Invisible Networks and How to Use Them in Your Place
Places are defined by the physical network of buildings and roads that they cover. So it is relatively easy to map the physical area a place occupies from individual streets to an area on an ordnance survey map. Surveys of shoppers and workers can also be used to map out the hinterland of a place which can be transferred to a map showing the retail catchment area or the travel to work area.
These visible networks are useful tools to use to compare your place with others and over a period of time can act as barometers to the vibrancy of your place. The networks that drive the changes in the physical networks are harder to capture. Our places have input from both the public and private sector, some of these networks are well defined and easily captured, others are more difficult and probably more vital to your places future.
Part of my previous work at CRED in the University of Cumbria highlighted the invisible networks across the public sector that ensured business compliance of national regulations at a local level. These networks interacted with various trade bodies to encourage where possible that these networks delivered elements of business support as well as regulation compliance. IFLAS, another body within Cumbria examines the invisible networks across the public and private sectors that make up a place and then looks at how these can be led.
Our own recent experience (as Thomas Jardine & co) in renovating a city centre building to house a co-working space highlighted how you can stumble across these incredibly vital invisible networks. In our area at first glance the construction sector looks fairly visible with several large local, regional and national firms either developing housing sites or working on larger commercial projects. As a smaller developer, we were fortunate enough to work with a really good local architect who guided us through the necessary compliance of our project and who introduced us to an excellent local builder whose invisible network of contractors and suppliers seems to be able to tackle any contingency we come across. We were also lucky to have a chance conversation with one of our son’s friends whose business is now redoing all of our electric and gas heating requirements. This network of invisible local trade’s people is essential in maintaining the growth of our place and it should be no surprise that the good trades people tend to know each other and appear to prefer working on sites with people they know and trust.
Like all good local networks they tend to get on with it quietly with not too much noise hence they tend to be less visible than the larger national firms, this does not stop their ambition, one of our local firms (Story) has gone from a one man band to a national player in one generation.
The invisible networks in your place are what creates the visible network. This is just as true for the food network that supplies the local hospitality trade as it is for construction and I am sure you could think of other invisible networks. So before you next decide to help change your visible networks in your place take a deep breath and check to see that you have included all the invisible networks in your plans as well.