Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Creative Community

It is our belief that if a community wants to foster local, organic, economic growth, then it needs to establish a local creative community within it. The thinking behind this is that economic growth in a knowledge based economy is generated through the process of creative capital accumulation. This happens when the creative processes add to our stock of knowledge. This is enhanced if creative people live near to each other and are able to work and network with each other through the formation of a creative cluster.

The role of the policy makers is to encourage the formation of a creative cluster. This can be done by developing a community that is diverse, tolerant, and open. A community that lacks vision, which finds itself trapped in the past, and where vested interests thwart change is unlikely to develop sufficient a creative presence to achieve lift-off. A core of about 10% of the workforce needs to be engaged in creative occupations in order to achieve the critical mass whereby creative agents coalesce into larger economic entities.

It would seem that it is important for policy makers to develop an area as a great place to live. Creative agents tend to be very demanding for arts, cultural, and recreational facilities. There also needs to be a ‘bootstrap’- possibly a university or a science park - to enhance the creation of intellectual property. The bootstrap acts as a source of technology, talent, and social tolerance. Finally, policy makers need to focus on creating the right ‘people climate’ – policies that are people centred.

Suffolk has a mixed record in these areas. It is a great place to live. It has a number of world class facilities, such as Newmarket (billed as the home of horse racing), which has spun out a number of world class businesses (Tattersalls of Newmarket is considered as one of the leading bloodstock agencies in the world). However, Suffolk does lack a bootstrap. The establishment of UCS is a promising start, but UCS does not confer its own degrees and lacks a significant research centre. Other attempts to establish research led business parks have not met with any degree of success. In many ways, that reflects the composition of the county. Suffolk is dominated by conservative and suburban lifestyles and lacks a Bohemian population of any significance.

In many respects, this bounds what needs to be done over the next twenty years. Within that time frame, it is possible that a significantly creative population could be encouraged, perhaps through the establishment of a series of intellectual and cultural events. These new residents could be persuaded to work in newly established creative clusters, which have been nurtured by the local authority.

This is the key uncertainty that the creative community faces. Is there scope to encourage sufficient members of the creative class to locate in Suffolk? If they can be enticed, then regeneration will follow. If they can’t, then Suffolk will continue to perform below par.

© The European Futures Observatory 2011

Thursday, 10 November 2011

A Right Royal Jelly

I had the good fortune to be invited to the first ‘Suffolk Jelly’ this week. It was organised by Suffolk Digital and hosted at the Eastern Enterprise Hub. I wasn’t quite sure what it was about, so I thought that I would go along to find out. I am very glad that I did because I found it to be a very worthwhile event. In trying to describe the event, I think that it was set in two halves. In one half was an office space which those attending could use for the day. I think that was the idea covered in the report in the local press. However, for me, I didn’t find that format at all helpful – I have a number of offices already.
My interest was aroused and inspired by the second half of the offering – the soap box section. This was a room dedicated to the attendees who were encouraged to present on any subject they liked. Most presentations were made by people telling the audience what they did. It was a bit hit and miss as to whether the subject was of interest, but it was important for allowing the presenters a bit of live practice at making a pitch. Some presentations were a bit more speculative, told the audience what the presenter hoped to do and asked for comment and feedback. This worked really well and provided the sort of feedback that one rarely obtains. My offering for the day was a short piece on why futures matter (or, more correctly, why ‘business as usual’ is not an option). The Q&A turned into a conversation about business model flexibility and adaptability. The whole ethos of the day felt a bit like those ‘Skunk Works’ sessions that some of us attended in previous lives.
What I found most interesting about the day was the opportunity that it afforded to build creative capacity within Suffolk. There are currently a large number of creative agents based in the county, but without a node around which to coalesce. The Jelly format seems ideal for delivering this. For example, I saw presentations by Jamie Riddell (basically a trend spotter/ cool hunter), Andrew Walker (whose line is data analytics), and Steve Butterworth (whose cause of citizen journalism is all about picking the story out of masses of raw data). To my mind, there is scope for these three individual agents to work collaboratively to bring to market a combined offering that would be larger than what they could achieve on their own.
And that is the challenge of building a creative community. There is more to it than simply joining the creative hotspots. Those connections need to amount to something larger than the individual parts. The first Suffolk Jelly may not have achieved that because there remains a great deal to be done. However, it was a very valuable first step in the right direction.
Click Here for details of the Jelly.
Click Here for press coverage of the event.
© The European Futures Observatory 2011

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Many and the FEW

The whole premise of our ‘Communities of the Future’ project is based upon two assumptions. The first is that, by 2025, global population will have increased from its 2000 level of 6 billion to a new level of 8 billion. These are ‘the Many’. This is a mid-range estimate, and there is a likelihood that population could be higher or lower than that figure. However, for the purposes of the project we shall assume that the mid-range figure will be more or less correct.

One of the implications of this rapid population growth is that we shall need to grow more food. In doing so, we shall use more energy and we shall use far more water. The second assumption is that the supply of these resources is either fixed or growing at a rate that is slower than the growth in demand for these resources. For our purposes, we shall assume that the growth in demand far outstrips the growth in the supply of resources, giving rise to a period of acute scarcity. These scarcities are likely to be further exacerbated by the impact of climate change and peak oil.

In the period to 2030, we do not envisage a substantial change away from the reliance upon the price mechanism as a means of allocating scarce resources. There is a case for a more formal rationing system for key resources – such as electricity – towards the end of the period, but we do not feel that a consideration of a fundamental change in the current distributional system is warranted.

In which case, the era - as we see it - will be one of high prices for basic commodities. This is likely to cause a certain degree of social stress, as we see the incidence of fuel poverty rising and we see the possibility dietary standards declining. However, it does create an incentive for the construction of social technologies to counter this. We feel that people are likely to become more communal and sharing in their lifestyles, as a means of coping with the problems that they face. The challenge to social enterprises will be to create the institutional structures to deliver a more sharing way of living.

Initially, high prices for basic commodities will act as a brake upon commerce (this is the ‘income effect’). The high cost of inputs is likely to reduce the levels of economic activity for the first part of the period under review. However, this will also create a commercial opportunity for those creative enough to find it. The initial shock of rising prices is likely to stimulate ways of using resources more effectively (the ‘substitution effect’), and those entrepreneurs who unlock the substitution effect are set to do very well.

Ultimately, the relative high price and scarcity of resources will stimulate investment in resource saving technologies. We see these as starting to have an effect towards 2030. This investment is likely to act as a stimulus to economic growth – ‘green’ economic growth!

© The European Futures Observatory 2011

Click Here for more information about the ‘Communities of the Future’ project.

Click Here for more information about the session ‘The Many and the FEW’.