At the Futureshift Festival on 26th April we held a session to discuss the wider economy and the system change implications of the Civic Foundry and Futureshift approach.
There’s a seriously infectious buzz surrounding this “accelerator” initiative of the Civic Foundry/Futureshift, with its emphasis on the ‘civic economy’, on doing things for oneself, on innovation, and on using technology for community ends. But what we wanted to explore was the perennial Localise WM question of how this initiative reaches beyond itself to help create real change in the mainstream – to benefit the many not just the dynamic few?
– How can more of our economy can be participatory, inclusive, beneficial, locally distinctive, inspiring and fun?
– When do we start to take back some of the market share from the ‘hoover’ organisations?
– What are the organisations we need to influence and what are our ways in to them?
– What are the policy and practice changes needed? Planning, taxes, banking?
LWM explores this agenda in our Mainstreaming CED activity (those who were at the session might find the initial research and current activity interesting)- but it’s always good to get new and different perspectives. So a small group of us had a short but lively session sandwiched between a tasty street food lunch and Chris Sunderland’s inspiring introduction to the Bristol Pound. What came out was:
– Focusing on the priorities: food, finance, energy. Of these, finance is the most important.
– Local currencies and local investment can really raise the profile of local money circulation, economic re-empowerment and “money with values.”
– The inspiration of great initiatives that work locally is really important. Yes, the inspiration and energy of things like Hub Birmingham and Incredible Edible Todmorden are “only” targeted at the initiative-scale, but decision-makers seek you out if you demonstrate this inspiration. So we can focus some attention on making sure we’re ready for this.
– Not all businesses should grow. Good things can be ruined by scaling up, but can better be replicated. Tax breaks can encourage this: because of the tax break given to microbreweries, there has been an immense revival in local ale – with benefits to local distinctiveness, product quality, healthy competition and profits diverted back into local economies. Think about the comparative local multiplier of a pint of Two Towers Bhacker Ackhams and a pint of Stella. Think of the local multiplier impact Ireland loses out on by its loyalty to Diageo’s Guinness as the national drink rather than a diversity of locally brewed stouts.
– We need to remind ourselves of the value of “accidental community economic development” – my favourite example, featured in the initial Mainstreaming CED research, is that of Birmingham Wholesale Markets. Most of these businesses would laugh in your face if you described them paragons of social inclusion, but they are… and we need to recognise their value.
– Are too many bright young things put off by talk of campaigning and system change? Yes, they need space to (re) invent for themselves, but is the culture of rule-subverting “DIY” causing some young people to lose faith in the idea of using their collective voice to create change?
– Some felt fair trade was a good example of something becoming mainstream, but others felt it had been watered down in the process and become less effective and beneficial.
– We need to make good civic economy business models “open-sourceable”
– The Evergreen model is a great way of scaling up and replicating co-operatives and their impacts positively.
– There’s apparently some great work by Dutch academics on transition management, which is all about going from niche to mainstream. Dave Green has promised me the link to this – watch this space.
– We agreed we need to highlight the problem of risk perceptions. Small businesses are perceived as inherently more risky, even though lending to a large number of small businesses actually spreads risk and locally-managed funding arrangements are based on genuine local and personal knowledge leading to reduced risk. This was a finding of our Mainstreaming CED research and you can read more about it on page 33 of the MCED literature review. Michael Shuman wrote eloquently about this in his book Small-Mart Revolution.
– Develop models for co-operative consortia of smaller businesses and individuals – buying groups and franchises (another feature of Mainstreaming CED and also seen in Preston Council).
– A new Bristol project, Real Economy, is a food buying group linked to the Bristol Pound which supplies fresh food from local farms into deprived areas and food deserts.
– “Avoiding PLCs” is perhaps a simple first action: as soon as a business becomes a PLC its need to maximise short term stock market value will always override and damage local value and longer term environmental/social impacts. Even the best Corporate Social Responsibility can never compensate for this.
We concluded that it was valuable for this sort of thinking to be done around the Civic Foundry/Futureshift agenda, and that an arms-length look at the initiative’s policy and wider economy implications was useful to maximise its impact.
I’m often these days musing on LWM’s specific role in creating change and Civic Foundry/Futureshift has made me think more about this. We’ve very clear and focused in our mission, but tactically, reflecting on the inspiration point above – can organisations like ours be listened to without doing the DIY ourselves? Can our role be to showcase what happens locally, and be the policy intermediary for it?
Thanks to all those who contributed to the session.
Illustration of session above is courtesy of Laura Sorvala @_auralab . Many thanks and apologies for incorrect credit earlier.