Skip to main content
Economic Justice

Why we need to tell stories about local economic success

Stories are the big new idea of American politics. Why does one politician have an edge over their rivals? Answer: because they can get across emotions and feelings by telling stories and not just providing facts. It works if they do this in narrative form.

 

Recent research in the UK also found that stories work the other way too. Ministers may think they are basing decisions on data or numerical evidence, but the real evidence suggests they are swayed at critical moments by hearing a moving, human story.

 

Stories are a kind of currency that politicians use, not just in speeches, but in conversations and pep talks. A good story can win them an argument at a critical moment. The recent film Lincoln showed the great president telling folksy stories at nervous junctures to shift the mood.

 

So when you are trying to persuade politicians and policy-makers that a new way of regenerating local economies is beginning to emerge, you may want to use the data – but, if there are no success stories, then they probably won’t take it in.

 

So where are the human stories about the new age of local enterprise, where people decide to take their own local economies by the scruff of their necks? Answer: they seem to have stayed local.

 

When I was working on these issues in Whitehall in recent years, it struck me – not just how little policy-makers thought about very local economic activity, but how few stories were in general circulation about it.

 

I wasn’t sure I could point to the most exciting examples in the UK myself. So with the help of Barrow Cadbury, we set about telling the most exciting stories of local renewal we could find in England: the result is a book of stories, more novelisation than thinktank report – though it is actually both – to try and get these tales of imagination, energy and dusting-yourself-down-and-trying-again into the political conversation.

 

The book Prosperity Parade’ is published by New Weather on 24 March. The stories amount to a take on the emerging revolution in ‘ultra-local’ economics for places left high-and-dry by downturn and the global economy. Because, without them, this shift is often going unmeasured and unacknowledged. Whitehall can’t see it, policy-makers don’t track it or support it, and the high street banks have no interest in providing for their needs.

 

They include:

 

  • How a small group of growers are turning Manchester’s food system inside out.
  • How they wired-up Bath to earn money from its own energy.
  • The story behind the success of the Bristol Pound, the Digbeth Social Enterprise Quarter, and the Wessex Reinvestment Trust.
  • How two towns analysed where local money was flowing to and made it flow better – by tracking entrepreneurs (Totnes) or by investing local pension money (Preston).

 

But the real message is to the emerging enterprise revolution: don’t be shy – tell your stories.

 

David Boyle is co-director of the New Weather Institute and the author of Prosperity Parade:

http://www.newweather.org/2016/03/13/why-policy-makers-dont-see-the-next-local-economic-revolution/