Wednesday, 13 May 2009

How do we grasp uncertainty and save the economy?

Been a little quiet on here over the last fortnight - no apologies, I've just been unusually occupied at home and work - so today I will fearlessly attempt to link (to) three things in one post...

I'm quoted in MMM's latest 'communique' (great word for a Wednesday!) about their collaborative pilots, three of which are in North East England, as wanting to encourage 'resilience not reliance'. This is my new mantra, so be warned.

Resilient Nation is a new publication from Demos. It has a focus on emergencies and civic defence, but not exclusively so. It proposes 'we need to rethink the concept of resilience in a way that resists the temptation to think only in terms of the ability of an individual or society to 'bounce back' but suggests a greater focus on learning and adaptation. In a new definition of this concept, responsibility for resilience must rest on individuals not only on institutions.' It concludes by putting forward a focus not on intervention bu on building 'the four Es of community resilience: engagement, education, empowerment and encouragement'. It's an interesting read, if not slightly worrying as a citizen to hear about police refusing to sound flood sirens even during floods 'in case it spreads panic'.

There is a very powerful quote from a farmer, in the aftermath of the foot and mouth crisis: 'Everything is the same, but nothing is the same. Part of you is trying to find where you fit in the new reality, part of you wants to the safety of the old ways. Slightly dislocated from your surroundings, but the physical surroundings are the same, but I suppose you have changed, and the old certainties, that were not certain but seemed it, have made way for new changeable ways that are not certain, and you know that they are not certain.'

This resonated throughout my reading of Lifting People, Lifting Places, a new paper from the DCMS. This sets out the contribution culture, media and sport can make to economic recovery. Much is a summary of things already underway, but it brings them together so one can get a sense of the big picture. There are some aspirations set out, and a useful annex of data on how the sectors are being affected by the downturn. (I don't know whether it's irony or paradox or something worse that those organsations who've most diversified their income streams who may be worst hit, and those who were arguably 'simply reliant on public funding' who for the moment are most stable.)

It could have done with an edit by someone with a strong aversion to cliches, but perhaps that's quibbling. (I gave the Creative Business Award out recently at the North East Business Awards, and swear I was the only person not to say 'in these difficult times' - it's true, but then it's always true for some people.) In the foreword Andy Burnham writes: 'Rather than sitting on the fringes, culture, sport and the creative industries are part of the core script for recovery and prospoerity.' Noting budgets were 'slashed' in the 80s and 90s, he says 'That mistake will not be repeated.' Others will also quote him on that, I'm sure. (I guess the £4m lost from next year's Arts Council England grant-in-aid needs to be seen as not a slash but a flesh wound?)

The document does set out DCMS's stall in an encouraging way, and from everything I hear they are fighting their corner strongly, and posing a healthly and correct challenge to the sector. We need to respond to this opportunity with new and fresh thinking for this changed, uncertain world, not simply protecting what's been built, or wanting to play nicely in the corner. Building resilience not reliance...

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