Here I suggest a way of thinking about critical ‘enablers’ needed for any community to be successful in making transformational change happen.
In just a few years our communities need to transform into inclusive, equitable and healthy places to live - while restoring ecological systems and eliminating greenhouse gas emissions. This must be our mission. Extraordinarily hard? Of course. Yet the current situation gives us a taste of the consequences of failure. It is time to do what we must.
We know quite well what our communities need:
- Regenerative food production
- Equitable housing
- Comfortable, healthy and efficient buildings
- Fair, prosperous local economies and meaningful work
- Healthy, vibrant, creative and accessible public spaces
- Equitable access to healthcare, employment and education
- Zero-emission mobility services
- Nature-based infrastructure and ecosystem regeneration
- Clean energy supplies
- Circular resource and material flows behind the things we use
We have valuable frameworks that clearly set out in one way or another this picture of what we need to work on:
We have most of the technology innovations we could need to make all this possible. And plenty of local strategies that sensibly frame what we want in our cities, regions and countries. So what is stopping us from getting on and doing what we know must be done?
I believe, too much focus on the what to change and nowhere near enough work on the how to change.
Working with a range of colleagues, I have brought together this view of the critical enablers of transformational change:
These 12 enablers, sitting across four key areas, are drawn from collective experience of what needs to be done well for any community to be successful in undertaking transformational initiatives. Change that really delivers greater equity, justice and shared prosperity. I will explain each a little more.
Much of our current social systems, models for organising and ways of working together are going to have to improve. Collaboration across our entire communities must be the foundation for agreeing on our goals and implementing the most effective ways of achieving them.
Communication is the foundation of collaboration. We have more communication than ever, and yet communities are increasingly struggling to communicate effectively between citizens, social groups, organisations, businesses and governments. Better communication with each other is essential for other forms of collaboration to develop.
Citizen co-creation is essential for the process of designing strategies, change processes, actions, management models and indicators for evaluating progress. This needs to go far beyond typical consultation and engagement, into processes that are fully inclusive and that really share ownership of plans and outcomes long-term.
Collective management structures are essential for the long-term collaborative ownership of community assets. Most communities already have some mix of local government, agencies, public utilities, NGOs and co-operatives. These need to be built on with models that prioritise equity and inclusiveness - redistributing power and value as needed.
Too often the economy is still talked about like it is the ends in itself, rather than a means to help us collaborate, prosper and live well. Many aspects of the economy as it is today are proving barriers to progress rather than enablers. While cities certainly need to find ways to harness the power of financial capital at a new speed, scale and purpose; we believe three key economic areas need focused work in support of transformational change.
Using Business Models that are designed to enable successful project delivery, maximise the benefits to the community and drive equity and prosperity long-term. Where current models are not doing this they need to be challenged, redesigned or replaced. These link closely to collective management models.
Transformative Investment: Aligning needs for investment through modelling of the overarching investment case for transformational action; aggregating local assets with both project capital needs and operating resource needs; then matching this demand to supply through local financial mechanisms that bring together investment from a blend of public, private and community capital investment partners. This creates strategic investment in what is really needed for transformation - with the efficiencies of standardisation, scale and a systemic long-term view.
Economic Structures in our communities need to be reshaped so that the local economic context better enables scaling of transformational change activities over time. In many cases the benefits of change, and thus potential revenues, would not accrue to those actors in the community who would bear the most costs in today’s economy. This undermines opportunities for both capital alignment and viable business models. Innovations in the structural economic context might include shifting taxes from ‘goods’ to ‘bads’, shifting subsidies from ‘bads’ to ‘goods’, a universal basic income, local banking and/or local currencies.
‘Smart’ is also often used today with the sense that it is an ends rather than means - with many cities especially striving to be ‘Smart Cities’. But generally the value from ‘smarter’ data and associated digital technology systems comes from them helping us to do something more effectively. So they enable improvements in the community systems from which citizens finally derive real value. As such we see smarter systems as an enabler area.
Data Commons should be the key principle of local data governance. This requires a citizen-centric ownership and management approach to ensure that the systems making data available for broader communal use safeguard privacy protection and equitable value distribution. This builds the trust needed for useful data sharing.
Interoperability standards for data systems ensure efficient sharing and use of data across the community. This maximises opportunities for ‘smart application’ innovation and thus value-creation.
Smart Applications use available data to help us to optimise strategies, actions, information sharing, real-time guidance and operations management. This adds value for both decision makers and citizens in their daily lives and planning for the future.
Completing the enablers circle, we come to the area of local government, governance and municipalities. Local government can, and must, play a critical role in enabling change. Municipalities may also play a leading role in anchoring the change process, or not - as generally they are not set up to do so, but that is a discussion for another day. As a key enabler, municipalities can drive:
Procurement strategies and processes that accelerate investment in transformation and use public buying power to nurture innovation, alignment and as a seed for the scale of investment needed.
Policy interventions such as strategic and spatial planning and local regulations, which accelerate innovative actions, enable new business models, reduce risk for capital partners, ensure transparency and influence necessary behaviour changes.
Organisational Readiness. Most municipalities today are not set up to nimbly drive transformative action in their community. Municipalities need to reprioritise and reorganise their human resources to play the strongest role they can, while supporting wider cross-community organising and management models that build more Collaborative Communities.
Of course there are a multitude of interconnections between these enablers, and organising them into a pie with 12 slices suggests artificial delineations where there are really interconnections and overlaps. Nevertheless, I hope this structure provides you with a useful frame for thinking about the ‘how’ along with the ‘what’ when developing impactful change initiatives.
The list of 12 that we have proposed is a living thing, and I would love feedback on whether you see them all essential and/or what we are missing.