Gardening or Hunting in Pursuit of an Enterprise Culture?

Gardening and Hunting are two very different approaches to developing an enterprise culture.

A gardening approach sets out to create jobs and entrepreneurial activity by investing in local people and their talents, cultures, passions and skills.  It as an endogenous “arising from within” approach to community and economic development.  The starting point for economic gardening says that ‘in this community we have all that we need to build a vibrant and sustainable future’.  It may need careful nurturing to help it thrive but the seeds of our future success are already sown.

The key tools of economic gardening include:

  • building open and accessible networks for potential and current entrepreneurs that foster the exchange of ideas and collaboration
  • signposting to existing and continually improving support  services that help local people on their enterprise journey
  • locally available, convivial and very low (preferably no) cost coaching support to help local people to nurture their dreams and aspirations and to believe in their ability to develop them
  • access to commercial finance for local people with investment ready business ideas
  • support services that recognise that everyone has the potential to become more enterprising and don’t just work with those that are already entrepreneurial.

This contrasts with economic hunting which sets to create jobs and entrepreneurial activity by attracting investment and employment into a community from outside.  The starting point here is one that says ‘our community is deficient.  We lack the entrepreneurs to create employment so we have to attract them from elsewhere.  Then perhaps some of the entrepreneurial pixie dust will rub of onto local people.  And if it doesn’t, well at least we will have attracted entrepreneurs who will provide them with jobs.’  This is an exogeneous approach to community and economic development.

The key tools of economic hunting include:

  • the creation of facilities and resources to attract companies or ‘creative class’ members to set up their homes and businesses in our community (NB usually these resources are beyond the means of many local people to access).  If you are in a facility that serves a ‘much better cup of coffee at a higher price’ than anywhere else in the neighbourhood, or if many local people are priced out of your facility, then there is a strong chance that it is the product of economic hunting rather than gardening.
  • the development of inward investment teams and budgets to enable local authorities and regional development agencies to negotiate ‘sweetened’ deals for employers to locate in their communities
  • support services that focus almost exclusively on the ‘already entrepreneurial’ as those who have the potential to create wealth and employment for the rest of us.

Historically most of the investment has gone into economic hunting strategies.

There has been a rise in interest (if not yet investment) in economic gardening.  I see no fundamental reason why the two can’t co-exist in the same community, but they are not always comfortable bed fellows.  Economic hunting usually means changing things to make them convivial to outsiders (better coffee, better carpets and sexy furniture).  Economic gardening means making things really convivial to local people; affordable, local and accessible.

Often community based enterprise development programmes struggle to help local people to access the business support infrastructure that was designed as an economic hunting tool.  It is not designed to be convivial to local people, but to that special breed of entrepreneur from out of town who will pay £3.40 for a posh coffee and £20 an hour to hire a meeting room.  More often than not such facilities fail to win in either of these two market places.

So which tribe do you belong to?  The hunters or the gardeners?

What would happen if we took some of the budget for ‘inward investment’ and put it into the hands of ‘community development’?

Why An Alternative LEP?

It is early days for Local Enterprise Partnerships.  And I wish them well.

But the early signs are that they are made up, more or less, of the usual suspects, working in the usual ways, making the usual assumptions – and may produce the usual results.

So following conversation with a few people who seemed to share these concerns and expressed an interest, here is The Alternative LEP.  A place where the usual and not so usual suspects can share ideas, work in unusual ways, explore the potential of starting from fresh assumptions and discuss the kind of economic and regeneration activities that might be developed as a result.

What if LEPs:

  • worked to ensure that the economy existed to serve people (all of us) instead of us existing to serve it?
  • refused to look at the economy in isolation but as one part of a much wider system including people and the environment?
  • really embraced the debate around the challenges of continued economic growth and its impact on the environment – instead of presenting economic growth as entirely a good thing?
  • explored and developed enterprise as a quality of communities, localities and people instead of focussing on old school economic measures such as GDP?
  • focused on investment in local people and communities rather than attracting investors from elsewhere – a preference for economic gardening over economic hunting
  • recognised the historical failure of such organisations to successfully plan the economy and provide the infrastructure required – and instead of trying to ‘take charge of the local economy’, ‘facilitated local enterprise’?
  • understood that we can’t ‘develop’ economies  or communities.  But we can help people to develop  – and people are great at building both community and the economy – given the chance

If we started from these assumptions perhaps we would commission some very different activity…

Why ‘enterprise’ trumps ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘economic’

I think that enterprise is much more important for our communities than either entrepreneurship or economic development.

Entrepreneurship focuses on encouraging people to move into self-employment or to start, or grow their own business.

Enterprise is about people thinking about their current situation and how it might be improved and developing strategies that will move them towards their preferred future.

By promoting enterprise in this way we will of course encourage entrepreneurship. As people become more enterprising they may, on occasion, need to start a new business to get them from where they are to their preferred future.

However our default setting should be to dissuade people from starting a business. If we can easily put them off, then it is likely that they would not have the necessary perseverance to make the business work. If they are insistent that only by starting a business can they become the kind of person that they wish to be and create the kind of future that they wish to have, then, and only then, should we roll our sleeves up and do all we can to help them succeed in their entrepreneurial venture, safe in the knowledge that they have the determination and persistence that they will require to succeed.

By adopting a premise that we should persuade as many people as possible not to start a business I believe that we can significantly increase the survival rate of those businesses that do start-up. As people in the community begin to see businesses that are both well thought through and successful taking hold, more and more will begin to believe that starting a business is not, almost inevitably, going to end in more debt and misery.  Slowly but surely start up rates too will start to climb.

However, even in the most entrepreneurial communities it is likely that fewer than 10 in 100 people of working age are ever likely to start their own business.  I would contend that of those hundred people every one of them could benefit from learning how to become more enterprising. That is, how to identify their current situation, how to recognise what an improvement might look like, and to put in place plans and actions to move in that direction.

This is why I think that enterprise is much more important, as a concept or a philosophy, for our communities than entrepreneurship or ‘economic development’. If we wish to have more entrepreneurial communities then we must start by first making them more enterprising.

In The Alternative LEP we will endeavour to remember that the E stands for Enterprise, not Entrepreneurial or Economic.

Communities with Ooomph…

One of the things that some people find hard about my person centred and responsive approach to developing ‘Communities with Ooomph’ is the emphasis that I place, initially at least, on working with individuals to help them clarify and pursue their self interest and to build the power that they need to pursue it effectively.  Actually there are three things that ruffle feathers in there:

  1. the emphasis on working with individuals as the starting point for community development – surely we need to work with groups in order to foster ‘neighbourliness’ and ‘cooperation’ on mutual projects?
  2. the importance of helping individuals to clarify and pursue self interest – surely it is shared interests that build community?  And what if their self interest does not relate to our hopes and goals?
  3. and, the emphasis placed on developing power – power is still seen by many as some kind of dark force leading to corruption and inevitable decay

In Support for Working with Individuals

It is nigh on impossible for most people to talk honestly and openly about what is really happening in their lives, what they really need to work on, in a group setting.  It is just too painful, and the risks to confidentiality are just too great.  And when we start working with groups to explore what they collectively want, we usually end up discussing a ‘lowest common denominator’ project.  Something that everyone agrees is a good thing to do, but that will not directly address the specific inhibitors of progress for any of them.  So we end up planting a piece of waste land or campaigning for a children’s playground, getting the graffiti cleaned up.  Now these are good, worthwhile projects, and I am not saying that they don’t have a place.  They help build relationships, common cause and improve skills.  But to what end?  Unless individuals are helped to really explore and understand their self interest and to act on it, many of these projects simply leave communities treading water with people moving from one community project to the next with little or no progress.

In Support of Self Interest

For us to make common cause, I must be clear on my self interest.  So must you.  We can agree to work on an interesting project without this clarity, but if we are to really collaborate with commitment, vigour, creativity and enterprise then it must be in both our self interests if there is to be a reasonable chance of significant purposeful progress.  Otherwise our collaboration may be partial and weak.

So why the resistance to really exploring self interest?  I think because it is confused with selfishness and individualism. Self interest is neither of these things.  It is about a proper and effective negotiation of ‘self’ amongst others (interest is from the latin ‘inter este’ which means ‘to be amongst’, so I am reliably informed).  So the pursuit of self interest is the pursuit of ‘self’ negotiated amongst others.  It is about developing identity in the community.

Exploring self interest, and understanding it, is not easy work, but it is worthwhile.  Self interest is a powerful source of Ooomph.

Self interest is easily misunderstood leading to poor decision making.  Take as an example the relationship between self interest, reciprocity and generosity.

Reciprocity is the act of giving only if there is a reasonable expectation of some reward in exchange.  Generosity is the act of giving with no immediate expectation of return.  But which is most likely to be in my self interest?

An initial glance would suggest that reciprocity would be best.  I scratch your back, you scratch mine.  But for reciprocal relationships to work we have to find an exchange partner who has something that we want and who wants something that we can give.  And finding such relationships can be hard.  This is why we invented money to ensure that reciprocal arrangements could always be made.  Which is fine, as long as you have money, or people with money want what you can offer.  Reciprocity is the language of transaction.

Generosity on the other hand is the act of giving when we are able, without expectation of return.  We may be giving time, money, advice, support.  Opportunities for generosity are plentiful.  If we live in a community where individuals choose to be generous, rather than reciprocal, in their giving it is likely that much more will be both given and received by each member.  Help will be more free flowing in the community.  Generosity, giving with no expectation of return, is actually more in the self interest of each community member than reciprocity.  This is just one aspect of what I mean by fully understanding self interest and how it works in community.  Generosity is a better tactic for each of us in the proper negotiation of our self interest.

In Support of Power

There is a lot of talk in Big Society circles of ‘pushing power down’ to communities.  Of giving them power.  As if power is something that can be gift wrapped and handed over.  Authority may be given.  Even responsibility. But power?  That has to be grown from within, surely. It is strange that policy makers seem to see no irony in their endeavours.

Power is the ability to get things done.

It is correlated with the ability to organise people, money and other resources in pursuit of a goal.  Power itself, exercised wisely and with compassion is a good thing.  It should be nurtured and grown.  Yet many of us are taught that to seek power, to be power hungry are unbecoming, almost pathological behaviours.  Which is perhaps why so many good people are disinterested in the pursuit of power.

Once individuals are clear on their self interest and start to think about the power to pursue it they nearly always have to make common cause with others.  They have to associate and cooperate.

What emerges will be, to paraphrase Mr Cameron, a community with oomph.

So if you want to be a part of one of these start working with individuals, their power and self interest.  Soon enough you will find yourself working with associations and communities with real power.

What are You Working For? The Gospel of Consumption

[A modern economist] is used to measuring the ‘standard of living’ by the amount of annual consumption, assuming all the time that a man who consumes more is ‘better off’  than a man who consumes less.  A Buddhist economist would consider this approach excessively irrational: since consumption is merely a means to human well-being, the aim should be to obtain the maximum well-being with the minimum of consumption… Modern economics, on the other hand, considers consumption to be the sole end and purpose of economic activity. – EF Schumacher

Poverty is not just the absence of money; it is also the absence of a belief in the future…What we need for real prosperity is what money can’t buy…. Block and McKnight

By the late 1920s, America’s business and political elite had found a way to defuse the dual threat of stagnating economic growth and a radicalised working class, in what one industrial consultant called “the gospel of consumption” – the notion that people could be convinced that however much they have, it isn’t enough.  President Hoover’s 1929 Committee on Recent Economic Changes observed in glowing terms the results: “By advertising and other promotional devices…a measurable pull on production has been created which releases capital otherwise tied up.” The tied up capital was savings.

They celebrated the conceptual breakthrough: “Economically we have a boundless field before us; that there are new wants which will make way endlessly for newer wants, as fast as they are satisfied.” In other words there is no end to satisfaction, or it is a way of promoting dissatisfaction as the basis for higher levels of consumption and production.  – Jeffrey Kaplan

And the late George Carlin makes our stuff funny

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvgN5gCuLac]

Community Development Principles – Frequently Flaunted?

Julian Dobson usefully reminded me this morning;

Cracking on with ideas is good. Rooting them in community development principles and practical action is even better.

But what are these principles?  A quick bit of web research found this list from CDX in Sheffield:

Values

Community development workers support individuals, groups and organisations in this process on the basis of certain values and practice principles.

The values at the core of community development are:

  • social justice
  • self-determination
  • working and learning together
  • sustainable communities
  • participation
  • reflective practice

The practice principles that underpin these values are:

Social justice

  • respecting and valuing diversity and difference
  • challenging oppressive and discriminatory actions and attitudes
  • addressing power imbalances between individuals, within groups and society
  • committing to pursue civil and human rights for all
  • seeking and promoting policy and practices that are just and enhance equality whilst challenging those that are not

Self-determination

  • valuing the concerns or issues that communities identify as their starting points
  • raising people’s awareness of the range of choices open to them, providing opportunities for discussion of implications of options
  • promoting the view that communities do not have the right to oppress other communities
  • working with conflict within communities

Working and learning together

  • demonstrating that collective working is effective
  • supporting and developing individuals to contribute effectively to communities
  • developing a culture of informed and accountable decision making
  • ensuring all perspectives within the community are considered
  • sharing good practice in order to learn from each other

Sustainable communities

  • promoting the empowerment of individuals and communities
  • supporting communities to develop their skills to take action
  • promoting the development of autonomous and accountable structures
  • learning from experiences as a basis for change
  • promoting effective collective and collaborative working
  • using resources with respect for the environment

Participation

  • promoting the participation of individuals and communities, particularly those traditionally marginalised / excluded
  • recognising and challenging barriers to full and effective participation
  • supporting communities to gain skills to engage in participation
  • developing structures that enable communities to participate effectively
  • sharing good practice in order to learn from each other

Reflective practice

  • promoting and supporting individual and collective learning through reflection on practice
  • changing practice in response to outcomes of reflection
  • recognising the constraints and contexts within which community development takes place
  • recognising the importance of keeping others informed and updated about the wider context

This looks like a pretty good list of design criteria.

  • Anything missing?
  • Anything better?

Reading through this list and reviewing some of the current enterprise and entrepreneurship programmes being delivered in the name of community development and regeneration I am finding it hard to find (m)any that don’t significantly fail several of these tests of principles and values.

And I can’t help but think this matters…

NB: Since this piece was written a new way of codifying the values that underpin community development has been agreed:

Equality and Anti-discrimination

Community development practice challenges structural inequalities and discriminatory practices. Community development recognises that people are not the same, but they are all of equal worth and importance and therefore entitled to the same degree of respect and acknowledgement.

Social Justice

The aim of increasing social justice is an essential element of community development practice. It involves identifying and seeking to alleviate structural disadvantage and advocating strategies for overcoming exclusion, discrimination and inequality.

Collective Action

Community development practice is essentially about working with and supporting groups of people, to increase their knowledge, skills and confidence so they can analyse their situations and identify issues which can be addressed through collective action.

Community Empowerment

Community development practice seeks the empowerment of individuals and communities, through using the strengths of the community to bring about desired changes.

Working and Learning Together

Community development practice promotes a collective process which enables participants to learn from reflecting on their experiences.

A Great Big Fundamental Mistake?

Many community groups feel the need to do something.  Preferably quickly.

To develop some kind of ‘project that the community can rally around’.  That will ‘inspire people and show them we are doing something’.

But I think this is a mistake.  A great big fundamental mistake.  For several reasons:

  • it lets many people in the community off the hook – they can, and will, wait for YOU to sort things out.  This does nothing except to create a new more local group of the anointed – they may lend a hand – but they will expect you to lead.
  • it further disempowers members of the community who see the power lying with you and your group, or as the latest in a long line of well meaning but powerless do-gooders.
  • it is disrespectful of the community – it implies that you know what is needed to sort things out.
  • it ties up resources – before you know it your are running a couple of projects and everyone is too busy to take on any more.  You start to burn out while achieving little and skeptics in the community start to say ‘I told you so’…
  • you alienate people – whatever project you choose you will make friends and enemies, while others will remain indifferent.  You choose to work on ‘the environment’ and some will think it about ‘jobs’.  You work on ‘jobs’ and others will think it is about ‘childcare’. As soon as you nail your colours to a mast, some will think they are the wrong colours on the wrong mast and just back away.

So what should we do instead?

Listen, wait, educate and facilitate.

  • Listen to what community members want to do, and then help THEM to do it.
  • Wait and wait and wait, until you find someone who REALLY wants to do something and invites you and your group to help. You might want to think about what you would need to be like to deserve such an invitation.
  • Educate.  Help local people to understand about what is happening to them and their community and why. Help them to explore the opportunities created as political, economic, social and technological change sweeps their community.
  • Facilitate. Help people to do their work.  Help them to associate and organise.  Help them to build their power and to work on what matters most to them.  Build extensive networks of people who know how to help.  The Zen of facilitation means that you can maintain many projects without burning out.

Fairness and equality cannot drive development…

Community development cannot be driven by values such as ‘fairness’ or ‘equality’.  However much we might want it to be.

If it were, then when we a community reached ‘the average’ all development would have to stop.  Otherwise continued progress would only serve to introduce new inequalities.  Thankfully this is not how society works.

Sustained development is driven by people in the community who just care about making things better. About progress.  And usually not progress for something nebulous called ‘the community’ (unless they are professional community developers), and certainly not progress for Government agendas such as ‘the economy’, ‘Big Society’, or ‘making democracy work’ but for themselves and their loved ones.

Community and development emerge as these caring people learn to associate, cooperate and organise in pursuit of what matters to them.

Discuss.

Developing Enterprising Artists Using Open Space

Yesterday I was invited to help Axis and the ever wonderful Culture Vulture to run a ‘Cultural Conversation’ to help a group of around 60 artists, project managers, collectors and gallery managers to explore the role of social media in supporting their work.  The group included some social media users and ‘experts’ (I use that word cautiously) and one or two technical types.  Peopl trsavelled from all over the north of England to take part and the venue at Project Space Leeds was rammed!

Instead of using the default setting of finding some experts to explain it all to the numpties we went with an open space meeting.  In this format groups of people meet to explore as peers the issues and topics they wish to explore.  They set the agenda, in real time on the day, and learn by exchanging experiences, insights and challenges.  They talk to each other, like human beings, in conversations.

In under four hours the group of 60 were each able to attend 4 conversations chosen from a schedule of 18 or so.  The topics included:

  • ‘What is Twitter and How Do I Use It’
  • Social Media Dialogue as Artwork’
  • I am Completely Overwhelmed! Where Do I Start?
  • Using Social Media for Critique

and many more.

Despite the fact that there are no experts holding forth, no lectures and no exhibitions the feedback from those who attended was excellent.  They enjoyed the process, they learned a lot, and most (perhaps all?) went away enthused about increasing or changing the way they use social media either to produce or attract and audience to their work.

This kind of open space conversation that builds relationships amongst participants and fosters enquiry and peer learning, rather than sitting passively while an expert holds forth, seem to me to be consistently effective ways to both build the social capital that forms the bedrock of an enterprising community and enable them to access the insights that they need to know, right now.  Indeed as the afternoon wore on a few new conversations were added as people though ‘Right, know I need to find out about….’

60 people smiling, laughing, talking, challenging, enquiring and advocating.  In short being human and exploring the implications of social media for something that they love.

A low cost, high value and extremely productive contribution to the enterprising ecosystem.  At a time when we need to be creating more value for less cash I can’t help that the world of enterprise development needs to embrace this type of peer to peer learning event.  We not be able to do much to improve the transport infrastructure in the city without a great big dollop of cash from government, but we can surely improve the enterprising infrastructure for next to nothing!

Some more thoughts were captured on the day in this audioboo – Why Open Space Works for Artists