February 2006 Archives

Woman with political rosette, detail (small) 80x81.jpg Cities like Liverpool still seem to have a problem about 'strong women'. On-going changes of civic leadership in the city offer an opportunity for the chaps to disprove suspicions that they continue to hold this antiquated attitude across all spheres of influence. Institutional sexism has no place in an adult and forward-looking city.

Recent turbulence in Liverpool's civic leadership has set me thinking about what comes next. Do we want more of the same, or do we want something fresher and more responsive than the present arrangements?

This is a city with a tradition of behind-the-scenes chaps' groups who met for luncheon and called themselves 'The Big Four' (or is it Super Six, or First Eleven, or Secret Seventeen?), and which has no, repeat no, really serious power-brokers outside Westminster who sometimes wear skirts. (There are some fine women out there doing excellent jobs, but they ain't at the top of local government in Liverpool.)

Does Liverpool have a problem about women?
I'm certainly not of the view that women are necessarily 'better' than men in any respect, or that change necessarily means feminisation. But I do think, on the basis of many years' experience, that this is a city which still has problems with welcoming the input of strong women. Maybe that's not just a characteristic of Liverpool, but we are quite evidently trailing in the so-called Equal Opportunities stakes, as the Mersey Partnership Gender Agenda illustrates all too painfully.

Equality of opportunity is also best use of human resource
This isn't just (though it is anyway) a matter of equity. This is a matter of the optimum use of resource, including talent, knowledge and understanding. In cities like Liverpool (I assume there are others too) problems seem to be 'solved' by top-down directives. Maybe that was necessary at one stage; but it won't take us up to the next level - at least, not in my opinion a next level which in the long-run will do us any good.

Using human resources well means accommodating different styles and different perspectives. Even putting aside the compelling moral case, the fundamental reason that equal opportunities is critical is that any other way wastes potential to serve the best interests of everyone. (Has someone forgotten that over half the population is female?)

Sometimes men of influence are afraid of women who are strong
Men and women across the globe are in the end much the same; the variations within each gender are usually greater than the differences between the genders when it comes to work, decisions, personal choices and so forth. We (nearly) all want what's best, we (nearly) all want decent, effective decision-making. So theoretically it doesn't matter whether our leaders are men or women, as long as they're able and of good faith.

But in one respect Liverpool at least hasn't got there yet. The chaps who decide things - not all of them, but some - are not yet prepared to change their perceptions, to see individuals for what they can bring to the party, rather than what they wear (to be facetious, a skirt or a tie?). Whilst the city continues to be run by an unspoken convention about what sort of person is 'appropriate' for serious influence, leadership and decision-making - and challenge as you may, demonstrating this convention isn't the case is very difficult - we are desperately missing a trick.

Influence and leadership across the board
Covert sexism in Liverpool applies whether we're looking at the Town Hall, the local economy or community development and involvement. There is an inflexibility somewhere in 'the system' which results I suspect from insecurity and / or protectionism masquerading as traditional, definitive leadership. And this overall leadership, as we have seen, is hugely male-dominated.

Current civic changes offer a chance for those decision-makers who really do care about the best interests of us all now to deliver something more inclusive and thereby also more effective for the whole community.

We shall be a Grown Up City when, and only when, the Chaps are no longer afraid of Strong Women.

The 'health economy' is much discussed but little defined idea. Within local health-care provision it carries an assumed status which it is perhaps now time to challenge. We don't in everyday parlance between managers talk of an 'education economy'; so why a 'health economy'? Many of us would defend very strongly the concept of essential health care free at the point of delivery, but the idea of a closed specialist health economy may not be the best strategic vehicle to ensure delivery of such modern, responsive and effective health care.

There's a fair amount of excitement around the changes in the National Health Service these days. Big shifts are about to occur in the shape, goegraphical and structural, of Primary Care Trusts, Stratgeic Health Authorities and much else. And in amongst all the other deliberations there is much reference to the 'health economy'.

What is the 'health economy'?
Now is probably not the best time to go into the pluses and minuses of the strategic plans for the various strands of the NHS; feelings are running high and there's a lot to sort out yet. But it may well be a good time to ask, just what is the 'health economy'?

This is a very particular notion, and possibly not a very helpful one. In the U.K. at least it seems mostly to refer the range of business and economic activities which fall within the scope of government-led medical attention. Nonetheless, it is by no means as easy as one might imagine to find a definition of what the health economy actually is, as opposed to simply references to it in the contexts of other health-related activity. 'Health professions', 'health care' or 'health economics', yes, there are many formal references and links; but 'health economy'.... if you know of a good weblink or text book, please tell us!

A constraining concept
Perhaps it's time to stop using this term at all. With the newer ways of delivering health care (even though this is still more likely to be 'illness and medical care', rather than 'well-being and health promotion care') the interface between different types of providers is becoming more blurred. The intention of the NHS to provide essential care free at the point of delivery remains, whoever is giving it, but the economic links are of necessity becoming far more complex.

New opportunities
There are many ways in which a more fluid concept of health-related activity might widen the scope for responsive delivery. We don't hear about the 'education economy', 'arts economy' or 'science economy' as every day notions; they're all part of, for instance, a much bigger knowledge economy. Perhaps less talk of the 'health economy' will open up more visible opportunities for local social enterprise and business engagement in flexible and client-responsive health care provision; and that in turn may perhaps also help local investment and regeneration in a much broader way.

Lots of us have names which seem to get mis-spelt. But does it really matter? In my books, for most of the time the meaning behind the name is more telling than how people may spell it. My parents chose names to give me a very well-blessed start in life, and to that has been added another positive label. Who could ask names with a nicer meanings than healing, happy and free? Spell these as you will, I'm a really lucky person.

I suppose none of us should worry about it. If it was good enough for Shakespeare, it must be good enough for us. They didn't fuss too much about how names were spelt in Good Queen Bess's days, I'm told..... But it's still a bit off-putting when we get a letter which we know is intended for us, but is addressed with a mis-spelt name.

How can so many of us have so many identities? Hilliary, Hillary, Hillery and even, surprisingly often, Helen / Helene or Hazel, are first names which appear on envelopes for me, some of them to Ms, some to Miss or Mrs, and even some to Mr.

A mediaeval family name
And that's before we get to the family name - not of course actually my own family name at all, but nonetheless a fine old English moniker if ever there was one: Burradge, Berridge, Borage, Burge, Burbage, Borrage, Barrage, Burnage, Burgage, Burbadge and more. (The best of all, from a five-year-old whispering conspiratorally to me that she already knew my name, by way of welcome during a visit I made to her school many years ago, was... Mrs Porridge.)

To be honest, in general I don't mind. Our family name has a long history both in the U.K. and I believe as a Boston foundation of benefactors in the USA. I think the name probably derives from the excellent mediaeval herb, a tasty plant with an attractive blue flower, for which healing properties are claimed. I like blue flowers, I approve of nutritious plants, and I very much enjoy the idea of the connection with history and a tradition of healing over the centuries.

Happy and free
And as for my first names, my middle one is Frances (not Francis, which is the version for chaps), and it means free; and my chosen name means happy and cheerful. Blessings indeed. Spell these as you will, who could ask for anything more?

Happy smiles (small) 80x99.jpg Life is not a rehearsal. We all want to get it right, though that’s much harder to do than say. Future postings on this website will look at some life-stage-specific ideas for 'what to do'. But this is a list of ideas about how to be as happy as you can, whatever your age and situation. I hope they’re useful.

Here are the ideas so far, to be tried every day. I'd like to think they apply just as much whether you're just beginning life's journey, or are well into that adventure.......

Start the day positively: smile!
No-one can feel good all the time, but most of us, most of the time, could try harder than we do to achieve this. Would it do any harm to think, as we awake, ‘Today I will smile and be pleasant whenever I can’?

Who knows? Those sentiments might even be reciprocated – a win-win if ever there was one.

Perform random acts of kindness
There's a whole movement, started by Danny Wallace, dedicated to the performance of Random Acts of Kindness - and it’s a great idea. Whoever and wherever you are, there’s almost sure to be an opportunity at some point in the day to perform a random quiet act of kindness, however small, just to help someone along – even if they'll never know who did it.

Being kind to others is also being kind to yourself. And kindness might become contagious.

Be eco-friendly
The planet isn’t ours to waste, however old, young, wealthy or not we may be. We all need to do what we can to achieve a sustainable environment. Our daily routines, what we eat, how we travel, and many other things; all are part of the equation.

An eco-‘can-do’ approach is a necessary part of everyone’s life. No ifs or buts, we need to be eco-conscious, every day. It goes with actively noticing what’s around us. How carbon-neutral, in friendly co-operation with others, can you become?

Try 'No-TV' days
This is a little time-luxury just for you as a person.

Do you really need to ‘watch the box’ every day? Are there occasions when talking and sharing with others are more important? Or how about some quality time on your own – a good book, music, indulging in an interest or hobby, even just sitting in the garden or park?

Maybe you could rotate ‘No TV Day’ across the week, or perhaps just make it a daily hour or two? You might be surprised by all the other positive and pleasant things you could do or experience instead.

Stay off the cynicism
Cynicism is very easy. We sometimes assume that people are only in things for their own good; perhaps we ascribe motives which may or may not be fair. And maybe we criticise when silence or support might be a better way forward.

In taking the cynic’s view, we seemingly protect ourselves from the responsibility to have a personal opinion. Is this helpful?

By all means be cautious; but please don’t be cynical. It’s corrosive and it gets us nowhere.

Use that pedometer
Nine or ninety, we need exercise to keep mind and body functioning well.

So, if you possibly can, get a pedometer and use it. The idea is to see, from whatever starting point, how much more you can clock up each day on your ‘pedometer count’.

Enjoy the fresh air as you walk wherever you can. Appreciate the changing views and the people around you. Let your walking be an adventure for body and soul.

Make a daily ‘went-right’ list
And finally... you aimed to start the day positively, now try to finish it in similar style.

Of course everyone needs to learn intelligently from mistakes (who doesn’t make some?), but as you get to the end of each day, ask what actually went right that day.

This used to be called ‘counting your blessings’. Maybe that sounds quaint to modern ears, but there is always good reason to remind ourselves how much is positive in our lives. Not everyone can be wealthy or fantastically fit; nonetheless very few of us, in the modern western world at least, have nothing to appreciate or be thankful for.

But your daily ‘what went-right’ list is more actively positive than simply counting blessings, important though this is. It’s about the things you and yours accomplished and achieved in that twenty four hours, and how you contributed to your own and others’ well-being – which is a good note on which to finish any day.

And devise your own 'happy list'
These ideas are just a start. You know what would add most to your personal day, and you’d really like to do. So make your own list of daily positives.

There’s only one ‘rule’ – your list should be constructive, happy, do-able and, at no point, include the word ‘not’. Discover for yourself the power of being gently positive. Do make it a habit.

Read the discussion of this article which follows the book E-store...

Westminster spires 121x119    4771a.jpg There's a view in some quarters that the Government is full of people who would like to get public policy 'right', but don't know how to. This opinion, always a safe bet, dodges really difficult issues about the fundamental accountability of the electorate as voters, alongside the public accountability of politicians. The case for political literacy all round is at least as pressing as ever, in our complex and rapidly evolving modern society.

Three times in the last few weeks I've encountered the openly expressed view that, at least in terms of domestic public policy, the current U.K. Government comprises seriously earnest people who really do want, but fail, to do what's best.... no names, no pack drill, but this view has in each case been promoted by a very senior figure in national policy who obviously shares the ambition to contribute to the common good, but doesn't believe the Government knows how.

Far be it from me to argue for the sake of it with The Experts; but, on this occasion, debate (if not argue) I will. O.K., I'm a political person myself, so I have sympathy with the wider view that Running The Country is never that easy. But it's not just that which makes me want to question the assessment which seems currently to find favour.

Who makes the decisions?
This is a difficult one. On the face of it, Ministers make the decisions about almost everything these days, sometimes guided by behind-the-scenes experts, sometimes by more generically positioned Civil Servants, sometimes by other parliamentarians.. and all the time by that little political weathervane in their heads, which tells them what is likely to be electorally deliverable, and what not.

Politics may be a science in the sense that it's a judgement (usually, at least these days) based on the evidence of 'what works', but it's also always an art - the Art, in that classic definition, of the Possible.

And to that definition must be added the timescale of a Parliament, never more than five years, usually significantly less. So, alongside the inevitable budgetary considerations, management of electorate expectations is also, always, a major factor to be built into any chosen programme of action.

Competing ideas, conflicting requirements and experimentation
New policies to support the common good don't just arise from nowhere. And this, I suspect, is where the divergence of assessment of 'success' begins to arise. The nature of the Common Good (surprise!) depends on where you stand.

For an elector, a member of the voting public, the common good will usually be whatever you think will remedy what is 'wrong' with your own circumstances right now. (What's 'right' typically escapes attention as a political issue...) Not everyone has the capacity, will or experience to judge personal interest against others', competing, needs; and nor, necessarily, always should they (though we could debate this at length; what, for instance, about global warming, or education and optimal medical care for all?). Nonetheless, the definition of the common good often at base looks very much like a particular, personal 'good, for better or for worse.

Then there are the professionals, with their highly honed specialist interests. If I'm an economist with a background in banking I will take a different view from an economist who focuses on, say, world development. If I'm a civil servant in the Home Office my emphasis will be different from my colleague in Regional Affairs, the Treasury or, say, Community Development.

Added to that, even within the same field of professional competence, there are famously huge differences in judgement. Many a conference has been reduced to a slanging match between people who, one might have hoped, had at heart the same view and expectations within their field. Sadly, the biggest rows can sometimes be about the smallest differences when expert egos are at work.

'What works' is never that obvious
And there's the media. Some of it seeks thoughtfully to reflect the complexities of modern life. Some of it doesn't. Things move on incessantly, whether or not this is acknowledged. What worked last year won't necessarily work next - indeed, this is especially true if there has been effective intervention with significant impact in the meantime. But the charge of 'U-turns' is always there, fairly or unfairly. And for politicians with extremely time-limited scope for delivering change, any decision which brings with it potential exposure to this accusation is a very tough call.

It's democracy, isn't it?
So there we have it. For my money, it's a big bonus that experts across the range of disciplines are prepared to be on record saying they consider the Government to comprise largely very 'well-meaning', sincere people. I'd be far more worried if that wasn't a view that anyone of standing was prepared publicly to espouse.

Public policy is always a balance between rival interests and perspectives. The notion that it should arise from evidence and debate is right; but that evidence is increasingly complex, as individual differences in interpretation even between the most highly expert opinion leaders frequently demonstrate.

For any modern Government there is not only the need to weigh up the evidence underpinning public policy, there's also the inevitable problem of trying to deliver substantive cultural shifts and other changes within very finite budgets and extremely circumscribed timetables.

Contemporary western societies are infinitely complex. We as an electorate have a responsibility as much as any Government minister to try to understand the wider issues, and to engage in dialogue in these critical matters. There is an obligation on all of us to determine our own informed views about 'what works'. We mustn't just 'leave it to the experts' any longer.

Is it true that society is more 'anti-intellectual' than before? How are ideas encouraged or, alternatively, left disconnected and without impact? This is a question which can be asked about the situation of both 'thinkers' in the accepted sense, and of people who are invited to share their views in the now well-established process of 'community consultation'.

There was a letter recently (18.Nov.05) in New Start about 'playing with post-its', which I happened to re-read today. In his communication Alan Leadbetter of Stoke-on-Trent commented how the "current 'post-it-note' culture... encourages citizens individually to 'have a say'," whilst not inviting them "to take part in constructing plans, or to debate alternative plans among themselves, or to vote on them."

This view is very much about bottom-up, grounded experience - or not, as the case may be. But by one of those strange co-incidences I also today found myself reading Frank Furedi's essay, Where Have All The Intellectuals Gone? Confronting 21st Century Philistinism (continuum, 2004). And yes, I was reading it in Liverpool's very own Left Bank hangout in the city centre, the famous Everyman Bistro.

Who may produce new ideas?
Furedi's and Leadbetter's publications are in many ways a million miles apart; but they do have one thing in common. Both are about the formulation of new ideas, who has 'permission' to undertake this, and who has ownership of these ideas when they have surfaced.

Alan Leadbetter was probably thinking about people who experience significant disadvantage and rarely have an opportunity to articulate fresh ideas to any evident effect. Frank Furedi considers in his book people with wide educational and professional advantages. But the underlying connection is there.

Ideas need fertile ground
For ideas to grow, whether or not they arise from places where advantage is tangible, there must be fertile ground and space to think 'differently'.

As yet I haven't made my mind up whether the current perception of 'anti-intellectualism' is actually just that there used to be less overtly acknowledged evidence of ordinary people having important ideas at all (so that those privileged few who did 'shine' in this respect were more visible), or whether there is a climate now which suppresses, even more than previously, ideas which are 'of the other'.

Either way, I do know however that fresh ideas, open to democratic interrogation, are the basis of any progressive, healthy society. There are suggestions that Philosophy become part of the general curriculm. I suppose that's what the old 'General Studies', now revamped and more focused, attempted to provide. Enabling and facilitating constructive and shared ideas at every level are what it's fundamentally about.

Maybe there's something here we all, as community development officers, academics, teachers, politicians, media pundits, parents and citizens alike, need to think about more?

Liverpool's physical location and economic situation make it difficult for some local people to know much about what's happening elsewhere. This is turn results in difficulties in determining locally which new ideas for the city are good, and which less so. The proposed 'How Do They Do It?' programme could help here... but only if those who are able to do so actively support the idea.

There was a letter in the Liverpool Daily Post of 10 February, in which local commentator John Elcock writes of his concern that we in Liverpool should not reject everything that's new in the city. He refers to his sadness about the 'growing culture of parochialism in a city that used to trade ideas with the world.'

John's letter is specifically about proposed new architectural designs in Liverpool; but I fear his remarks might also apply to other parts of our cultural and civic life.

Liverpool pride
I came to live in Liverpool 35 years ago this week, having never before had the opportunity to visit this city. There was plenty to be proud of for Liverpool's citizens - its University, its Royal Orchestra, its fine Cathedrals, Theatres and Museums, its wonderful architecture; and of course the conviction of those who lived here that there could never be a better place to be.

Pride in one's city is a fine thing, and fundamentally necessary for well-being and future success. But, unexamined, it can also be an obstacle to progress. Despite the ravages of the 1980s, we still have our flagship centres of learning and culture and our wonderful buildings; but somehow their backdrop is now more self-defensive, more openly unaccommodating of new ideas and of the give-and-take of modern life.

And Liverpool parochialism?
Many people in Liverpool do not even know about the lives of their neighbours at the other end of their own city, let alone those down the road in Manchester, Birmingham, London or perhaps further afield. Perhaps in previous times this knowledge was less essential; but now, when our young people do know about the opportunities elsewhere, many decide to leave Liverpool for pastures new.

This is a serious issue of opportunity and of cost. It is a legacy of comfort zone living, being unable to move beyond one's own boundaries because of lack of money, lack of knowledge of what to do or where to go to find out new things, small opportunity to see why comparing our own and others' experience might be useful. The cost of such tight horizons is sometimes difficulty, as John Elcock suggests, in being able to judge which new ideas for Liverpool are 'right', and which 'wrong'.

Opportunities to compare and learn
I don't write these observations to criticise, but rather to suggest a new opportunity and a way forward. For several years there have been proposals for a civic and educational programme based in Liverpool and called 'How Do They Do It?'.

The idea would be to support small groups of young and older people together, as they visit other places, as guests of that town or city, to see what has been achieved (public service, enterprise, architecture and culture, whatever...) and how it was done. This would then be reported back in whatever way to our own people in Liverpool. Likewise, citizens of other places could - and indeed through the European Capital of Culture programme will - come as our guests to see what we in Liverpool do exceptionally well, and to report it back to their own neighbours and fellow townspeople.

Travel these days is easy, few towns and cities, whether in Britain or in continental Europe, cannot find a way to welcome guests who come in goodwill to learn together. Which businesses, schools and colleges, residents associations, religious organisations, individuals or whoever, can join us in making this ambition to share experience, with all the benefits it would bring to ourselves and others, a reality?

Intellectual property rights seem only to apply to business ideas. What would be effect of a similar way of ensuring encouragement for community-engendered ideas?

Intellectual Property Rights are the Big Thing these days. Almost everyone in business and commerce who has a new idea now realises that they would be best protecting it and making sure it's understood to be theirs. After all, who knows what riches an idea might lead to?

But how does this fit with social enterprise? Or with capacity building in the community? How are people who 'lead' commuities going to benefit from their ideas, when these are by their very nature communally 'owned' once they gain credence?

What sort of reward or encouragement is there for individuals in communities to put heart and soul into bringing constructive ideas forward, when, because there is no 'protection' for these ideas, they will simply end up being part of the paid employment tasks of officialdom?

Can we 'protect' bottom-up ideas?
At present I'm not sure what the answer to this question is. I pose it simply to see what others may think. But I'm pretty sure it's an important aspect of developing a genuinely 'bottom up' stakehold in our communities and society at large.

What, I wonder, is the mechanism which would allow effective 'top down' support for social and community enterprise and engagement, without it becoming the 'property' of the officials and bureaucrats who so often dominate the subsequent development of good community-based ideas? How can we encourage people in their own communities to believe that good ideas really are worth having?

People - abstract (small).jpgHuman geographers have offered many insights into equality and the effects of socio-economic policy in recent years, but social processes require a different research perspective to understand fully what is happening. In the 1950s and 60s sociologists such as Willmott and Young told us about the dynamics of communities, for instance, in the East End of London; and this perspective is now beginning once more to illuminate these changes and their challenges. There is nonetheless still little general understanding of how difficult it is to 'get things right' in such complex settings.

Professor Danny Dorling is, in the words of Mary O'Hara (The Guardian, 8 February 2006), 'the man who maps the social reality behind raw data'. His work has, we are told, demonstrated that where a person is born remains the primary determinant of their status, health and wealth in later life.

This is important work, though hardly a new finding. What marks it out is the directness of the communication of these critical facts of life, of, again in Mary O'Hara's words, 'publicising important findings beyond the pages of academic journals.... of humanising abstract facts'.

Processing data, explaining process
For Danny Dorling, the 'key thing' if we want to make the world a better place is that we 'recognise what's happening'. He's been very effective in helping policy makers and politicians to do this, one way or another. And his latest project is an even bigger picture: www.worldmapper.org seeks to show what's up across the whole of the world.

This is excellent stuff. Nobody could deny that the facts and figures are critical ... and here, along with some other geographers such as those at the Local Futures Group, Professor Dorling serves us well. The relentless pursuit of empirical data by which to examine the outcomes of political and other developments is essential to learning how to do it better.

But there is another aspect to all this. We have considered before in this weblog the work of Willmott and Young, begun almost a half-century ago in the East End of London.

During the Thatcher years of the Conservative Government (1980s especially) there was little appetite for studying social process. Margaret Thatcher may or may not have actually pronounced that 'There is no such thing as society', but few failed to grasp the idea that looking at social issues like equality was not the thing to do. This had severe effects on social science in the UK, - one result of which, it could be argued, is that geography had to step in where sociologists then feared to tread.

The 'facts' can take us to the actions
There has been for some while a shortage of social statisticians in the UK, and this is recognised to be a continuing problem. Nonetheless, the analysis of social trends is, as specialists in all disciplines would readily acknowledge, an issue to be addressed from many different persepctives.

In this sense, it is especially interesting that the very same edition of The Guardian which carries the article about Professor Dorling also carries one about a current follow-up to the original Willmott and Young studies in the East End of London. Professor Geoff Dench and Kate Gavron, both Fellows of the Young Foundation, have produced a book co-authored by the late (Lord) Michael Young entitled The New East End - Kinship, Race and Conflict.

Geoff Dench and Kate Gavron discuss in their Guardian article the unanticipated consequences of 'well intentioned welfare policy'. They suggest, for instance, that supporting newcomers (in this case, from the Bangladeshi community) who experience racial discrimination must go hand in hand with addressing the exclusion and hostility faced by poor white communities. If we do not examine how well-intentioned policies apply across the board we will, they argue with some reason, find that things don't work out as we'd all like.

Multi-disciplinary is best
At some level it feels as though the wheel has now turned full circle. There are many social and policy researchers who strive to examine and support the extension of 'what works' (see e.g. the ODPM and Civil Service positions on diversity and disadvantage). The more that human geographers, social scientists, economists and others can collaborate on all this, the more hope there is that we can get it right.

But in the meantime it might be helpful just occasionally if certain parts of our society - for such it is - recognised that the aims of social cohesion, sustainability and the rest are at best challeging and at worst almost unachievable in our imperfect world.

Why can't we think of the journey as one where inevitably mistakes will be made, and where it's OK for policy makers and politicians to change tack when the evidence that we need to do so is compelling? Change is fundamental to progress, as much in social policy as anywhere else.

'Permission' for decision-makers to listen, learn and act
Giving politicians 'permission' to listen and learn is essential in the drive to change the circumstances of people who really need support, encouragement and new opportunities. This is positive social engineering with the very best of intentions. It must succeed, in the interests of us all - disadvantaged or not.

Flexible but determined policy making is not easily achieved when the evidence for policy change becomes instead, in the hands of the media, 'evidence' that politicians always get it wrong, and maybe nothing should be done at all.

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Look Back With.... Relief

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Theatre Museum (small) CIMG0748.JPG There is a nostalgia in the cultural calendar at present. Memories of the 50s and 60s are to be found in both drama (The Liverpool Playhouse) and museums (the national Theatre Museum). Interesting to look at, without doubt. But perhaps much less fun to have had to live in.

We've been to two very striking performing arts events in the past week or so. The first was the national Theatre Museum's Unleashing Britain: 10 Years that Shaped the Nation 1955-1964 and the other one was the Liverpool Playhouse's Billy Liar.

Both these cultural offerings remind us of how very much things have changed over the past fifty years.

Cultural change as well as economic
Theatre Museum Unleashing Britain CIMG0744.JPG The period which followed World War II (and yes, my recollections before the swinging sixties are hazy) was stultifying for most people. There were many painful adaptations to be made in peacetime, alongside the relief that it was all over. Most people were simply intent on establishing a 'proper' homelife and on getting a civilian job. There was little scope for imagination and flair in the daily struggle to earn a crust and keep a roof over one's head.

And of course there were all those children - the 'bulge' - who arrived as the soldiers came back home. The Welfare State could not have been more timely, but it was also pretty thinly spread.

So how did the shift to the so-called Swinging Sixties happen? Whilst for most of us this era was nowhere near as exciting as it's now made out to be (living in Birmingham probably didn't help...) it was certainly a time when great cultural shifts occurred.

More money, more young people, more education
By the mid-fifties rationing had finished, and schools and health systems were fully in place, as the peace-time economy settled down; and this meant that a decade later, by the mid-sixties, there were quite significant numbers of young people (though only a few percent of them all - maybe 5% maximum) who were relishing the freedom of student life.

For first generation grammar school children going to university was a huge breakthrough (just as, we must always remember, not going to grammar school and univesity was for some of their siblings and friends a huge heartbreak). I doubt many young people now could understand how important it was to save up for the big striped university scarf which denoted you a Proper Student.

Along with this came a new freedom - to do one's own thing, to find new ways to be artistic, literary, creative. It isn't surprising therefore that the 'new reality', the kitchen sink drama, came into being. For the first time there were significant numbers of young people with higher education who knew for themselves what working class life was like... and who produced, through theatre and writing and film, a record of realities which is now a legacy for us all.

A legacy we remember but didn't enjoy
It's salutory to look back, through the cultural events on offer now, and remember just how constraining and difficult those years were. Given the freedoms of today, or the restrictions of then, I don't think many would turn the clock back.

Life isn't easy for everyone even now, but the numbers of families where the frost has to be scraped off the inside of the bedroom window every chilly Winter morning is without doubt lower - and could indeed with proper organisation of support be reduced to none.

There's not much nostalgia in my mind for the good old days... they are a fascinating time to examine and learn about, but they weren't I suspect that much fun for most folk to live in.

Read more articles on the National Theatre Museum.

School trips to look at local ecology seem to be very successful in encouraging children to appreciate their environment. If this works for local eco-issues, surely it can work also for wider social ones? The 'How Do They Do It?' scheme has been very slow to get off the ground, but perhaps its time has some. Who will help to make it happen?

Tha National Trust has been running a Guardianship Scheme for some fifteen years, with almost one hundred schools in its programme. The idea, now evaluated by Dr Alan Peacock of Exeter University, is that 'trips' out of school make a difference to the way children understand their world... and the evidence, reported in Dr Peacock's evaluation (Changing Minds: The Lasting Impact of School Trips), is that such trips do exactly that.

Environments are social as well as ecological
The benefits of 'nature walks' and the rest, confirmed by Dr Peacock and his colleagues, will come as no surprise to those of us who have been lucky enough to experience these as part of growing up. Nature walks amount almost to an entitlement for all chidlren, wherever they live - the city has an environment and ecology just as much as did the village of my early years.

If even a passing aquaintance with the world immediately around us is of long term benefit, how much more can it benefit us to know something of our neightbours - the other side of our town, the other end of our country, or indeed the other side of Europe and beyond?

Preparation and support are the keys
But it's not enough simply to 'do a school trip' - where teachers are still brave enough to undertake this daunting exercise. To maximise the positive impact chidlren must firstly have a real idea before they depart of what they are likely to encounter; and they must have opportunities to meet and get to know local people when they get there.

Such demands are a tall order. They require a genuinely integrated approach to the curriculum, and a degree of planning which goes well beyond that of the time table.

So why not start more simply? By all means carry on with the 'holiday' style visits which some schools try hard to provide for their students. But what about also looking at ways of integrating the 'widening horizons' agenda for both children and adults?

It's part of the regeneration and renewal agenda, too
Provision of opportunities for learning about how other people do things is a recurrent theme on this website.

Those who would perhaps find the sharing of experience most useful are often those who can least afford and / or organise it. There's a real need to do this... and if it starts by simply going to the other side of one's own city with the intention of meeting new people and seeing new things, that's great.

The professional challenge
This is a challenge for teachers, regeneration specialists, community development workers and many others. Can people be encouraged to move beyond their own experience in ways which are comfortable and positive, so that they are better equipped to make genuine choices for their own communities?

And, critically, are we as practitioners up to this 'challenge' ourselves? Do we agree, as the Peacock evaluation indicates, that direct experience is good, provided it is properly structured and supported?

How do they do it?
Are we ready to give time to a programme such as How Do They Do It? where, as I have suggested on many occasions, small groups of young and older people together go to new places and ask just that of something which seems to be working well? How can this idea be improved? Who will join forces to help it along?

The Friends of Princes Park is amongst an encouraging number of similar groups who are demanding that our green space be nurtured. Liverpool has a historical legacy of wonderful parks; and now its citizens are insisting more voluably that these are fit for the twenty first century city.

Today's Liverpool Daily Post supplement has a long article by Peter Elson on the work of the Friends of Princes Park. The Friends have resurrected themselves after a fallow decade or three, and are making the same case for attention to their treasured space as are other groups in and around Liverpool. All power to Jean Grant, the Chair and leader of the developments! This is a park in Liverpol 8, adjacent to some of the least advantaged communities in the city. It needs nurturing.

Promising developments
There's talk of involving local schools and of linking Hope Street to Sefton Park... a long discussed but so far not actioned development (but a route some of us take by way of a constitutional when time permits). There is an encouraging acknowledgement of the part the Park can play in sustaining social inclusion, health and an understanding of the history of our city.

Where's the support?
One possible snag in all this however seems to be the continuing reluctance by the City Council to support, quietly and constructively, the citizens who care about this fabulous amenity. There are encouraging noises from that direction now - but the track record often isn't good. Here's an opportunity for the Council to play what (in my view) is its proper role...

Councils clearly have a formal duty to balance competing demands for support by citizens around the city; but they could also become facilitators, socially, financially and strategically of the people who want to see things improve. Now, that would be a new way to do things.

Daresbury Lab. & Innovation Centre Big Science is a central part of the U.K. economy. The Knowledge Economy, with science and technology as the tangible drivers, is critical to economic success. But for many involved in regeneration Big Science remains a mystery, especially at the level of the ‘new localism’. This paper offers real examples of regeneration strategies, science policy and how science has synergy with, and impact on, economies at regional and local level.

The Golden Triangle and the Holy Grail of the Triple Helix…….
Big Science, Technology and the New Localism

Hilary Burrage

[This is a longer version of the CLES Local Work: Voice paper of February 2006, entitled Knowledge Economies and Big Science: A challenge for governance]

Knowledge-Led Regeneration, Regions, Sub-Regions & City Regions and Science Policy.

Daresbury Lab. & Innovation Centre Modern science is massive. That’s why it’s often referred to as Big Science. The costs (and sometimes the rewards), the numbers of people involved, the management and resource levels and the skills required – all are very, very high. And yet… to most of us, science remains effectively invisible.

Away from the public eye
The invisibility of science is curious; it probably arises from a number of different factors:

· Big Science, like (say) public motorways, is paid for by money from very high up the funding chain. Decisions on funding are made at national (and international) level by people of whom almost no-one outside their particular sphere of influence has heard. But unlike motorways, which we can at least see, we rarely encounter Big Science directly in our daily lives. It therefore remains off our radar.

· Most of us know very little about what science is ‘for’ and how it works. The numbers of school children studying science in their later, elective years is still falling, as are numbers of degree students. We are not therefore conscious of the ways in which science gives rise to things with which we are familiar, from shampoo to plastics to machines.

· Whilst information technology and health are of interest to many people, they do not see these matters as ‘scientific’. (Nor, incidentally, do many practitioners in the health and IT fields themselves see this connection very clearly.)

· Whether science and science-related practitioners see themselves as having a linked core interest or not, they nonetheless usually believe that their work has little or nothing to do with the wider worlds of public involvement and politics. There may be issues arising from science and technology (which I shall refer to from now on as SciTech) for others to address around economics or ethics, but what happens in the labs is the main concern – and this is observed by very few.

· Science is likewise not a vote-catcher. It is unusual for the electorate to invest much time and energy pursuing issues around this theme; which means that in general neither the media nor politicians spend much time considering it either.

Returning then to the comparison with motorways, both may be very expensive, but Big Science is almost always off limits for the public at large – it is often located within universities or on special campuses of some sort, very much less visible than a large road.

Does Big Science need to be visible?
Daresburry Lab. & Innovation Centre 001.jpg But why should invisibility matter? After all, we may well not think about science very much, but every region of the United Kingdom has its own science and technology parks, where scientists and technologists rub shoulders with business and commercial people. These parks may not be in our thoughts a great deal, but they create jobs and inward investment and are often key parts of regeneration strategies.

In general we do not see the vaccine research laboratories, the synchrotrons, or the materials science analysts at work. But so what if they’re not ‘visible’? Does it really matter?

Answers to this question can be given at a number of levels; but in all cases the answer is Yes, invisibility does indeed matter.

The invisibility of Big Science reduces:
· public interest and involvement;
· the number of young people who will have an interest in SciTech as a career;
· engagement with industry and business;
· influence in matters of planning and infrastructure;
· opportunities to procure regeneration, at both practical and strategic levels.

Some of the follow-on repercussions of this invisibility are obvious; others are less so.

And the consequences are likewise different for different terrains. The ‘hothouse’ of the Golden Triangle [roughly, that area covering London, Oxbridge and the M4 / 5 corridors] is probably less directly vulnerable than, say, a Science Park in Northern England.

But it is at least possible that every part of the high level Knowledge Economy is disadvantaged by the inequity and uneven distribution of synergies between ‘hothouse’ and more isolated facilities. The former is becoming stressed, the latter need more support and development of capacity.

The Triple Helix of Innovation
It is now accepted that it is the synthesis of Universities, Industry and Government - the ‘Triple Helix’ - which brings about serious SciTech innovation. This Triple Helix, as we shall see, is in effect the Holy Grail to a vibrant knowledge-led twenty first century economy.

The world wide web may keep researchers and others in touch, but there is nothing like direct involvement from the big investment players to secure scientific progress in a given location. In other words, ad hoc development of SciTech facilities will take a local economy so far, but not far enough. Only strategic planning on a grand scale, and by with all parties working together, will however produce the sort of results which make a significant difference. And that means involvement at the highest levels of decision-making.

A corollary of this scenario is that people at all points on the decision-making ‘chain’ need to be aware of the complexities of SciTech. Again, this is more likely to be the case in the Golden Triangle, than in our off-the-map Northern Science Park. When a lot of local people are employed in SciTech jobs at the highest levels, as in the Golden Triangle, awareness of science and technology will be far greater than when this is not the case. Dispersed discreet locations without significant business links are on their own unlikely to change the local business or political perspective about what is important. – what does this mean for us and our knowledge economies?

The Daresbury Connection
A case in point here is the Daresbury Laboratory near Warrington, in the North West of England. This establishment, much of the work of which is as a world leader in the field of high energy physics, had been in existence for some decades, collaborating with the University of Liverpool and several other higher education and research laboratories.

By the mid-nineteen nineties, however, Daresbury had become something of an island unto itself, still conducting worthy international research but effectively disconnected from its locality, the local business / industrial base, and, critically, the political and administrative decision-making process.

The result of this disconnection was that the warning flags were not hoisted around the North West when the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, based in the Golden Triangle, decided to bid against Daresbury to the CCLRC (Central Council of the Laboratories of the Research Councils) to construct and operate DIAMOND, the planned third generation synchrotron - an intense light source which propels sub-atomic particles at extraordinary speeds in order to effect particle collisions for academic research and industrial / medical purposes.

By the approach of the Millennium it was becoming clear that Daresbury’s initial understanding about where the new light source would be placed were at best optimistic, although by then numbers of local and national politicians and others had also become involved in Daresbury’s attempt to secure the research funds which it had assumed were coming to the North West.

Similarly, and too late in the day, the North West Development Agency recognised that this was not simply a matter of ruffled feathers in academia, bur rather a matter of serious consequence for the whole of the region. Conferences were held, industrial and business liaisons established, plans proposed for collaboration with a number of the North West’s leading universities and hospitals - from which was later to be developed a proposal for a much more broadly-based programme of academic and applied science (CASIM). It was however too late to secure DIAMOND, and the contract went to the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, taking with it some of Daresbury’s most highly skilled technicians.

An emerging perception of how Big Science fits the national economy.
It slowly transpired, however, that all was not lost when Daresbury had to concede DIAMOND (and thus much of its future funding) to Rutherford Appleton. The North West campaign to retain support for the Laboratory had by then gained considerable momentum. Regeneration and strategic planners across the region had begun to realise that here was a facility which no-one could afford to see as an ivory tower. The science and technology might be extremely complex, but it was not simply a toy for boffins; it was potentially an enormous asset to the North West region and beyond. (And besides, for many local people, the campaign had become a matter of civic pride – a factor which politicians and planners ignore at their peril!)

Interestingly, the collapse of Daresbury’s expectations at this time also proved to be a watershed for national governmental understandings of the interaction between Big Science and the economy, nationally and regionally. The model in use at the time of the DIAMOND decision was essentially that of straightforward competition.

It had hitherto been accepted – though perhaps largely on face-value – that the physical location of Big Science facilities should be brokered only on the basis of the preferences of direct partners and funders (the Wellcome Foundation, a massive funding body, was particularly vociferous about supporting only Rutherford Appleton - already, through long-standing connections between key Oxbridge players, a Wellcome partner in a number of activities).

Media outcry
The North West media outcry about losing DIAMOND also coincided with the beginnings of a repositioning nationally about how Big Science was to be taken forward. It was slowly dawning on national decision-makers that, whilst the quality of the science itself had to be (by a very long way) the lead criterion for the allocation of funding at this level, the project evaluation playing field was nonetheless not entirely even.

For instance, whilst it might perhaps be valid to suggest that more immediate business and industrial benefit might accrue from investment in the South East, the ultimate benefit of funding to the North West might be greater in terms of its impact on the regional economy.

Similarly, scientists of the very highest order might in general have been found in greater numbers in the Golden Triangle, this was not an excuse for failing to invest in research and development in the universities of the North West. As has subsequently been demonstrated, top scientists are willing in significant numbers to follow the most challenging science, wherever it is located - especially if the costs of housing etc are lower, as well.

Daresburry Lab. & Innovation Centre 004.jpg And so we come to the present day story of Daresbury Laboratory. Daresbury has attracted a number of new and very senior staff to support outstanding colleagues based in North West universities, it has connected with business, industrial, strategic and political interests throughout the region, and it has established a fast-growing SciTech park led by major NW companies. Not every part of CASIM proved to be deliverable (the medical applications especially proved difficult, perhaps of the way that hospital-based research is supported); but Daresbury most importantly has secured the Fourth Generation Light Source programme, which will make it the world leader in this field.

The lessons of Daresbury
The Daresbury saga is salutary in a number of respects.

First, it demonstrates the increasingly competitive nature of SciTech, and especially Big Science, in modern economies.

Second, it shows that all parts of the Triple Helix – collaboration between universities, industries and the state – are essential in order to secure the sort of funding required for present day Big Science programmes.

And third, it illustrates very well the need for scientists, politicians and other public and private sector decision-makers at regional and sub-regional / local levels to remain alert, if they are to ensure adequate funding and other strategic support for prestigious and regenerationally effective SciTech enterprises.

There are therefore important lessons to be learned at regional and sub-regional levels.

Regionalism and the New Localism
One of the most defining aspects of Big Science is its internationalism. In the U.K. almost all Big Science projects will have a European aspect, probably under one of the European Union Frameworks for Science (we are currently on our 6th, and the 7th is under negotiation); and most projects will also be attached in some respects to laboratories such as, for instance, those at M.I.T. or CalTech in the United States.

This huge span of expertise and personnel arises largely organically in the first instance. Most serious scientists and technologists barely recognise national boundaries in their academic and applied work. Venture capital and the very high level knowledge economy have an operational syntax all of their own.

These facts of scientific life put notions of the ‘New Localism’ and of City Regions in a different light. They are, to be blunt, too small as areas and populations on their own to be realistic players in the battle for Big Science.

To illustrate this, the European Union recognises a number of population bases – NUTS, or Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics – of which the most commonly used in NUTS 1, or areas containing 3 - 7 million people. NUTS 1 areas are the size of major administrative units in most European countries; in fact, about the size of each of the English regions, and of Scotland and Wales respectively. City Regions are usually NUTS 2 size – 0.8 - 3 million people, and outside capital cities do not generally in most of Europe have autonomous governance.

Given that the annual budget of connected major Big Science programmes can approach that of the government of a small European country it is obviously not possible for them to operate at, say, the city region level . They require massive financial backing in terms of regional infrastructural support and they require equally massive buy-in from business and industry. And of course they need very significant numbers of available in-house expertise from local universities and other research institutions.

No non-capital town or city on its own is likely to be able to provide the levels of support required to secure significant Big Science onto its patch. The North West Development Agency and / or the Northern Way, for instance, can take full part as lead players; individual sub-regional cities, however otherwise important, can only be bit players on the Big Science stage.

The challenge for the New Localism
The message of Big Science is not entirely encouraging for those who eschew regionalism and seek preeminence for city-regions - not least because in reality most major cities simply don’t have the actual physical space, let alone the budget, to secure Big Science for themselves alone.

This is one scenario where, whatever applies elsewhere, only a shared and regional approach, or more, will do. For the U.K. at least this means that, if Big Science growth is to occur outside the Golden Triangle, the Holy Grail of the Triple Helix must be pursued by everyone, regardless of inter-city or inter-university rivalries or of otherwise competing interests between industries and businesses.

National Government must develop a policy on regional science, and regions and sub-regions must likewise respond to the opportunities such a policy would bring.

Read more about Knowledge-Led Regeneration, Regions, Sub-Regions & City Regions and Science Policy.