NSL Blog

Odense working on an innovative template for civic centric systems

May 21, 2014

How Do We?

How Do We?

Complex and financial challenges for municipalities: Wherever one goes – the same refrain is heard, there is simply not the money to continue business as usual in any sector. The existing systems in which we work, do not work. We have to discover and create transformative ways that are better than that which currently exist, delivered at much lower cost. I have never had a problem with cost reduction – but I think there are ways in which we can achieve significant savings without taking a burnt earth policy to the problem. We must seek solutions that are more humane, regenerative and more forward thinking.

From a linear to a nonlinear world: as we are forced to transform, attempting to extricate ourselves from an industrial linear way of doing things; large scale, inflexible, extractive, highly structured and hierarchical – to one that is highly adaptive, thinks about and operates in whole systems, and is a humus to a more regenerative society. I see is a 2-speed process that is both, fast and slow. Both have a common purpose where people, communities, regions, towns, cities and even countries (Ecuador and Scotland) are exploring – pushing hard towards alternative and better ways of doing things. Not because its a ‘nice to have’ but because there are pressing social, economic, and climatic imperatives to do so. All of which have massive impacts on organisations, how we create them and how we run them.

Fast are the trailblazers, the makers, the hackers of everything. They may not seem like much when we look at the massive systems and organisations they seek to secede, but we can say it is early days of a new world being born. They represent a wave of entrepreneurialism that is moving through all the systems of our society. Slow are the cumbersome civic systems, governments, or large corporations trying to deal with a rapidly changing world.

Life is local: for the vast majority of us – life is local. Our identities, lives, economies are shaped by physical place, a village, a town or a quarter of a city. And we need to tend to those spaces with great care, because without place and community we don’t have much. Place means so much and always will. Yet the rapid change in economies, mass urbanisation, and then the migration of people to find a better way of life means great strain has been placed upon local life as society and economy.

Place and community as social and economic networks: Last week I was in Odense, a municipality of Denmark, working with a team of people who are knee, elbow, neck deep in system change. My task was to help this team of wonderful people explore how they could address that change as it presents significant challenges in how people embrace transformation, and work meaningfully with it. This team had healthcare as a key concern. So we went on a journey exploring how one can create powerful systems change inside an existing organisation and, at the same time explored innovative practices that can reduce the significant financial burden of healthcare and more importantly change its purpose to one that was more preventative inspired by reinvigorating the sources of health. This journey was built around the Six Principles of No Straight Lines that is proving to be a very effective model for helping people inside organisations address and understand the challenges and potential of innovation and systemic change that is both kinder to people, and planet. It is so much nicer to work with a regenerative model, than an extractive one, and be able to prove it works. I very much enjoyed working with the team at Odense and I hope  will be returning.

My thanks to Mads Thimmer of Innovation Lab Denmark and X Helene Bækmark for inviting me.

The municipality as a network: my observation is that we have to look at our world as a system – as a whole. For municipalities this relates to; local economies – how to re-create them and sustain their vibrancy, healthcare systems – how to reduce the burden and cost of running existing systems and simultaneously move to a system that is premised upon strengthening the sources of health, education – how to educate our children to better prepare them for the world they will inherit, agriculture – how to create resilient local food systems that feed and nurture local communities, financial systems – how to create more flexible adaptive ways to finance infrastructure, support business, or indeed help people who struggle financially. And, the civic space as metaphor and practice – how can municipalities reconnect and re-engage its citizenry to become part of all of that above and in so doing co-create a greater more meaningful connection to place, to community that in turn becomes restorative.

These challenges are all about people, how they come together to co-create policy, and new ways to address these challenges. People within their own communities have to own this process and believe in its potential – rather than believing in outsourcing to the private sector as the only form of salvation from the complex challenges they face. Citizenship is based on membership, not on ownership. So what is a village a town or a city? A city is the place where people must cooperate in order to live together.

 Journey further

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