Knowing Your Place

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(A discussion note for the GS18 Steering Group)

Meanings move.  For the child of the early 1950s, ‘knowing your place’ was an admonishment – a reminder to not speak out of turn or get ideas ‘above your station’.  Rather more deferential discipline – not much ‘empowerment’.

Flip forward sixty years.  Creativity, innovation and disruption are now keywords.  ‘Knowing Your Place’ is the aspiration that fuels Open Data champions who are delivering massive everyday conveniences and better-informed managements. 

In many small ways the information explosion – the ability to measure, access and understand the real world – has become a normal part of life.   Six decades ago - far fewer clues. ‘Knowledge is power’ (then, often closely guarded) has become ‘knowledge is empowering’ and nowadays it’s not owned but openly available – albeit still demanding digital dexterity.  The revolution is, of course, far from complete – many doors remain closed and the ethical frontiers of disclosures are hotly debated.  It’s been a long haul since early pioneers of data journalism, like Florence Nightingale, delivered flashes of insight.

The pace has quickened. Not all are equipped to keep up.  Some businesses and communities are slow to adapt and their glorious legacy becomes a burden.  Others spring up fueled with enthusiasm to disrupt and outmaneuver time-honoured laggards.  Power and competence is shifting from central top-down managements to local actors communities and individuals.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Local Government, public sector agencies and smaller communities.  National aggregations of averages no longer count in this more granular world.  Local communities are taking all manner of matters into their own hands – not waiting for some narrowly defined devolution.  ‘Knowing your place’ is their strength – and, moreover, knowing it in ways that oft run counter to prevailing (near fossilized) ideological beliefs.

But these newfound freedoms come with responsibilities.  Society is asking a great deal from its localised leaders.  When trying to meet the challenges of city growth or breathing new life into urban & rural communities, where do leaders find the inspiration, insights and capacity for fresh and sustainable ways forward?  There is no shortage of advice offered by vested interests.  But who can they trust and where are proven solutions?

Fortunately our ability to share ideas and inspiration from around the world is now greater than ever – but ideas are difficult to import and adapt without a clear understanding of the context in which they evolved.  This is why, in this expansion of local leaderships, the ‘networking’ of ideas, of analytical insights and inspired connections is a high priority.  Point solutions to isolated challenges are not sufficient.  Community wellbeing (both economic and societal) arises from a complex weave – a fabric with many threads – an appreciation of the whole and careful selection of priority programmes.

As we prepare for the June 2018 Global Summit of the Intelligent Community Forum, the working title is ‘knowing your place’ – not in the old deferential sense but in our new era of openness, innovation and local leadership. 

The ICF Global Summit is a meeting of mayors, civic leaders and community builders from around the world.  It provides a huge opportunity for sharing ideas and experiences and opening minds to fresh approaches.  Even though many UK and European cities and communities have previously featured in ICF research, the 20th annual ICF Summit in June 2018 will mark its first appearance in Europe. 

Details for the emergent Steering Group can be found at

See also 'Knowing Your Place - Part 2' where we reflect on the scope for communities to evolve their own locally adapted economic priorities and policies.