In a few weeks time, the ability of Government and all of us in the U.K. to Mobilize the Militants will be put to the test, with the announcement by HM Treasury of the Spending Review and publication of the (sexily-entitled) Decentralisation and Localism Bill.
Key policy drivers behind the Bill are the introduction of a new system of collaborative planning, new powers of local decision-making over local plans and a new framework of incentives for development.
The Government calls it 'Open Source Planning'.
The book draws together people working in innovation, social media, service design, education and the environment in the U.K. - as well as the inspirational June Holley from Athens, Ohio - and through case studies and opinion-pieces, sets out new ways for the public to be involved in local affairs.
I've written an article on 'Militant Optimists' for the book - uploaded here.
In projects that we've delivered with clients, we've used different tactics that have centred on 'Militant Optimists' and sought to aggregate their talents in an open source way to effect real change - with an emphasis upon the need to acknowledge multiple groups and different types of human relationships.
The Government's plans for Open Source Planning seem to signal four useful approaches to involving the community in development plans:
- Support and build the formation of local community groups
- Support and partner new coalitions of local groups
- Support and partner new local enterprise to trigger public benefit
- Go 'viral'
We'll share the viral option here soon. We think of it as Open Source Place-making - and it's inspired a programme we've just created for a large development site in Glasgow, Scotland, commissioned by the Scottish Government and designed to help move its development forward.
Why not just commission mass local polling or consultation that grants the public an opportunity to comment on plans prior to built approvals in a big tent, rather than a small, chilly hall?
The Mayor of the City of Yokohama, Japan nailed one answer - published in a report by Pricewaterhouse Coopers called Cities of the Future - when he said that one of the most important issues facing cities today is to realise a society which makes the most of its citizen's potential.
Until now, "effective" public involvement in urban development in the U.K. has relied upon a certain kind of communications design/public relations: putting up a local exhibition, leafletting, asking the community to participate in sponsored days-out and respond to proposals.
In an age of 'Open Source Planning' and unlocking latent potential, will this kind of engagement and community boosterism be enough?
What seems sure is that in an age of Big Society, the financial viability of businesses, development or place-making plans will require people to look again at social impact, how people are contributing to civic progress and what the plan does to shift people in to being producers, not consumers of tax resources.
At the centre of this will be the Militant Optimists - the "grasstops", rather than the "grassroots" of local life who are central to helping streets, neighborhoods, towns and cities find a groove.
Involving this group in development isn't brain surgery.
But it does mean embracing two ideas that don't come easy to statists or monopolists: that profits follow people - rather than the other way round - and the public can only make informed decisions if they have the right data.