Over the past few weeks, we’ve been sharing how teams across FutureGov are addressing the climate emergency in their practice.
As Project Directors, we often work in the ‘dark matter’ on projects, influencing behind the scenes and creating the space and conditions for teams to do their best work. Powers of anticipation are a big part of our ability to be successful, picking our way through situations to understand and plan for different reactions or influences.
Incorporating a climate lens into the way we support organisations is top of our agenda for this year. This means framing the climate emergency as equal and proportionate to the radical shift we experienced from technology and digital over the past two decades.
This was brought into sharp focus on an ongoing programme which will see us working with cities across Europe over the next couple of years. By 2050, it’s estimated that 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities. Rapid population growth, urbanisation and significant demographic shifts will bring new urban challenges, as well as amplifying existing challenges, for cities globally. Challenges like rising air pollution, increased housing needs, social isolation and the polarisation of communities are things we already face that will continue to increase as people continue to move towards cities and as the climate continues to change.
Cities will be impacted disproportionately by these 21st-century challenges but they’re also uniquely positioned to act as global catalysts for change.
Proactively creating a shared understanding
How can we as an organisation proactively consider our own environmental impact in our work and simultaneously support our partners and the cities we’re working with to do the same? How do we give equal weight and focus to digital and climate agendas, whilst keeping our focus on the services we’re looking to transform? And what can we learn from this to apply to future work with local public sector organisations?
We were already considering these questions when the current pandemic took some of the ambiguity out of our hands. Overnight, most travel was no longer an option, let alone international travel. Public Health was THE priority in every city around Europe and further afield. There were immediate and longer-term changes we needed to make for ourselves, our local communities and with cities. This accelerated our thinking and practice, rather than us having to start from scratch, and has given us the chance to think more expansively about how we can move beyond being climate-neutral to climate positivity in our work.
The role of place
One thing that the climate emergency has really solidified for us is the need for a place-based response. Our projects need to recognise that the way we engage with cities is not just procurement, data, or governance but also physical space and connection to the climate. It’s about making very deliberate decisions about including this in our thinking and approach, rather than it feeling like something ‘nice to have’.
Firstly, we had to reimagine the delivery model. We’ve moved to a remote-first way of delivering across all of our work and for this programme it meant immediately and significantly reducing our carbon footprint over the lifetime of the programme. Our challenge instead became about how we could design something multi-sensory and engaging, utilising digital tools for collaboration rather than being physically present.
Secondly, we had to quickly take stock of whether the planned projects still made sense. This gave us the opportunity to reframe our thinking and conversations to put public health and environment at the heart of our work, with projects spanning healthcare, planning and mobility. One of the immediate changes we’ve seen in the UK is an investment in cycling and walking infrastructure in cities brought forward to reimagine the way we experience cities. This likely means more local, concentrated, sustainable plans that also have a positive impact on the climate.
Partnerships and ways of working
Finally, we’ve considered the role of the cities, from being directly accountable to brokering new partnerships and ways of working locally, influencing national or even international policy agendas. Aligning this to the climate emergency and how cites need to reinvent themselves over the next decade is at the front of our minds.
This is just the beginning of our work in this area. We know we have many lessons, mistakes and growth ahead as teams, an organisation and a global community as we bring our collective response to the climate emergency to the forefront of our work, in the same way as we did with digital over 10 years ago.