There’s Something In The Air
A new awareness of the need to be aware.
The upsurge of climate concern — a heightened awareness of planet abuse — does not yet trouble the systems by which our everyday lives are governed. Leastways, not yet. More immediately we latch onto small symptoms of systems failure and strive vigorously to resolve them.
We may (for example) bemoan poor air quality and argue for more cycling and fewer vehicles. We may be horrified by nitrate pollution of The Solent and fume about fertilisers. We might deplore anti-social behaviours and demand fines for fouling. Intuitively we sense the drifts but struggle to see any bigger pictures. How can we address the root causes of all these (and umpteen other) failures? It’s no surprise that we settle for doing what [little] we can. Moreover, this endless focus on problems is dispiriting. Surely, some things must be going well?
This is where the policy developers turn to index creation — attempts to produce balanced score cards that (subject to data quality and availability) show overall positions to at least allow one place/thing to be compared to another. A recent example comes from the Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC). Their interactive map includes a variety of measures of accessibility to environmental features such as retail outlets that may be bad for our health (e.g. fast food outlets, pubs, gambling outlets), health services (e.g. GPs, hospitals, dentists) and overall ecological quality (e.g. air quality, green space). All of these data streams have also been summarised into their ‘Access to Healthy Assets & Hazards’ (AHAH) index which identifies how ‘healthy’ a neighbourhood is based on this information.
If you focus their map to look in detail at the area you think you know best, almost certainly you’ll find some things that are bad and maybe some that are good — and then the debate can begin. But these models are deceptive — presenting big pictures that are warped by the selectivity of their creators. The difficulty lies in knowing whether the right things have been measured and indexed — and there are endless categories for which data might be available. Your community (if stirred to action) may decide that a completely different index is needed to reflect local concerns — and that foundational discussion can be the start of a fresh approach to setting local priorities and a re-appraisal of the balance between municipal autonomy and centralised control.
Personally, I very much like the approach outlined by DEAL — the Doughnut Economics Action Lab — encapsulating a range of twelve social and nine ecological factors. Other guides (like the Intelligent Community Forum or Community Organisers) are readily available, but, whatever factors local citizens choose, the important thing is to spark and then sustain the debate before cracking on with the search for local policy actions.
This community care is, surely, too important to be left in the hands of remote controllers who think they know the numbers but have no idea of the names. And, most certainly, it is far too important to be entrusted to those whose self-serving system design ideologies are closely aligned with wholesale nest-feathering and selective loophole-licensing.