Recently in Unanswered Questions Category

CoC badge (Community) 06.7.39 004.jpg Robyn Archer's resignation, announced today, as artistic director of Liverpool's Culture Company leaves many questions about what the 2007 and 2008 celebrations are actually intended to achieve. Acknowledging this simple reality would help a great deal in making progress.

So the first question everyone's asking is, Why? Why has Robyn Archer, after in reality such a brief sojourn in Liverpool, decided that Liverpool's 2007 & 2008 events are not for her?

Only Ms Archer can answer that, of course, and she is unlikely to add much to her media statement that it's for 'personal reasons'. (Well, yes, but that could mean many things to many people.)

In the meantime, the question I would still really like to see a proper response to - and which I asked Robyn Archer directly on one of the very few occasions when I actually encountered her - is this:

By what criteria will we know that Liverpool's 2007 and 2008 celebrations have been a success?

The fundamental question for Capital of Culture
Hope Street Refurb end - notice 06.7.15 001.jpg There may well be more than one sensible response, but perhaps - who knows? - it was partly a lack of clarity in various quarters about this fundamental question which provoked the latest departure. (Some of us recall that the very first 2008 lead director also departed Liverpool, almost before he'd unpacked his bags.) Perhaps there are multiple possible answers - to renew and regenerate our city, to promote and celebrate communities, even, just maybe, to bolster 'cultural' activities as such - but no-one seems able to offer a definitive and widely agreed response.

Whether or not it bothered Robyn Archer, this question continues very much to worry me. There still seems to be a confusion in the minds of some local people about the difference between Excellence and Elitism, between the absolutely correct requirement that Liverpool's cultural celebrations include as many local citizens from as many different communities as possible, and the frankly silly idea that anything which is, as they say, 'artistically challenging' is also somehow inappropriate in this city.

The real cultural challenge
How are we as citizens together to grow in our understanding of art, music, dance, drama, or anything else, if we are afraid to take it to people who haven't encountered it much as yet?

Of course people should be offered and involved in artistic activities which engage them directly - 'community education' projects and so forth - but somehow we also have to encourage them to see that there is much more than that too.

The courage to offer leadership
At present, it feels as though those - and there certainly are several, on the Culture Company Board amongst other places - who are willing and able to promote the idea that we gain more from cultural experience when we permit it to challenge us - are being outnumbered by those who, to use the old metaphor, play to the gallery of small town politics.

The real issue is cultural and civic leadership. Liverpool will be a city fit for the 21st century when the local powers-that-be are ready to acknowledge not only how far we have already travelled, but also how much further there is to go before we can really call ourselves a Capital of Culture in the sense that most other European cities understand that term.

Then, perhaps, we won't have to rely on the wonderful goodwill of just those seasoned artistic directors who show a commitment to Liverpool well beyond the call of professional duty. Only then will the lure of Liverpool to the international cultural community be irresistible.

The knowledge economy is a huge area, with impact at every level from the micro to the massively macro. Yet there is still much debate, influenced by celebrated economists such as Robert Solow and Paul Romer, about whether technological progress produces economic growth, or vice versa. One commentator, David Warsh, has recently suggested that this debate currently throws only limited light on economists' understanding of how economies make progress. Perhaps nonetheless there are interesting questions which arise here in terms, particularly, of the impact of 'invention' and ideas in, say, social enterprise environments?

If technological progress dictates economic growth, asks The Economist, ('Economic focus: the growth of growth theory', 20 May 2006, p.96), what kind of economics governs technological advance?

The Economist article and blog praises David Warsh's new book, Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations, and his analysis of the shifting understanding of the genesis and impact of technological advance.

'Ideas as goods'
In his book Warsh examines Nobel prize winner Robert Solow's supposed notion that ideas are bound to end up in diminishing returns (they are 'exogenous' to economic growth theory), and contrasts it with the proposition of Stanford University's Professor Paul Romer, that ideas are endogenous to growth theory - that they can be part of it.

In this analysis there are as I understand it three main principles:

1. ideas are 'non-rival' - i.e. they can be used by as many people as care to, at the same time;

2. ideas are expensive to produce, but almost without cost to reproduce;

3. nonetheless, the business of reproducing ideas does not usually give much in respect of financial returns, because ideas, being 'free' to reproduce, end up having very little economic value.

But goods in what market?
From these three premises it is easy to see that ideas have to be 'protected' if they are to have 'value' in normal business markets. In other words, they have to be copyrighted; and at the same time obviously other people have to be educated to a level where they can usefully employ these ideas, once they have 'bought' them.

But does this apply to all types of 'market'? I've been musing for a while on the idea that enterprise can be taxonomised in ways which make differentiation of impact (on ideas, people, systems) quite interesting. The normal 'for profit' economy behaves in one way, the 'ideas generator' 'academic' economy sometimes behaves rather differently, and the 'social' or 'not-for-profit' economy probably behaves in a different way again.

All these responses make sense to the 'actors' involved. Commercial business people aim very clearly at protecting their ideas in the knowledge economy; but academics and social entrepreneurs currently often promote their ideas without much reference to the 'business' value of the 'invention' because they are more concerned, respectively, with their status or with general social outcomes, than they are with how fast the actual money flows in their particular direction.

Shifting bases of ideas production?
Over time, things may change of course. The same edition of The Economist which carries the Growth Theory article also has a piece on shifts in the understanding of American academics concerning intellectual and real estate property values. Likewise, the economics of social enterprise is still in its infancy.

Maybe economics at the 'small' level - the level of academic and social-enterprise activity - is like the physics of particles... 'nano' behaviour is different from larger-scale activity in its impact.

Whatever (and here I'm trying to articulate something which others will understand much better than I), it's likely that over time the behaviour of those who produce academic and / or 'social-technical' ideas in the new knowledge economies will change. The question is, how and when?

The impact of benefit from ideas
Who will 'profit' from these changes? And, in the end, could the impact of freely shared ideas be felt even on the global scale, if the sharing extended to developing economies as well as those where the knowledge economy already has huge impact?

Will the growing realisation that all ideas have economic value in some sense lead to attempts to 'protect' social-technical invention as well as as the 'normal business' sort? Or will there be a continued wish to leave the way open for sharing and mutual development - just as, for instance, Tim Berners-Lee chose to do, when he created the world-wide web?

Many young people want to remain in cities like Liverpool after their higher education, but opportunities to develop professionally if they do so are still often quite limited. So what exactly is a 'graduate job'? And how do graduate jobs fit in with local economies?

There's a brand new 'Met Quarter' shopping arcade in Liverpool city centre which looks quite interesting, so that was where we headed in search of some coffee, after a meeting in town this morning.

The new arcade is indeed worth a good look - all shiny steel and glass and smart labels - but there was one aspect of it that certainly wasn't new to us. Our friendly and welcoming waitress was someone we already know because she's a recent graduate. Like several others of her graduating year, she is employed in a capacity which gives her an income, but doesn't really use her formal skills.

A conundrum for cities on the edge
This is a familiar problem for cities like Liverpool, perceived by bright young people to have excitement and 'edge', but with relatively weak economies.

The question which always arises in this context is, how long will a recent graduate stay in employment which doesn't fit their recently acquired formal skills? Is it right to encourage young people to stay? Or should we be encouraging them to fly the civic nest, with a promise that we'll keep in touch?

Liverpool has plenty of graduate incubators and 'Graduates into Work' programmes. Both have very important functions in the local economy. The former helps proto-type entrepreneurs to take their ideas forward; the latter, of course amongst other things, is often especially helpful for local graduates who already have their homes and families in Merseyside and need to stay.

The initial post-graduate years are critical
Is there an issue when young graduates remain in Liverpool in low-skill jobs, just at the time when they should be busily extending their experience and applying thier newly acquired knowledge?

Figures on graduate retention beyond a year or two are notoriously difficult to find for given locations. These are however crucial to our understanding of how the high skills agenda should be developed in an emerging economy such as Merseyside's.

What some graduates and those with second degrees actually do after graduation remains a mystery, but the suspicion is that if they stay in a city like Liverpool they do not always fully use their new skills. Maybe we need to be honest enough on occasion to help them get experience elsewhere which, we all hope, they will later come back to Liverpool to use.

A fair exchange?
That young graduates want to stay and enjoy the vitality of a city such as Liverpool is excellent. Their enthusiasm and determination to make something of their lives here is something everyone warmly welcomes. But if we want these young people to develop their potential properly, we need to think of ways to establish a freeflow of skills and experience between our own backyard and other places.

Then, when the local economy really does come up to speed, we'll have plenty of skilled and experienced people waiting, who already know us and want to be part of it.

2007-8 graphic 119x109 001aa.jpg The 800th Anniversary of Liverpool in 2007, and the Liverpool European Capital of Culture Year in 2008, are hugely important milestones for the city. So how are we, citizens of the city or of Europe and the world, going to measure the success of these years, once we reach 2009?
Your suggested responses and answers to this question are most welcome....

Much has already been written, on this weblog and elsewhere, about Liverpool's 800th Anniversary in 2007, and the 2008 European Capital of Culture Year.

I don't intend just now to extend that debate - it seems to be developing all on its own... and please do continue to add your contributions on this weblog. But I would like to ask one special question, to which I would also really appreciate answers (please use the Response space below):

By what criteria will, or should, we be able to evaluate the success of Liverpool 2007 / 8?

I'm sure many people will have many ideas on the criteria we should use - or perhaps are already using?

Indeed, it would be helpful to know whether there actually are already sol