Three Commissions – One Outcome?

I wrote a recent blog about the use of commissions in helping cities form and develop visions, strategies, policy. Often this has been in response to two key factors:
– addressing the perception that policy is not co-designed with the citizens of the city the officials are representing; and
– the lack of policy and strategy capacity within local authorities who have prioritised investment in front line services at the cost of those teams who look further ahead beyond the current financial horizon of ‘end-of-year’.

I promote this as the City of Sheffield – my home city – promotes its latest activity of the Fairness Commission (http://www.ourfaircity.co.uk/ and follow on twitter via https://twitter.com/FairSheffield) – challenging individuals and organisations to demonstrate their commitment to a fair and equal society.

https://aardvarknoseface.wordpress.com/2014/08/13/sustainable-cities-commissions/

This sits alongside two further activities – the City’s Green Commission (https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/your-city-council/policy–performance/green-commission.html) and the city’s economic commission.

To take such an approach is noble, open and engaging when undertaken well. The challenge will be to identify the ‘sweet spots’ where the outcomes of the three commissions land on the same priorities and actions – but, even more importantly to reconcile the conflicts between ambitions where they occur. This is where a maturity of elected members comes in to play. These decisions are the crucial ones. Is priority given to local environmental quality, health or economy? Does the city prioritise global environmental impact over local economic growth? These decisions remain difficult but those decision takers should use the commissions they have brought together to ensure they have an expert input to a robust argument informing their recommendations and decisions.

Only when you get in to these difficult spaces and conversations do you add real value. It would be a pity of the commissions are cosmetic and only airbrush over the issues for this generation and give the future generations of Sheffield no chance at all.

My suggestion is, at the end of this commissioning process, a symposium for the city is convened to draw together and debate both the opportunities that have been identified and where conflicts need to be reconciled. It should be Chaired by an independent member to whom the Chairs of the three commissions report their findings. It would prove to be an effective way of re-engaging with the wider stakeholders – not just those who have been involved in the process of the individual commissions. Only then can a clearer vision for the city be set out with confidence.

My hope is the city doesn’t fudge this and try and be all things to all people. It needs to differentiate itself. It can only do that through a process of prioritisation with an outcome that makes it a distinctly different place that people can identify with. Otherwise it will be simply re-providing every other city of half a million people in western Europe. And it is better than that.

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What has open council data ever done for us? | CityMetric

What has open council data ever done for us? 

In a recently published piece, By Marc Ambasna-Jones, writes: It’s been nearly a year since Eric Pickles, the UK’s Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government issued a policy statement  requesting that local councils open up their data to the public.   

Since then, progress has been slow – but there has been progress. A number of cities (Manchester, Leeds, Cambridge, London) have published open data sets. But without a common access point, or a declaration of available data like theOpen Data Census in the US, it’s hard to know how many.

The big question now is: is transparency enough?

Boris Johnson thinks so. In October this year, London’s mayor, a keen advocate of municipal open data, launched London’s second data store. At the time, he said it would provide “a wealth of material that the world’s brightest minds will be able to use to develop new insight and apps that can be used to solve the big city problems”. The inference is that if you open the data the developers will come.

In truth, the expectation that Town Halls, many of which are facing huge funding cuts – particularly in those northern cities where the opportunity to exploit open data is so great, really haven’t embraced this fully. A few notable examples of cities that have taken this on have largely been backed by the belief that it will really stimulate local economies or they have been effectively subsidised by initiatives such as the Future Cities programme.

Now, as the need for innovation, efficiency and economic stimulus is at its most acute our Town Halls are, arguably, at their most cash-strapped. Overcoming this hurdle is key. It’s not enough to require, as Eric Pickles did, Town Halls to open up their data. Support, stimulus and subsidy to generate a significantly bigger pool of leaders in this field is needed. That way our municipalities, local enterprise partnerships and local authorities will be left behind.