Jonathan Carr-West

Jonathan Carr-West, director of Local Government Information Unit

How do we deal with the financial crisis? With climate change?  How do we train our children for jobs that don’t exist yet. Think about ageing: there are 10,000 people over 100 in the UK. 2071? there could be a million. Life expectancy increases by five hours a day. These are real problems.

And solutions happen at a local level. These are existential problems – societies don’t always survive. Ask the East Islanders. Or the Maya. Some fail to adapt and innovate. There’s nothing given about the society we live in. We need to solve these problems.

It’s also a question of democracy – giving people the power to respond to these problems – and to respond creatively to local context. We need adaptation and selection of innovation – how do ideas connect? How can people pool their resources? Connected localism – local projects connecting with one another, so we can learn from others’ successes and failure. That’s how innovation can spread from one neighbourhood to another. We need to be cosmopolitan and local at the same time. For that to work we need other things – a field of exchange.

Historically the city has functioned as a field of exchange – goods, commodities and thinking are exchanged. But new see new digital fields of exchange are emerging. Mumsnet is a brilliant example. You can connect with a paediatric nurse in Australia – or a mother in the same street as you.

Let’s think about openness in that context. Field theory – a structured social space in which people interact. These spaces are defined by individual habits and social rules, both informal and formal, We need to adopt openness as part of the habit – and as part of the rules that underpin our interactions.

We don’t always know what will be useful. Whatever size of organisation you need to adopt the principle of openness, and that creates a field of exchange, which allows innovation to happen. Don’t worry is data is useful – people will find uses for it. Open data is a new city – and allows us to radically transform social services and the way we live.