decades the meaning of the phrase knowing your place has shifted from an admonishment (not speaking out of turn) to an empowerment enabled by the advent of access to Open Data and better visualization tools.

Fortunately for the UK, a few sharper minds are becoming focused on the need for renewed effort to stave off what many see as an evolutionary crisis – a crisis for which the populism of the Brexit and Trump votes are just symptomatic.   Perhaps one of the best (and most readable) starting points would be Rick Robinson’s ‘Three Step Manifesto for a smarter fairer economy’.

In this summary of the state we are in, he finds little reason to blame our ills on ‘other’ (external) presumed malevolent forces but understands our own home-grown failures. “The failure to invest in local services and infrastructure . . . . is caused by . . . the failure of national government to devolve spending power to the local authorities that understand local needs.”  Dr. Robinson is very much aligned with the RSA’s Inclusive Growth work when he calls for legislation ‘to encourage and support business models with a positive social outcome’. His perspectives are informed by his work in the ‘smart city’ arena but he has grasped that those inspiring innovations should be driven by a far higher purpose than mere technological novelty – and in this he sees Open Data as making vital contributions to local leadership priorities. He is not alone – as the unusually articulate and constructive post-blog comments testify.

All of these references point towards something that has been happening for decades but has been largely ignored by dominant central governments. Central policy development deals in averages. Local needs and impacts are lost in ‘rounding errors’.  Is it any surprise that the effectiveness of top down directives is so often far less than their instigators hoped? What, however, has been going on are remarkable but largely unsung local heroic efforts to cope with those top-down determinants.   And those local inspirations can be observed in communities the world over and, more frequently than they might admit, within in many very large companies: progress despite the senior management.

 This local experimentation, this inventiveness, this local understanding of needs and priorities is in some countries constrained by central authority and a general lack of leaders who dare to be different. Many brave experiments may fail but really great local leaders do not buckle under the barrage of ignorant media bullies. That is why the creation of metro mayors and increased devolution of powers to local communities will be both significant and challenging.

For the last few years the charge into local projects has been led by technologists keen to create a market for their ‘smart’ systems and devices. Their enthusiasms have not been misplaced – great benefits are evident – but, as local leaders gain strength, as economists gain greater insights and as citizens begin to speak up, there is a renewed interest in learning from others.

For the past two decades the Intelligent Community Forum has researched these issues. Every year a few hundred communities from around the world volunteer their experiences for assessment in the hope that their efforts will be recognised and honoured. Through that evaluation process the contenders themselves gain great insights and understanding.  From those that apply, the selection of the Top 21 and then Top 7 provides a vast archive of evidence of the characteristics that, in aggregate, indicate the emergence of truly intelligent communities.  The indicators gleaned over the years have six or seven dimensions – the themes today being much broader than in the earliest research.

The underlying focus in on the quality of locally managed programmes for Connectivity (the extent to which digital broadband infrastructure is fit for future purpose) is now joined by assessments of local programmes for:

Digital Inclusion (or Equity) – the great effort of bringing the whole of society into a digitally-enabled world without creating yet further divisions and inequalities.   In the UK the work of many charities (such as Good Things Foundation) and housing associations are delivering brilliant programmes.

The generation of a Knowledge Workforce – has impacts encouraging inward investment/employment and discouraging migration of young people. This is becoming a major focus for Local FE Colleges and partnerships with enterprise and public service agencies.

The extent of Innovation Capacity – particularly in the local provision of low-cost workspaces, mentoring facilities and investment finance to enable locally-grown new business ventures.

Local programmes for Sustainability and Resilience – whether designed to counter environmental threats or to ensure rapid responses to disasters, these local initiatives have become a key leadership priority.

The visibility of local needs as revealed by Open Data – particularly in (but not limited to) the public realm – has been hugely boosted by (a) improved visualization tools and (b) a massive growth in Data Journalism expertise.

And finally, Local Advocacy –championing pride in the local community and not shrinking from the reality that it sometimes needs more than the local football team to establish credentials on the world stage. Some might regard this ‘showing off’ as a most un-British and immodest capacity but leaders are defined by their leadership – and that often demands that they cross the boundaries of departmental silos that leave universities, hospitals, schools and energy companies to survive in separate boxes.

These primary indications of ‘Intelligent Communities’ may not exactly align with John Lauermann’s ‘Municipal Statecraft’, but they do provide a framework for local priorities – a policy mix that rises above many well-meaning but merely average national initiatives.  Local priorities must inevitably adapt to meet local needs but, when the mayors, civic and communities leaders come together to share their experiences, the common ground is extensive and is dominated by that theme of developing and experimenting with imaginative local ideas and initiatives that would never occur to any centralised authority.

So, as we contemplate an uncertain 2017, we can at least be sure that the opportunity to bring the Intelligent Community Forum’s Annual Global Summit from its home in New York to the UK in 2018 will provide a great spur for many community leaders the world over.  We are now ‘seventeen, going on eighteen’ but hopefully just enough older and wiser to cope with the year ahead!

 

Smart Cities/Intelligent Communities – policy directions

29 Apr

hi=-tech buildingI spent nearly the whole of last week in Dubai – speaking to business leaders from India about the development of Intelligent Communities.  My address was based on a paper The Prospects for Places and Communities – IOD Global Convention April 2016 – a substantial reworking of an earlier paper from 2015. I also chaired a panel discussion with the MD of a risk management consultancy, the Head of HR for an oil & gas company, the MD of an education and teaching service and a Professor from Greenwich University UK.   The theme concerned Excellence and Innovation in a Digitalised Economy and the context was the role of enterprise in the development of Smart Cities throughout India.

The common experience was that while many ‘Smart’ pilot projects had raised wider interest there was concern about the local leadership strength for more substantial development programmes. There is, of course, huge diversity of policy direction and expertise within the Indian National, State and Local Government levels because priorities and awareness levels differ widely. But this observation applies equally across the UK and other parts of Europe.

One of the downsides of being away from base for nearly a week is the email mountain that builds up – but that stack of emails also reinforced my view that technological enthusiasms are, certainly in the UK, getting in the way of local leadership clarity.

https://khub.net/web/paul.thompson.1/blog/-/blogs/digital-transformation-the-rise-of-the-digital-city

https://www.itu.int/en/itunews/Documents/2016-02/2016_ITUNews02-en.pdf

http://www.telecomtv.com/articles/iot/bristol-is-open-preparing-the-ground-for-the-programmable-city-13507/

http://www.westminsterforumprojects.co.uk/forums/agenda/uk-smart-cities-2016-agenda.pdf

http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/business/research/city-redi/news/2016/april/rcuk-urban-living-partnership-call.aspx

https://theknowledgeexchangeblog.com/2016/04/18/delivering-digital-differently-how-should-we-provide-public-services-in-the-future/

https://www.publictechnology.net/articles/opinion/smart-cities-next-stage?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Daily%20Email&utm_content=Daily%20Email+CID_715d86dace54ded75cbd55a8df3f23a8&utm_source=Email%20newsletters&utm_term=Smart%20cities%20the%20next%20stage

http://www.telecomtv.com/articles/iot/digital-greenwich-using-iot-to-connect-people-not-their-toothbrushes-13483/

https://www.publictechnology.net/articles/news/european-commission-unveils-data-support-package?utm_medium=email

National Innovation Plan: call for ideas – Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – Citizen Space

In amongst these references you can, if you search hard enough, find some pointers towards the sort of goals that communities might reasonably expect. However the overall theme is technological – the means – rather than discussion of the purpose of all this effort.

In addition to summarizing the principles that underpin the development of Intelligent Communities I spent much time discussing with business leaders where they saw the boundaries of their business interests.   It is clear from a great many case studies that enterprise involvement in matters normally assumed to be in the public domain, and particularly the engagement with Universities and Colleges, plays a huge and often decisive role in local economic and societal development.  That scope for Public/Private engagement is hugely under-developed in India as much as in the UK.

Also lurking in my inbox was an interesting paper ‘How to Measure the Economic Impact of Universities’.  This methodological overview set out the complexity of the challenge but also usefully pointed to a range of measures that could be further developed.

There is a great deal of work needed in the UK to further define the principles for local economic and societal development and to build local leadership expertise.   Needs vary, leadership contexts and infrastructure challenges are hugely diverse and there can be no simple model for nation-wide application. But taken together the underlying objectives can form the basis for a cohesive development structure.

The time has passed for yet more pilots and demonstrators of clever technologies.   There is massive scope for setting out guidance and best practice mission indicators for communities of all sizes.  It is now time to encourage local leaders to develop more ‘intelligent’ frameworks for future local economic and societal developments.

 

2015 NextGen Digital Challenge Awards: Intelligent Communities

20 Aug

 

[This is part 6 of an 8-part series profiling the shortlisted finalists for the 2015 Digital Challenge Awards – Ed.]

This new category for the 2015 Digital Challenge Awards celebrates how some folks are already thinking beyond the much-hyped ‘smart technology’ projects.

NGShortlisthi-resIn part it reflects the convergence of thought leaders both in the UK and North America but it must be said that, in our first introductory year for this award category, the contenders are recognized as contributory projects.

Emulating the vastly experienced global ICF awards would be a very tall order but there is huge scope in future years for UK recognition of more comprehensive ‘whole community’ projects. Meanwhile our contenders all have great relevance in their local impacts – reminding us that good things happen when centralised policy initiatives are made more sense in the context of action on the ground.

The six 2015 Shortlisted Finalists are:

DONATE – a digital platform enabling immediate charitable donations via multiple channels

Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) with My Knowle West App – a channel to a huge range of community activities

Link Group Ltd – so much more than a conventional Digital Inclusion Project

Nottinghamshire County Council with their Digital First project

RunAClub.com – a Digital Infrastructure and Support Platform to overcome the administrative hurdles faced by club leaders.

Tinder Foundation and NHS tackling health inequalities with Widening Digital Participation

All the shortlisted contenders will be reviewed by the independent judging panel during September. The winners will be announced at a dinner in the House of Lords following the NextGen 15 event on November 5th.

For details of event sponsorship opportunities contact Marit Hendriks

( marith@nextgenevents.co.uk ) or call David Brunnen via 07714 325 657

 

 

 

 

 

Smart Thinking: thought leaders showing signs of convergence

27 Jun

History is littered with examples of folks letting go of things they hadn’t fully grasped.

Idea When the penny finally drops they find themselves trailing way behind those who were a bit quicker on the uptake – or in common parlance those who ‘got it’.  Their prompt perception gains them the accolade of Thought Leadership.

 

The difference between a leader and a follower is that they didn’t just ‘get it’.  They picked up the ball and ran with it – which is why several hundred of us flocked to Toronto this month to listen to the experiences of what are reckoned to be the world’s most ‘Intelligent Communities’.

 Intelligent Communities?

The question of definition, hangs in the air.  Take this year’s winner. What’s so special about Columbus Ohio? Why so much more deserving of this accolade than, say, Ipswich Australia, New Taipei City, Taiwan or Mitchell, South Dakota?

The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) has been honing its analytics for eight years – a good deal longer than most of us have been thinking about smart cities. While the applause in Toronto was echoing around the globe, other smart thinkers were beginning to come to the same sort of conclusions.  It’s not so much to do with the technology as what folks choose to do with it – and what these Intelligent Communities have done is to radically transform their local economies and the lifestyles of their citizens.

In nearly all cases FTTx is the foundation on which these enterprising leaders have developed programmes that:

  • deliver digital inclusion,
  • boost the capacity for innovation,
  • ensure that expertise is available for new ventures, and
  • exploit those positions through advocacy that brings new investment and jobs to their communities.

Below those top-level drivers there are many sub-themes but very little of the old sector approach that dominates in conventional silo-bound economies. The ICF thought leaders embrace ‘Open Data’, seek a ‘Resilience Dividend’, welcome the ‘Sharing Economy’ and invest in ‘Municipal Enterprise’.

Those who come to a Smart City agenda from the technology market perspectives of, say, an Internet of Things or ‘Smart Meters’ or a renewed Maker Economy’ are, if we read the signs correctly, gradually converging around the ICF notion that the higher purpose is economic and social well-being.

Professor Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT – evidence-led thought leader for sure – put his name to an ‘Open Letter on the Digital Economy’ this month urging policy influencers to ‘get it’.  Here in the UK it was duly feted as ‘Wow! Vital Reading!’ – an evangelisation that reveals the astonishing need for management education even within the ICT industry.

Common sense is clearly not so common. Anyone reading stories to children will appreciate the value of repetition. It’s a long haul but someone’s got to do it and Erik’s just the sort of chap that lots of industry folks will listen to again and again.

Even the UK’s Nesta produced a report last week that to some extent put smart city technology back in its box whilst trying to explain that people are not peripherals.

To paraphrase Chief Executive Geoff Mulgan, “Over the last two decades the label ‘smart city’ has been applied to a family of technologies that can speed up the flow of things around the city and reduce the physical frustrations of urban life.

Many of these innovations are obviously useful. But some of the smart city ideas took a wrong turn, too often emphasising expensive hardware rather than cheaper solutions; too often showcasing technologically interesting ideas rather than responding to citizen’s real needs ; and too often making over– inflated promises that couldn’t be supported by hard evidence.

“That’s why the smart city movement is now turning in a rather different direction. It’s combining the best of new generations of technology . . . . . while also involving citizens much more closely in shaping how cities can work

Both of these siren voices, (MIT and Nesta) coming from a technology viewpoint, are mobilising to articulate their newfound perspectives and appeal to audiences that need to hear them.

No one has a monopoly on wisdom but, by virtue of real world experience, the Intelligent Community Forum (and its ranks of mayors, civic leaders, policy influencers, international jurors and academic assessors) have a great deal of value to share with communities and their leaders.  Shared Thinking is the thing – ‘Intellectual Property’ in this arena is almost oxymoronic – properties not shared are hardly intellectualised.

And the lessons for leaders (and indirectly for systems designers, infrastructure providers and ICT sales managers) are very simple.

Those successful communities identified by ICF have been fortunate to (a) have leaders who last longer than the next election and (b) have grasped and held onto the simple truth that they increasingly live in a digitally-mediated era and every aspect of the way they, their local economy, their communities and culture work must be adapted for this time.  But these, now acknowledged, community leaders did that 10-20 years ago whilst most others were still wondering where the next year might take them.

You might say, ‘if only’; if only we had the infrastructure, if only the schools taught coding, if only, if only . . . but these places have seized their destiny and made all that, and more, happen.

So it is that within the next two years every single property in Mitchell, South Dakota will have access to future-proofed symmetric Gigabit fibre and many already have a choice of three distinct networks – fibre, cable and ADSL.

No one in Mitchell needed to bet on which technology would ‘win’ – no one said that they knew what was good enough for you or your pocket. People and Employers decide according to their needs – but vitally they have that choice.

And whole communities have a choice.

They can choose leaders who can steer their local economies to meet local needs – and they can do that regardless of some distant policy guru in a state or national capital.  That is the essence of municipal enterprise – an empowerment for growth.  And it’s good news that technology ‘Thought Leaders’ around the world are beginning to get that message – people are not peripheral.

_______

The experiences of the ICF Summit will inform the agenda and thrust of NextGen 15 in London on November 5th.  For further information and sponsorship opportunities contact Marit Hendriks at NG Event Ltd (marith@nextgenevents.co.uk )

For more information on Municipal Enterprise search on this site (top of page)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How many holes in Blackburn, Lancashire – or anywhere else?

21 Jun

 

Beautiful country area with small town and brightly colored fields

As one of the many great communities that exist beyond the Metro rainbow, Blackburn and its people can stand as a metaphor for 50% of UK economic growth. Blackburn is not even included in the imagination-stretching redefinition of the UK’s 15 Metro Areas – a definition that has Aldershot as part of London. A definition which city lobbyists would claim to ‘make up’ fully 61% of the economy.

Like the rest of the real 50% that’s neither ‘made up’ nor under Whitehall’s devolutionary policy spotlight, Blackburn’s community of enterprises and people may understandably be forgiven for echoing the words of Oliver Hardy – ‘Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into’. But, in reality, the 50% are not alone: much of magic Metro-land also suffers from the same lack of attention to things that have turned out to be really rather important.

The last two weeks have been informative. But here’s a question. What theme links the Niagara Falls and a group of West Country MPs?

Yesterday ISP-review reported that a group of MPs, primarily from Devon and Somerset in England’s South West, have established a new All-Party Parliamentary Group that will investigate the roll-out of broadband.

Wandering the corridors of Westminster are many All-Party Parliamentary Groups that might regard this as their natural territory but, as we are constantly reminded, competition is a spur to innovation.

The new grouping may waste time by trying to pin the blame on the usual suspects, or, more positively, they might perhaps focus their minds on how to get out of this communications cul-de-sac. If reports are accurate, there’s a faint glimmer of hope: “it’s important to keep an eye on alternative network operators that can do some of the jobs”.

But that is merely a tactical reaction. Wake Up calls – Seriously Shocking Wake Up Calls – usually follow some undeniable crisis. The question, therefore, is whether the new group of MPs is driven to complain about inconveniences or recognize and demand attention to a real full-blown crisis.

But what has any of this this to do with the Niagara Falls? Another metaphor.

Horseshoe FallsIn the margins of the 2015 Global Summit of the Intelligent Community Forum in Toronto we took time out to visit. We transitioned from intense conference sessions led by mayors, civic leaders and progressive communities from around the world to standing right alongside this unstoppable force of nature.

Whilst many places struggle, the energy of leaders of the world’s foremost Intelligent Communities (note – much more than merely ‘smart’) clearly demonstrated how these places were succeeding, principally because they have held on to a truth that others have yet to fully grasp.

These inspired leaders have thought through the diverse impacts of living and working in a digitally mediated world. They see a world that demands much more than some short-term fix, ‘enough to be going on with’, or soothing reassurance that things will be OK if we muddle through.

They see all too clearly that we live in a time of ‘peak snake oil’: that like the unstoppable forces of nature, they, their people, their local economies, their cultures, must adapt to the new realities and not be satisfied by convenient short-term fixes. Fortunate indeed are these places that have leaderships that last way beyond electoral cycles and principles that were set down 15 or 20 years ago.

Standing alongside those thundering great falls, no one can deny their never-ending force. No one can dismiss this force as some impossible dream that we do not need, cannot afford, or could not cope with – leastways, maybe, perhaps, not just yet?

The West Country MPs, the good folks of Blackburn, the vast bulk of our economy, whether in or out of Metroland, even those technological romantics who imagine that maybe 5G will be a panacea (but overlook the need for backhaul to support thousands of 250m-radius cell sites), cannot ignore the reality that the future of our next and subsequent generations hinge on getting real;  rejecting woefully inadequate technologies and a scary devotion to old models that have long passed their sell-by date.

Please don’t waste time on the blame game, on fixing holes. Patches are for pirates. Okay – it’s a pity the last three decades were wasted but the time is now to sit down, decide what is really needed in 2030 and set about delivering it a good deal earlier.  It is far cheaper and yet far more valuable than you have been led to believe – if you (and your children) really want it.

____

Readers may also appreciate our discussion paper written as preparation for the ICF Global Summit and a brief (4-minute) script – the ‘Ten Eggs‘ talk,