If you build it, will they come?

building blocks

Back in the sixties, when I was a kid, I loved to play with a well known building block toy (you’ll know the one).Essentially it was a collection of plastic blocks in a range of sizes. Some were grey and some were red and at some point in my childhood, they introduced clear plastic ones. With these basic blocks I built castles and forts, aircraft carriers and rocket ships. They were clunky and angular but my imagination filled in the curves. The point is, from those basic building blocks, I made whatever I wanted. There seemed no limit to the things I could construct.

Some years later, the parts became more sophisticated and were clearly intended to build a replica of whatever was illustrated on the box.

Now, this post isn’t about corporate greed dulling the creative capacity of our children. I’m using this as an analogy for public consultation. Local Authorities deliver stuff. It may be the management of refuse, a working road network, libraries (for now) and leisure centres. But in future, what will it be?

Perhaps if we began with basic blocks and not proscriptive solutions and had a dialogue with residents around that, we could identify what people need, rather than want. We could start with a snap shot based on known data sets and local intelligence at the hyperlocal level. We’d need to manage expectations and establish some ground rules. For instance, asking for a positive, can-do attitude. That isn’t about air brushing out failures. When we get it wrong we should fess up but airing old grievances wastes time and if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Most importantly, the blocks don’t have to be three-dimensional because people are infrastructure too; they have interests, passions and transferable skills. If we harness those, that’s a lot of energy. And if you add those into the mix, you’re on your way to creating sustainable solutions. So, when it comes to public consultation and building communities, let’s see what happens when we don’t put a picture on the box.

This post was inspired by a recent conversation with Rob Francis @ThinkingRob on Twitter. Check him out, he does this kind of stuff for a living.

Don’t shoot the messenger


So, the story goes like this. A group of young, British nationals become radicalized and leave their families to fight a Holy War on foreign soil in the Middle East. Their families are baffled and upset and lay the blame on clergymen who have lit a fire under impressionable minds by citing holy scripture to justify bloody acts. In the name of this Holy War, barbaric deeds are committed, including the massacre of innocent civilians and all for the sake of an idea.
Ideas are powerful things. And all the more powerful in a vacuum. Apart from a small minority, most people would agree that the world is in a bit of a mess right now. And, historically, when the world is in a mess, many people seek leaders to get them out of it. But. if history has taught us anything, it is that even the dumbest ideas can be adopted by the majority, if the circumstances are right. What’s that phrase? “Well, do you have a better idea?” That’s the moment for rational, reasoned minds to speak up though too often they do not. And in this way the direction of travel, already misguided, is set on a course of inevitable destruction with leaders out-doing each other to appear more in favour of that direction of travel for fear of losing their position.

Occasionally, leaders buck the trend.Take the response of then Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg to the infamous slaughter of innocents in a summer massacre.

What is occurring now in our domestic political scene and across the Middle East is bad ideas thriving in a vacuum. And it isn’t the fault of the medium through which the ideas are spread. Because the story I referred to at the start of this blog is the story of The Crusades and the first of those happened 800 years before the creation of YouTube.