Step 1: A Community Bill of Rights

Step 1 for Going Local about developing what Michael Shuman calls a Community Bill of Rights. By this he means developing a shared vision of a better future, asking questions like:

  • What do we want to produce?
  • How?
  • Where?
  • What kinds of goods and services are necessities?
  • What should be our standard of worker rights and wages?
  • What should be our stand on preserving our land, water and sea?
  • What kind of ownership structures will best serve our community well-being?

He says:

A community bill of rights accomplishes several goals. It enables residents to assert, fundamentally, that ends come before means – that businesses are welcome if they serve the community. It creates a set of public norms about commercial behaviour that protects the public and provides fair notice to corporations. A business’s faithfulness to the Rights, while voluntary, carries consequences. Every time a citizen considers making a purchase…he or she will have the list of qualifying companies in mind.

Defining the goals of our community will determine the ends to which we use our assets. If for instance our goal was to maximise short-term wealth into the hands of a few people it would make sense to sell off our capital assets, or to exploit them as quickly as possible, treating our communities, our people and environment as raw materials to be burned up and discarded. Of course very few would see that as desirable, yet often it seems that the need for short-term results in a world demanding ramped-up industrial-scale production for a global market has pushed us towards this kind of thinking.

Mahoe cheese factory

Mahoe cheese factory

Unfortunately “growth” has often been presented or at least perceived in these terms and as a result we arrive at community dissension and deadlock. A 2010 Unlocking Potential Report for Northland Regional Council observed that:

…we’re not convinced that a more active growth agenda would be supported by all communities in Northland. Some people may view aspects of the growth that has occurred in a negative light. Such concerns are valid. We do not assume that any growth is automatically good. (p15)

What if we reframe growth in terms of healthy, sustainable growth of the wellbeing of our people – a shared agenda for wellbeing supported by our economic structures but not dominated by them. We must have this discussion in Northland and agreed upon our values or we will continue to have conflict.If our values are framed around the long-term well-being of our place and of our descendants we would do our best to preserve and build up our capital in all its forms. We would for example:

  • ensure we maintained diversity of skill-sets, diversity of agriculture, horticulture and manufacturing
  • preserve our waterways, seas, ground-water, air and soil
  • ensure our fishing grounds and forests were harvested in a way that increased rather than decreased their long-term viability
  • retain local ownership of our lands and businesses
  • ensure that irreplaceable resources like minerals were used in a way that would enable them to be recycled to get the maximum from them for generations
  • rethink all our processes at an overall systems level so as to eliminate waste
  • put great care into passing on values, culture and skills to our young people so that they – our greatest assets – would have a future in the place they sprang from

There is a natural fit between principles of localisation and sustainability and Iwi values making way for a strong partnership between Maori and “mainstream” economics around these values. In the spirit of Te Tiriti the values we adopt must resonate with Maori tikanga. For example, 2015 report He Tangata, He Whenua, Ho Oranga, An Economic Growth Strategy for the Taitokerau Maori Economy says:

Uppermost is the sanctity of life because of divine origins. Thus the obligation to uphold the mana and wellbeing of people and the life supporting capacity of Papatuanuku in perpetuity is non-negotiable. (p22)

There are some encouraging signs of shared values being developed in Northland. The Far North District Council is currently running a campaign in the Far North called Tell Us What You Want. This is a great opportunity to talk about the sort of values that we want to unite around going forward. Values identified so far include:

  • He wahi ataahua – a district of outstanding beauty.
  • Oranga taiao, oranga tangata: nurturing the environment so it nourishes us
  • Oranga kainga: a thriving, sustainable local economy
  • Mana i te whenua: the role of tangata whenua is valued and respected
  • Te ira tangata: rich heritage and identities, respected and celebrated
  • Whanau: a great place to raise our families
  • Tangata whai ora: happy, healthy, and productive people
  • He waka hourua: fit for purpose infrastructure underpinning success
  • Kokiri tahi: empowered communities, working collaboratively

Localisation, sustainability and Iwi values are not anti-technology, but must be served by appropriate (“fit for purpose”) technology in order to create meaningful and sustainable work for our people with the empowerment that work brings. Working with opportunities for connecting the North digitally is part of the solution.

Ifor Ffowcs-Williams, specialist on business cluster development, recently lead a workshop for Northland Inc in Whangarei. He says:

…from an economic development perspective, the evidence is clear that with strong clusters comes growth in employment, especially high value jobs. Research from OECD and others shows that economies with strong clusters have higher levels of innovation, higher productivity, more entrepreneurship, more new business start-ups, higher export and economic growth, higher wages and better productivity.


Questions to consider:

  • How do we develop these values and who should do it?
  • Is there a better description more in keeping with our culture than “Bill of Rights”?
  • How do we ensure widespread involvement and consensus?
  • How do we keep these in the public eye, retaining an ongoing focus?

(to Step 2: The State of the Region Report)

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