I’ve been thinking quite a bit about “localism” lately. To be honest, it’s not a subject I have dwelt on much before, but it’s a bit of a buzzword here in the UK at the moment, so I have been hearing a lot about it. Which is probably what has prompted me to think about it.
Put very simply, the idea of localism is to ensure that any decisions are taken as far as possible by those people who live or work in the area most directly affected by them. Instead of having decisions imposed from on high – by central government or by the company board for example – those decisions are taken on the ground, perhaps by local councillors or by shopfloor employees.
Like any other approach to decision-making, localism naturally has advantages and drawbacks.
It’s advocates point to decisions that are better informed by real outcomes rather than centrally imposed targets; and to actions being taken which are more relevant and sensitive to the needs of those affected, and therefore are generally better followed through.
It’s critics might point to the danger of so-called “postcode” decision-making, with ill-judged inconsistency between one area and another; or to the fact that local decision-making can just as easily be made by an unaccountable elite as the centralised kind.
I’m not intending to take sides in this debate – not because I’m opposed to expressing a view on the matter, but because I am still mulling it over in my own mind. To be blunt, I’m just not sure yet!
But at this early stage, one thing has struck me about debates on localism.
I’ve mentioned in a previous post the tendency which organisations have to generate a polarisation of “them” and “us”. When something goes wrong, people will tend to say that “they” need to sort it out (whoever “they” may be, which is frequently undefined!). In the debates I have observed about localism, I’ve noticed less of that. People talk about “we” needing to do something rather more often. That doesn’t mean they necessarily have the answers, but it does at least signal a willingness to engage in trying to find them.
I’m not sure what this means for the future of localism as an approach to decision-making; in and of itself, it neither validates nor undermines it. But whatever direction localism takes in the future, this is one aspect emerging from it which needs focus and development. It’s only when we start to take responsibility for our own destiny – and think about what “we” can do rather than what “they” can do – that we truly start to realise our potential.