By Jake Barnes, ARTS Brighton Researcher On Thursday 17th March…
Sustainability is a local concern, as much as it is a global issue. Brighton as a city not only voices this concern, but also acts on it. More than 25 stakeholders, who participated in the full day event on “Accelerating change on sustainability” hosted by researchers from the University of Sussex, represented one or more sustainability initiatives that make Brighton a fore-runner as a sustainable city. They shared their knowledge, experience and interests in the event that was organised as part of the EU project on “Accelerating and Rescaling Transitions to Sustainability” (ARTS).
In the beginning of the workshop, the participants introduced themselves not only with their names and the organisations they belong to, they were also asked to reflect on three more elements: 1. One thing about their work that inspires them most; 2. One thing they love about sustainable Brighton; 2. One happy thing that they would like to share about life outside work. This wasn’t merely an ice-breaker strategy, but also it set the grounds ready for more in depth discussions for the rest of the day. The group as a whole represented initiatives ranging from sustainable energy, food, mobility, bio-diversity, waste management etc and the amount of passion and enthusiasm in each of their work resonated across the room.
The research team took this opportunity to introduce some of their research findings and conceptual framework for assessing acceleration of change. 98 local ‘transformative initiatives in the city’ have been identified and unlike in some of the other city-regions studied in the ARTS project, namely Stockholm, Budapest, Genk and Dresden, the majority of initiatives in Brighton are bottom up and citizen led. The research team also conceptualised three mechanisms through which these initiatives can accelerate change: by growing or upscaling, by multiplying or replicating and by coupling or forming alliances. The stakeholders were then invited to share their opinion about the reality and prospects of these processes from their own experience.
The majority of the stakeholders took up replication as a process that is evidently occurring; that magnifies the significance of impact and that catalyses a bigger change process. However blind replication is something that needs to be avoided; understanding the fact that the knowledge flow, learning and adapting to the local context to be more crucial in the replication process. The stakeholders have also insisted on measuring growth by not only through commercial viability but also by other value systems like social impact. The significance of impact, therefore came back in the discussion several times as the stakeholders posed concerns like “Does replication ensures better collective impact?”, “What about the frustration, isolation, despair in running these initiatives’, “How do we ensure that the initiatives can be sustained as we speed up the process?”. These concerns also echoed in the second part of the workshop where the researchers were interested to know about the enablers and barriers that these sustainability initiatives face. Local political will and availability of funds and resources were pitched to be the main enablers. Acknowledging this as a positive side of the story, others pointed out that absence of the same elements can be great obstacles for a local initiative to sustain itself. Lack of political support and lack of centralised funding are some of the major drawbacks identified as ones which adversely affects the pace of societal change towards sustainability. However, the majority of the stakeholders proudly agreed with the point that the biggest enabler in Brighton is its people who shape the politics and societal contribution towards accelerating change toward sustainability. A sample of this population of Brighton, who are its gift and strength poured their emotions and experiences out, in the workshop to mark it a success.
The workshop was efficiently organised with a mix of presentations, discussions, activities and delicious food served for lunch. A group activity with coloured threads and cards led to recognising the established formal, informal and membership links between the relevant organisations existing in Brighton and Hove city council. At the end of the messy process, most of the links turned out to be informal and many stakeholders urged for a common platform through which all these initiatives can be showcased as part of a bigger transition process. I can feel the importance of such a connection to be made since by participating in the workshop I have realised that more these people come closer to each other, the greater is the benefit to the society from their cumulative visions, knowledge, efforts and dedication. These qualities of the stakeholders heavily echoed throughout the day as they spoke from the core of their heart and inspired a young researcher like me to a large extent to devote time and energy in addressing issues and facilitating accelerated transition towards a sustainable future.