Tag Archives: sustainability

Owning The Future

25 Apr

The Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) has just produced a brilliant 2-part paper on future options for central and local government. Here’s my review/summary published on the Medium platform.

https://medium.com/@groupeintellex/owning-the-future-1ed0bb80d5e4?source=friends_link&sk=785da6a59c7c8f57c3f7053ec805120f

That Was The Week That Was

31 Mar

It may be over, but I have no intention of letting it go.  It was far too good a week to forget.  Indeed this week will linger long – not just in my memory but in the renewed public spirit that has been engendered.

I’m not, of course, claiming to have been the first to notice.

To be honest I doubted my sanity in a week when the weirdness of Westminster gripped the nation.  But I wrote my thoughts on Tuesday March 26th and then promptly placed them on ice.  I was more than cautious – this was my first day of release from medical mayhem.  It was highly likely that the new medication was warping my wishful thinking mind.

But the words could not be constrained and I published them the following day.  Even then I hedged my bets for fear of immediate castigation.  But I dared not hesitate – I sensed a great change was underway and, although the body politic, the media, the entrenched combatants, were all running on the same old tracks, I found it undeniable that relief was at hand.

Maybe it was the weather.  Maybe it was the sheer relief from months of pain. Maybe it was a hymn of praise to the brilliant talents of our NHS.  Maybe it was my odd early-morning choice of Leonard Cohen’s “You got me singing’.    Whatever. This spirit of joy was unquenchable. ‘Everyone Suddenly Burst Out Singing’ captured exactly how I felt – and amazingly my little inconsequential networked world agreed!

By the end of the week even dedicated politicians were tentatively, cautiously, quietly suggesting a ‘change of tone’.  They were pushing this forward even in the midst of outraged screams of betrayal by ardent Brexiteers.

But this is no time to stand down – the struggle is not yet done.  In Tolkien’s The Hobbit (There and Back Again) Bilbo Baggins utters what would later became one of his favourite sayings.  Bilbo had narrowly escaped from a very angry encounter with the dragon.  “Never”, he said to himself, “Never poke fun at live dragons – you’re not halfway through this adventure yet.”

And that was a very timely thought.  It would have been too easy to ridicule.  Too easy to pour scorn on those in pain.  Too easy to not understand the deep roots of their desperate delusions. Too easy to crow.  Far too easy to seek vengeance.  Even slightly (or grossly) demented dragons need and deserve our help.

All at sea?

We are, still, only halfway though this adventure.  The tone has changed, the tide is turning but renewed purpose has not yet been confirmed.  I’ve been sailing offshore when a storm has devastated the plan. The ship is damaged, the crew scared witless. There is no going back.  This is the time for renewed purpose – a new destination.  Only a few alternatives come easily to mind – but my crew need, more than anything, clear intent to deliver us safely home.

The hand on the helm may be uncertain but the crew can pull together. Time now to steady the ship and seek that new unifying purpose.  Let the restoration of sanity and purposeful survival now flow through the  life-blood of our nations.

(and here endeth the lesson for Mothering Sunday!)

Wake Up – the new series

26 Sep

Hibernation normally occurs in winter.

Activity is minimised. Survival burns through reserves.  The frenetic return is driven by a new hunger.

This year the seasonal cycle was flipped – must have been the heat, or just a weak spring

But – ‘Hej, we’re back now’, and the return is celebrated by Wake Up – a new series of reflections on the scramble to understand what exactly is going on.

Part 1, ‘So You Did?‘, kicked off with a curious blend of a World War 1 recruitment poster and Archbishop Welby’s speech to the TUC conference.

Slightly more awake, Part 2, ‘What Happened’ is out later today. and Part 3 will follow in a week’s time.

Waking Up to the realities of the wider world – new perspectives or just the old ones seen in a new light – dances around the dawn.

We might, of course, hit snooze and slip back into deep slumber – but the alarm is sounding.

Only when properly awake might we realise that we are letting go of something we’ve not fully grasped.

Welcome back.

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UPDATE 01/Oct/2018:  Part 3 ‘Contra Dictions’ – the battles between Facts and Fictions.

UPDATE 09/Oct/2018:  Part 4, the series final, sets the Brexit agonies in context – a blip that now seems insignificant against global imperatives.  It questions the quality of leadership and has a former Dean of St Pauls turning in his grave.

The Intelligent Community

31 May

The Intelligent Community

Kate Raworth, the ‘renegade’ economist and author of Doughnut Economics, knows only too well that ideas are born when and where they are needed most.  Fresh thinking takes time to be accepted.  Darwin’s evolutionary insights are still resisted.  Climate Change science still denied.  Flat Earth advocates still cling to the edges of their world.

It is not enough to gather evidence.  Mass acceptance of fresh thinking oft requires a crisis of sufficient scale to overcome complacency.   Sufficient scale?  Massive impacts for a few may be discounted by those looking at bigger pictures.  Responses reflect agency – the ability to make that difference.  And therein lies the power of localism – the strength of the place, the community, the neighbourhood. That ability to JFDI.

The emergence of Intelligent Communities – places that are not resigned to some externally-imposed fate – reflects locally perceived priorities.  These are communities that really do ‘know their place’ and know it in colours, details, depths of complexity – ‘nuanced knowhow’ that often eludes the averaged ‘higher’ authority.

BUT (and that’s a big but) the vital essence of such communities is difficult to measure and analyse. Qualitative research methods do not easily answer the question:  Why do some places succeed whilst others decline? We can, however, spot the signs – the indicators of prosperity, confidence, wellbeing and community spirit. That is why, over two decades of research, the Intelligent Community Forum has assessed hundreds of places and selected a few as exemplars – communities that may serve as beacons for others.

Every year ICF has brought these communities together to share their learning.   Until now that global gathering has always been held in North America.  2018 is different.  For three days of next week the ICF Global Summit will be held in London.  In preparation for that event (and for the benefit of those new to the notion of Intelligent Communities) we started publishing a weekly series of notes covering several of the primary indicators – the signs of local activity that ICF’s researchers have, over the years, seen time and again in the most successful places.

The series was first announced in a brief note ‘Looking Sideways at that Place We call Home’,and closely followed by ‘Local Fabrics?’ to set a framework for the rest of the series.  Subsequent episodes were:

All of these themes and their local action programmes (calibrated to match local economic and social priorities) are common indicators of Intelligent Communities.

Next week, ICF’s Top7 communities from around the world, together with an array of top flight speakers, will share their experiences with delegates from near and far.

The full 3-day programme includes details of evening receptions and, on June 6th, at the Summit Dinner, Melbourne Australia will hand over the accolade of Intelligent Community of the Year to one of ICF’s 2018 Top7 Communities.

Facing Disasters

27 May

For a brief moment I hesitated.

Interviews with survivors of the Grenfell inferno reminded us of the horror and the tragic consequences of an avoidable and predicted disaster.

Last Wednesday the UK’s national news media was dominated by two events – the 1st anniversary commemorations of Manchester’s Arena bombing and the start of the Grenfell Tower fire enquiry.  Both sobering and intensely local.  Both respecting their community responses.

Last Wednesday I also hesitated – but not in the face of any disaster. On that day it might have been timely to reschedule the last two episodes of the Knowing Your Place Series.  It might, perhaps, have seemed right to bring forward the comments on Resilience and defer the scheduled episode on Sustainability.

But no. Manchester’s memorial moments needed no further comment at that sensitive time – the learning can follow.  West London’s respect for Grenfell’s grieving will, we are assured, gain the time it deserves.   Both are about aftermaths.  The ‘Knowing Your Place’ series is more forward looking.   I pressed ahead with publication of Keep on Running – in circles’.

It’s true that proper local consideration of the need for sustainability can be triggered in the pit of disasters.  In Part 8 of the series the primary example is of the renaissance of a rusting and decrepit steel town but, with evidence already to hand, we need hardly wait any longer for the very worst impacts of climate change to strike.  We’ve surely already waited long enough.  Alfred Russel Wallace (a contemporary of Charles Darwin) wrote of man-made environmental damage in 1898.

Working to avoid disasters – to bequeath to future generations an environment in better balance – doesn’t grab media and political attention with the same force as people perishing right now.  Two of the leading approaches to ecological sustainability are rooted in science and economics – and are closely intertwined.  The economist Kate Raworth questions underlying assumptions and Ellen MacArthur asks how resources can be re-used. The answers are being written not by national governments but by citizens, communities, city leaders and their local universities.

If you get the chance to read ‘Running in Circles’, do follow the links to Kate’s and Ellen’s work.  Both will inform future communities and city leaderships who do not want to sleepwalk towards disaster.

The final part of the series, ‘What If?’ will appear, as scheduled, next Wednesday – just in time to complete this primer ahead of the Intelligent Community Forum’s 2018 Summit in London.

Where are we heading with this?

28 Apr

There’s a moment on any epic journey – a brief moment, maybe of self-doubt – when you pause (mid-sentence, perhaps) to wonder exactly where you’re headed.

This week’s pause, this check, comes just as we approach the midpoint of the KYP series – four done, five to go.  Time, then, to check the plan, time to summon energy, time to pull together and push on.  Time, maybe, for a small course correction?

KYP – ‘Knowing Your Place’ – was always an unlikely blog series but from the outset it had great structural underpinning.  Most of the episodes had been well rehearsed – albeit with different headlines – and needed only an injection of current relevance for a new audience.

With just one exception the planned topics were neatly summarised three years previously in the concluding chapter of Brain Gain – a book that captured more than a decade of learning through the Intelligent Community Forum.

The single exception is a key indicator that has since crept far more clearly onto the community agenda – largely, it should be said, through the work of the Rockefeller Foundation and their 100 Resilient Cities network.  It might once have been argued that Resilience was but a subset of a longer-standing ICF Key Indicator – Sustainability.  However, headline tones get burdened by baggage – a peaceful green is not on the same wavelength as urgently-flashing red and blue lights of public safety.

When the Intelligent Community Forum gathers in London next June, their 2018 root theme, Humanising Data, will no doubt be coloured by recently raised awareness of data privacy issues and the impacts/consequences of ‘artificial intelligence/ignorance’ – but in our KYP series the blog-prep for Sir Nigel Shadbolt’s input is still two weeks away.

For readers remaining mystified, links to the series so far are listed below.  At the outset, the central question, the question that is bringing so many brilliant speakers and community leaders together next June, was deceptively simple: Why do some places thrive whilst others decline?

I’ve checked the waypoints.  We seem to be on course, but the next five weeks is a long journey.  Still to come in this series are thoughts on local Advocacy (Who do we think are?), Open Data (AI in city infrastructures), Innovation Capacity (Pacemakers for Place-makers), Sustainability Engagement and finally Resilience.  Fortunately, ICF is inherently collaborative and, with inputs from summit speakers, the driving can be shared.

By the end of May, homework complete, all delegates – whether from the UK or the other side of world – will be fully prepped and prompted to probe the great gathering of expert speakers and community leaders at the ICF Global Forum.

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Notes:

Brain Gain, Bell, Jung and Zacharilla, Intelligent Community Forum, ISBN: 1499228023

Knowing Your Place – that place you call home.

The series so far:

Local Fabrics?

Connected With Success?

Where Have All Our Flowers Gone?

Altogether Now?

Part 5 – ‘Who Do We Think We Are?’ is scheduled for publication on 2ndMay.

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.

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