Creative clusters

The recent report by Sir Peter Bazalgette has placed a new and welcome emphasis upon the relationship between place and the creative economy. His report has as its main recommendation:

“My key recommendation is that support for regional growth is prioritised through an approach based on the City Deal model, supported by a £500 million Creative Clusters Fund. This will be awarded to clusters that compete for status and support on merit to be a ‘Key Creative Cluster’.”

This is, arguably, a fairly radical approach to industrial sector development – placing an emphasis on local and regional economic development, rather than investment in existing, vertical, sectoral strengths. An area-based approach to creative industries development can assist a re-balancing of a set of sectors which are highly-focused around London and the South East, as well as provide opportunities for new businesses and jobs in less-well-developed parts of the country. (A re-balancing strategy might also extend to addressing the lack of ethnic diversity in a number of key sub-sectors, which received a disappointing level of attention in the Bazalgette report.)

‘Creating’ clusters

Government support for creative clusters is not a new phenomenon, of course.

Tom Campbell, writing in the run-up to the General Election in 2015, recommended building on the work done by Regional Development Agencies at the beginning of the ‘noughties’.  That period saw an extensive programme of investment and support across the whole of the UK – including the work I led at the short-lived Creative London. (A fuller account of the work of the Mayor and London government towards the creative industries can be found here.)

It’s not the case, of course, that creative clusters are reliant on Government support or that, somehow, RDAs and/or LEPs and/or local authorities can create clusters out of thin air.

But, as research by the Boston Consulting Group, the Brookings Institute and others has shown: local, regional or national support for clusters is critical to their sustainability. Indeed, building on work by the Boston Consulting Group the ‘spider-diagram’ below illustrates how different cities can have different strengths and strategies for supporting economic clusters. The four (un-named) cities in this visualisation all have strong digital clusters – with local government support being a critical part of a complex support network, including available investment capital, workspace and broadband infrastructure.Screenshot_11

‘Fusion’ clusters

My own view is that successful clusters are likely to embrace both cultural and digital economies.

Fused businesses, which combine creativity and technology, grow fast and fuel growth. The Brighton Fuse report showed that ‘superfused’ businesses (businesses which have a “strong” link between creative and technology skillsets) are growing 40% faster than the average technology business in the city.

UK cities with a strong cultural infrastructure and a supply of talent are ideal environments to accelerate the development of super-fused businesses and, with the sort of funding recommended by Sir Peter Bazalgette, are perfectly placed to create the conditions for this growth.

 

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Creative-led innovation and growth

The recently published Bazalgette review of the creative industries made much of the importance of creative clusters. But, despite using the term on a regular basis, there was a surprising lack of commentary or policy recommendations relating to the ‘creative economy’.  Continue reading “Creative-led innovation and growth”

Popping-up everywhere

Choreographing local creativity

A colleague recently helped set up a creative collaboration between two friends: an architect and a visual artist. It took a couple of years to plot, and a few months to choreograph. It involved getting local permissions — mainly from land and building owners, rather than the local council. And there was plenty of other planning and logistics to ensure that the event — a sound-and-light show between buildings and across a couple of streets in North East London — was safe and fun for whoever bothered to turn up.

2000 people turned up! There was no marketing or promotion — just a flurry of emails and facebook posts a couple of weeks before. But some of these got picked up by local networking sites and a major on-line listing magazine — and suddenly they were inundated. Continue reading “Popping-up everywhere”

Evaluation – proving or improving?

Prompted by a great presentation from Jon Hugget, The Social Innovation Partnership hosted a lively discussion on Evaluation and Social Innovation this morning, organised in partnership with Impact Hub Westminster and °directional thinking.

Starting from the premise that too often evidence just gets in the way of innovation, Jon posited the view that the focus of social innovation should be on ‘Improving’ what we do, not trying to ‘Prove’ the validity of what we are doing.

There was broad agreement that the desire to demonstrate robust evidence can sometimes be a barrier to responsive and engaged social action and innovation – and a range of examples were cited of programmes which have succeeded through a commitment to agile and responsive methods of evaluation and learning while the project is progressing: from driving to primary healthcare, safe sex counselling to early years intervention.

Proving Improving
Slow Quick
Objective Subjective
Academic Practice-based
Laborious Responsive
Robust Useful
Longitudinal Immediate

However, all participants acknowledged the value and importance of evidence, and a strong case was made for investment in data-gathering and of understanding impact over the longer-term. Indeed, the point was made that, although funders and commissioners will often rely too heavily on evidence and data which appears detached from practice, this will assist them in being more adventurous and risk-tolerant than practitioners who might be too close to the action to take risks and countenance failure.

But there was remarkable agreement on the need for a more flexible approach, with a call for a broader, more diverse, approach to evaluation and measuring impact. There was a particular emphasis on the importance of drawing in users and practitioners – to be part of a more interactive evaluation process, based on live, ongoing, experience, rather than just longer-term research. A more radical approach was also suggested – one which might invite users and practitioners (rather than funders and commissioners) to drive the process, and shape the measures against which success is determined.

Ultimately, of course, everyone wants to contribute towards social programmes which are ‘proven’ to make things better for the people they’re trying to support, and no-one wants to waste resources on programmes which fail. But for TSIP, and for other partners, social innovation will always require a more agile and dynamic approach where getting things wrong might actually lead to improvement. Placing evaluation at the heart of that ‘improving’ mindset will ensure that those failures drive future change.

Perhaps characteristically, the group called for a ‘learning’ approach – one in which evaluators shared ideas, and were open about what works and what doesn’t. As the first of a series of breakfast sessions, this meeting provided the starting point for such a dialogue with other sessions to come.

 

Tech City – the story so far

Ian Dowson shared his research on the Tech City cluster at a recent breakfast discussion, highlighting among other things:

  • The scale of new business growth in and around Tech City, nearly matching New York – although still dwarfed by Silicon Valley
  • The number of investment and exit deals in London compares well with both NY and Silicon Valley, but the amounts are tiny compared to both: angel investment deals average $1m in California but just a quarter of that in London
  • London start-ups illustrate a maturity of development and expertise – driven by multi-national, multi-disciplinary partnerships, with impressive educational and experience credentials
  • The Tech City business culture is also marked by strong creative businesses and experience, and a remarkably dynamic and open market-place of meet-ups and knowledge exchange.

This discussion followed the recent visit to Tech City which highlighted the notion of the ‘blended’ business (echoing the concept of the ‘fused’ or ‘superfused’ businesses found in Brighton), but also the pressures on workspace and the general problem around property prices in London.

The way in which creative businesses and others are moving out, on account of rising rents and other pressures, was identified as one of the inevitable by-products of a successful business cluster. Tom Campbell has blogged on that here, and the need for a more sophisticated approach to planning and housing policies was highlighted.

But in answer to the question ‘What have we learnt?’ (or better, ‘what are we learning?’ – since the transformation of the area hasn’t finished yet), a number of intriguing ideas and challenges emerged:

  • The relationship between corporate companies and investors and the start-ups and micro-businesses: In one sense, the big companies are key to fueling the profile and success of an area – but to what extent might they damage the energy and dynamism of a start-up culture? Are the corporates ‘providers or parasites’? How does the shift to a big-firm/uni/incubator model for start-ups affect the dynamics of the human capital networks?
  • Accelerating the inevitable: Has Government focus and investment on Tech City simply accelerated an inevitable transformation of an area which has been gentrifying over decades? Or has the injection of new money and profile created something more interesting – a unique combination of technology and creativity, which may not have evolved quite so successfully without that focus? Can it be replicated elsewhere in the UK, to catalyse investment and growth, without jeopardising the characteristics of the place which made it attractive to start-ups in the first place?
  • And what of cultural and creative institutions themselves? Rather than bemoan the fact that a creative ecology is turning into a tech-cluster – what can cultural and creative agencies and investors do to sustain the creative edge of places like Shoreditch, Hackney Wick, Manchester, Glasgow….?