On 28th November, 36 practitioners, policy-makers, funders and academics gathered in the prestigious Chamberlain Room at Birmingham City Council House to share the findings from our research into how smart urban intermediaries ‘make things happen’ and to consider implications for policy.
After a welcome and introduction from project partner, Karen Cheney, of the Neighbourhood development and Support Unit, key points from the findings report and policy briefing were presented by Catherine Durose and Alison Gilchrist of INLOGOV at the University of Birmingham. It was good to hear about the positive aspects of being involved in the co-enquiry from two of our SUIs, Mahmooda Qureshi and David Cusack, who reported that they had enjoyed learning with, and from, their fellow practitioners. They felt their experience and expertise were validated and hoped that policy-makers would show more respect for neighbourhood-level groups and listen to the views of communities themselves about current issues and potential solutions.
There followed a lively discussion that mainly focused on valuing the work of the SUIs, ensuring that the practice is sustainable for individuals and successive generations. It was argued that there is much to learn from modern social movements and the ways in which young people organise collectively to challenge power dynamics and generate new ideas. The roundtable conversations also considered how to open up institutional decision-making to influence from community interests and to gain support for innovative local initiatives that might complement ‘smart city’ technologies.
Several participants felt that this is a familiar debate and some healthy scepticism was expressed by some seasoned campaigners. Nonetheless, there was broad agreement that the role of urban intermediaries needs to be better recognised and strengthened.
Everyone, especially the SUIs, was thanked for their contributions and the meeting was rounded off with a special ‘thank you’ lunch.