Tech is integral to all of our lives. But lots of it occupies an anti-localisation space: The big four tech companies are global, and part of their appeal is connection to anywhere in the world. There are great benefit to this, but Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple have all been hit by data privacy, tax and unethical business practice accusations. Is it time for a bit more balance in the tech world? Could local tech businesses help make the tech world fairer? And could tech be leveraged to better support local economies? Here I look at a few examples but really it’s just the beginning of thinking. If you’d like to get involved in turning something around this into reality, get in touch.

Blockchain

Most famous for its volatile prices and infamous for energy consumption levels blockchain is also being used by Provenance to trace products through their supply chain, guaranteeing (at least more than usual) that the ethical claims of producers’ and their suppliers. You can make decisions on what to buy that fits with your values, or find out how to repair something. You can find out more about Provenance here . This could be a great tool for those of us who care about everything from environmental credentials to social value, want our purchases to reflect our values and feel overwhelmed by the various claims and data available.

Fintech

These are companies using tech to shake up the world of finance – and it definitely a sector that could benefit from change. Here we note that Birmingham attracts lots of firms, and as a local employment sector we can do more to ensure local young people have the skills that these firms look for. Business networks such as Silicon Canal  can help amplify the voice of individual businesses.

On the other side, innovative business models like Credex, as well as improvements to existing bank, credit union and CDFI offerings, has the potential to make finance easier for individuals and businesses. There are examples of businesses which care about their social good, and as consumers are concerned about social and environmental impacts, it makes good business sense.

Open data (that is data that is licensed to be free to use and share)

ODILeeds tracked every Birmingham bus to show how delays in public transport at rush hours make Birmingham a less productive city. They point out that tram/underground systems in other European cities of Birmigham’s size work to a more fixed timetable. Building new trams is expensive and takes ages (who can’t wait for the current extension work to be finished – and this only adds about a mile). Interesting HS2 will make it quicker to get to central London than it can be to get into the suburbs of Birmingham. Crazy times.

The Internet of Things

This is your smart appliances doing stuff to make your life easier. Smart cities would have more efficient transport, shops, and work patterns. Renewable Energy benefits can be maximised through leveraging demand response. Health care services could be revolutionised, according to the Big Data Corridor. We wouldn’t need to look at Provenance’s website (see blockchain section above) as AI could be programmed to make the decisions we would want to. But with things becoming more complicated, will it become more difficult to repair things? All that tech means there’s more to go wrong and our average appliance life is just not as good as it used to be. With an average of 14.8kg of electrical waste per person in 2016, the circular economy is an important part of reaching sustainability. Do we actually need to start buying more simply?

Big data

This means that we have up-to-date data about everyone, and localised solutions can be designed based on specific needs. For example it’s much more feasible to capture information about areas of poverty or specific challenge, than having to rely on census data from more than 10 years ago. We can go lots more granular than classifying a North South divide and instead question why West Bromwich is labelled the second most deprived area of the country, and can look right into individual streets for crime data for example, although as a society we need to decide on the importance of data privacy. Using a larger range of firms is at least likely to spread some of our risk. There is also an opportunity for businesses to use big data to provide services which benefit the people and planet, and there’s no reason why these shouldn’t be dreamt up by local businesses who understand local needs.

Sharing economy

Tech has also made the sharing economy more slick. You can connect up with people with spare space in their house, who have spare capacity in their cars, have spare food, through to car clubs and libraries of things. All of these can help bring value to local people, build communities and reduce our impact on the planet. But exploitation can quickly become embedded, particularly if money changes hands, and we have to continue to be aware of whether the platforms support local economies or suck much of the value back out to overseas investors.

 

So what next? We think the localisation agenda needs to get in step with the tech industry. We think that by supporting the aspects of the tech industry which align with localisation efforts, we can build something better together. Many of the challenges remain the same across industries: struggling to compete with global giants? struggling to find and retain talent? desire to have a bigger impact on your local community?

We want to explore these issues and solutions together, bringing together those with expertise in economics, those with expertise in tech and those with expertise in the places they are –  if you’re interested in being part of the planning for a workshop or coming along to the sessions, drop me an email.

Photo by Bartosz Kwitkowski on Unsplash