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Black swans and local government

August 18, 2009

Attended a fascinating seminar this morning at the RSA with Nassim Nicholas Taleb and David Cameron, discussing Taleb’s view of the world and what it have to say to a potential Conservative government. 

Taleb’s basic point appears to be that we plan for a predictable future, but what we fail to do is prepare ourselves for random events which do not fit with what everything in the past has taught us.  And yet these events always occur – just less frequently. 

One thing Taleb said was that caught my attention was that we should be more like nature because nature is resilient.  One way nature is resilient is with multi-functionality.  Isn’t there an argument here that designing public services should be about creating systems that are adaptive and can react to crises and unusual events?  I think there is an interesting case here for the multi-functional local authority, rather than the specialised function national agency.  Get the institution and leadership right at the local level and we will be more resilient to shocks of the future – the ones we don’t see coming as well as the ones we do.

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