Moonshots, public innovation and engaged communities
Updated: Jan 16
‘The important thing for Government is not to do things which individuals are doing already, and to do them a little better or a little worse, but to do those things which at present are not done at all’.
So wrote Keynes in 1926, a view reproduced in The Entrepreneurial State, the 2015 book in which Mariana Mazzucato argued it is often public innovation and investment which creates the environment in which private entrepreneurship can thrive.
An obvious example of such came in September 1962 as John F. Kennedy told 40,000 people: 'We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…’
In a 2011 pamphlet, Mazzucato argues that the state can '...proactively create strategy around a new high growth area before the potential is understood by the business community (from the internet to nanotechnology), funding the most uncertain phase of the research that the private sector is too risk-averse to engage with, seeking and commissioning further developments, and often even overseeing the commercialisation process. In this sense it has played an important entrepreneurial role.'
Local Government is not tasked with kickstarting moonshots on the same scale as JFK. But it is expected to formulate ideas which shape the vision for the future direction of our communities. Its creativity (or lack of) undoubtedly impacts the success (or otherwise) of local environments. Ideas are being turned into plans into policy every day. These policies shape the way we live and interact.
Local innovation has been particularly visible during the response to the pandemic. We only need visit local hospitals to see how innovative real-time response (often with little money to spend) can be implemented swiftly and successfully. The UHL board was hearing as early as March 26 that the NHS had made more changes in 10 days than it had in 10 years. What was being learned by officials in real time was already expected to translate into the norms of the future.
But what happens next? How does a city such as Leicester build back better? That is the question currently being considered by organisations including De Montfort University and Leicester City Council.
Not all routes to recovery lie in the hands of policy-makers, of course. It is within the community and is in the coming together of people in the face of a shared adversity. It’s why, for several months on end, people stood on their doorsteps on Thursday nights to applaud. It’s why they donated money to campaigns such as LeicestershireLive’s There With You Fund. As Jean-Louis Missika, deputy mayor of Paris and in charge of town planning and economic development, said in the summer: “The crisis also shows the best in people”.
“There’s always been a strong, supportive sense of community spirit in Leicester,” policy strategist Rory Palmer, who is also Leicester’s former deputy mayor and MEP, told 1284 director George Oliver recently. “During the local lockdown we saw that expressed in new ways. People were more than prepared to reach out and help those in need and we see that continuing to this day.”
George Oliver and Rory Palmer will be discussing Build Back Better in Leicester during a public event during Leicester Business Festival. They will be joined on November 10 by guests including Professor Ivan Browne, the city’s Director of Public Health, Mark Charlton, DMU's associate director of public engagement, and Jenny Cross, area lead of the Federation of Small Businesses. Free tickets for the event, hosted by 1284 Ltd, are available via the festival’s website. Photo: History in HD on Unsplash.