From words to action (plans)

This is a LONG blog post, so here is the take home: Manchester City Council hosted a surprisingly “open” meeting that seems to have generated a lot of good ideas (more on that later!) and left people with a sense of where this process is headed, and why. But talk is cheap, and delivery is everything, as the Council itself acknowledged. So, time will tell if we look back on this conference as more waffle or the first step on the road to sanity and survival.

After coffee and schmoozing, the “Three Richards” kicked the day off
Richard Cowell, Executive Member for the Environment (the local Ed Miliband, sort of) was pleased at the great turnout, a sign that people were committed to “forward looking” and living and working in a prosperous low carbon city.

He thanked the Environmental Advisory Panel, the members of the writing groups (over 100 people involved) and he thanked the Green City team and other Council officers for their hard work. He also specifically mentioned that he was inspired by the Call to Real Action, (he brandished a copy) not just for its ambition, but also in its way of working (and we know how vulnerable that lot are to the old “de-fanging through praise” tactic).

He pointed out that the Action Plan was a plan for Manchester, not just the Council, and that Manchester was a city that other towns and cities looked to for a lead. He wanted people to leave from today’s Conference feeling that they were part of a process, inspired and ready to work in 2010 towards 2020 and beyond

Richard Leese, leader of the Council and blogger extraordinaire, followed him and started with a reference to the Greenpeace protesters on the roof of Parliament (who knows where some of us who were in the hall today might be this time next year, Richard, if that’s what’s needed…). He said it was important so many people were in the room to help the process along, but that there was a lot of work to do on behaviour change more broadly. He highlighted the importance of the next few years for 2020 but also 2050 and beyond. He pointed out that by 2050 he wouldn’t be leading the council (you never know…) but that the next 10 years were vital for our long term future.

Climate change was, he said, a challenge and an opportunity, and that thinking and acting on opportunities like this “made Manchester what it is and what it will be.” Low carbon living would have to become “embedded, routine, automatic”, the city would have to generate and use low carbon energy. By 2020 all new buildings would be carbon neutral, with some carbon negative.
There’d be new industries, and opportunities (that word again) to be national leaders.

He said that the Draft plan built on existing strategies and that there were four overriding themes to it.

1) Climate change would affect everyone and therefore everyone had a part ot play, as individuals, in neighbourhoods, in businesses etc.

2) Nobody (“especially the council, some would say” he added sotto voce) has all the answers. The Action Plan doesn’t replace but rather assists and connects existing plans

3) The Council would have to lead by example. Manchester is the biggest Local Authority to sign up to the 10:10 campaign, which he admitted would not be easy to reach.

4) The plan was not the finished article, but would be evolving and innovating

When the Call to Action was agreed, the target was “at least a million tonnes”, and that has now become a percentage target of “41% lower than 2005 levels, which is in the region of 1.25 million tonnes.

Some of this would come from projects already happening, some from national policy, but over half the savioniswould have to come from new projects. Leese finished by saying that the price of carbon was set to challenge the price of oil as an economic barometer in the future, and that producing this first version was part of the engagement with the international process, that he would be taking a copy to Copenhagen for discussion with other leaders of the big cities.

Finally, Richard Sharland, the director of Environmental Strategy spoke. He outlined the background to the Plan, which is mostly looking at mitigation (reducing emissions), with some elements of adaptation. He re-iterated that this was an “iterative” process (i.e. That it would change through dialogue and reflection and new information coming to hand) . He (rightly) said that it was a sign of boldness and strength to admit that the plan will have to change. He was emphatic that the plan must not be a glossy document that sat on the shelf.

On “governance” he said that there would be lots more work to do in 2010, on targets, involvement and resources. He felt that the first objective- of reducing carbon emissions by a million tonnes was crucial, but so two was the second objective of creating a cultural shift towards low carbon living. That was partly why there was such a focus on cultural change and engagement.

He highlighted that as of 2013 the City will be using a “Total Carbon Footprint,” and thus including the embedded carbon (from the production of goods imported to Manchester)

He gave examples of just how challenging some of the actions in the plan would be- the cost of insulating 170,000 homes would be in the region of a billion pounds, and then invoked the spirit of Kirklees, where £1 invested results in £4 flowing back into the economy. He cited Toronto, Berlin and Melbourne as examples of big cities that have tackled this.

He said there would be an annual conference about the Action Plan, and a steering group. The conference would be a chance for annual review and continuous improvement. There would need to be endorsements by stakeholder organisations links to existing (governance) structures.

There would, obviously, need to be delivery plans for key actions, for actions already in the plan and those not yet devised.

He closed by saying the conference today was not an editing/technical run through, but a chance to discuss engagement and ‘sector priorities’. How could we take this process, he asked, from the 160 people in the room to 1600, to 16,000, to 160,000. Rather a good question, actually….

Workshop One
We were all of us assigned (randomly before lunch) to tables, and asked to talk about how culture change happens and what would ‘work’. Personally I am not convinced this was the best use of our limited time, but hey-ho, it’s what all the tables did.
Because of some fairly (unnecessarily) lengthy introductions about what we were supposed to do, we didn’t get to the real meat of the matter- what are the barriers for action, before we broke for lunch.

A word on lunch.
On the very plus side, the food was lovely and locally sourced. On the mildly minus side, we had a bit too long for schmoozing and networking (and this, from the guy trying to foist MCFlys on all and sundry!)

Questions, questions
After lunch, in the ‘graveyard shift’ the head of the Green City Team, Bev Taylor ran us through an interesting “quiz.” We all had little handheld devices on which to press A, B, C, D, E or F to a series of questions she posed. (She assured us that these were anonymous, but it’s MCFly’s sad duty to report that one participant was mercilessly coshed and dragged away by goons for giving insufficiently adulatory answers. Good luck Pat Karney, wherever you are).

I did copy down all the results (you say “OCD”, I say “reflex”). The age range was thus; 14-20; 8 people, 21-35; 29, 36-50; 43, 51 to 65; 12 and over 65; 3. For a conference about the future, this is not good at all! I shan’t detain y’all with too much info on this, you can find it in the technical appendix. They asked how many people thought the plan went too far versus not far enough versus just right (The goldilocks problem). Not far enoughs won with 45, versus too far 21, just right 23 and don’t know 7.

This sort of thing is potentially very useful, and the Council is to be applauded for using the technology better than it was used last year at the Community Strategy conference, and also for asking questions that did have some ’embarrassing outcomes.’ Next time they could take ideas for what questions to ask the whole audience, beyond the demographic ones, and use it at the beginning and end of the day to see what (if anything) has changed.

For the second workshop we were sat in tables based on whether we were business, community groups, education or regional/national government, and we were also sort of encouraged to move from table to table if we so desired (without the law of two feet being explicitly invoked).

We were asked which actions were most important in the plan, or, if we werent’ familiar with the plan, what actions should be in there. Again, this was perhaps a mis-framing, and I saw some people vote with their feet and leave at this point. If you are going to ask people to stay beyond lunch, there has to be a clear rationale and set of ways they can really feel useful. Sitting in a group of ten with variable facilitation is not it, simply. We were then asked to look at what the “easy wins” might be.

These were being typed up and displayed on a huge screen as…

Richard Sharland put us out of our misery with the penultimate speech.
He asked people to email him the “one thing they’ll do” to

Here’s MCFly’s- “we are going to keep holding your feet to the fire every way we know how (and ask our readers if they have some other ways in mind). And should the flames be insufficiently fun for our purposes, we will send out scouring parties for more (locally sourced and carbon neutral) firewood.”

The final draft of the plan, with comments and ideas integrated over the 2 to 3 weeks, be accepted by the Executive, go to the Manchester Board for adoption. In 2010 they’d be seeking endorsement from other organisations, and working on a template to relate those organisations actions to the CCAP.

The City Council would also obviously be working on its delivery plan (see below), and he finished with a brief plug for the Council’s December Climate Change Festival

Vicky Rosin, assistant chief exec of the City Council (as big a cheese you get without being Howard Bernstein) was next, citing and whole-heartedly endorsing something she’d seen on one of the tables- “delivery delivery delivery.” On a welcome personal note, she pointed out that while she wouldn’t be around in 2050, her daughter would be, and her children. She then closed the meeting by thanking all for their input.

Who was there
In these situations it’s good to assess the audience broken down by age and sex. And yes, most of them looked like they were.

Who wasn’t there? Oh, you know this by now- the young, the black, the muslims, the poor. Plus ca change and all that…

So, one and three quarters thumbs up. Next time (and especially for the mooted youth conference):

  • Fewer people per table, better briefed facilitators (obviously you either then have a smaller conference, or more table, which means more facilitators. You could always ask the skilled C2RA crew…)
  • The “overall facilitator” must use the powerpoint facilities more- that everyone can see- to explain what the task at hand is. This will mean he/she intervenes less frequently in what was free-flowing discussion that ended up being very stop-start..
  • More tightly focussed questions that really get to the nub(s) of the problems (this is difficult- since there was massive information-disparity, with some people knowing the Action Plan backwards, and others not having seen it at all). e.g. Ask explicitly “what are the elephants in the room” and “how might it all go horribly wrong, and how can we make that less likely”
  • Ask for what the audience wants to talk about (using open space technology)
  • Make full use of the wonderful technology and wonderful facilities that the Council has.
  • Feedback forms about what was good/bad/indifferent

Thanks to the Council for having the guts to think and act a little outside of its boxes (all the prodding and poking is working!). Thanks to the catering and support staff, who did (as usual) a really good job. The easy bit is over, and we all know it.


About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
This entry was posted in 10:10 campaign, Call to Action, Call to Real Action, Climate Change Action Plan, Manchester City Council, Richard Cowell, Richard Sharland, Sir Richard Leese, Vicky Rosin. Bookmark the permalink.

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