Thoughts & Insights

Live Labs – dreaming a hopeful future

Alice Maynard CBE has attended two vibrant economy Live Labs. Here she outlines why she thinks they are a great catalyst for change.

We are in a time of great uncertainty. It seems like every time you catch up with the news the feeling of impending doom grows stronger. Cuts, the impact of Brexit – where on earth will we be in five years’ time?

Well, if Reading, Sheffield, Manchester and Birmingham are anything to go by, these cities will be in a much better place, thanks to the vibrant economy Live Labs that have been held.

The power to deliver change

I’ve participated in two Live Labs, and strongly believe in their power to deliver change. These events have brought together people from across a region and different walks of life, to share their hopes, dreams and fears for their cities.

They come together in a spirit of appreciative inquiry: what works well for us now, and how can we build on that? So, even where there are concerns and fears, these are vigorously debated with a view to change. To make a difference. Proactively, to build the city of their hopes and of their dreams, not slide towards the city of their fears.

I’ve been impressed by how Live Lab events are carefully structured and keep the ideas free flowing. This has helped us to focus first on our hopes and dreams for the city, and then identify how those hopes and dreams can be realised.

Using creativity to dream the city of the future

We have rediscovered our creative side with coloured pens, pipe cleaners, photographs and stickers. We have made pictures that characterise the city of the future – what will its key attributes be? Who will live in it? What will be important about the way that people live in and contribute to the city? It’s fun, lively, engaging and a little bit competitive too: whose is the best picture? Who has generated the most ideas?

It’s more than just stimulating and thought-provoking. I have been struck by how the Live Lab creates commitment to ‘get your hands dirty’ – to actually get stuck in to making change happen. People volunteer to support ideas others are leading on: the momentum continues once the day is over.

Two aspects of Live Labs give me real hope. The first is the optimism and enthusiasm with which people come together. People at the events love their city and they want to share that love with others. They believe in their city, they can easily imagine how the city might grow, develop and thrive in the future. They have, in the words of one participant, a ‘relentless belief that you can go out and provoke change’.

Connecting outside your usual circles

The second is the way that Live Labs help participants to connect outside of their usual circles. Sometimes it feels as if society is characterised by fragmentation: sectors, generations and communities cluster together giving rise to myths and stereotypes.

Staying inside our circles makes it harder to understand others and even harder to recognise how we can work together to create a better society. Bringing so many people into one space in an appreciative spirit helps to foster new relationships and appreciate our similarities.

Differences recede into the background and we create hope from learning and working together. A world with Live Labs is one where the future can be bright.

Dr Alice Maynard CBE is a member of the Vibrant Economy Commission