From Climate Action Confusion to Collaboration: Towards Common Agenda Setting

All over the world, organizations are gearing up to address the causes and effects of climate change. However, none of them can do this on their own, joining forces is of the essence.

The 2015 Paris Agreement was a major milestone in accelerating this process of global collaboration:

The Paris Agreement builds upon the Convention and for the first time brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so. As such, it charts a new course in the global climate effort.

Although the intentions in Paris were good, as we all know there is still monumental confusion and dithering everywhere about what exactly needs to be done, in what way, when, and by whom. Part of this has to do with climate change being such a wicked problem: not only the problems and possible solutions are fuzzy and open-ended, but also which stakeholders should be involved. On the one hand, a plethora of inspiring, concrete initiatives is emerging worldwide that help inspire thinking and acting. On the other hand, as the challenges are so immense and urgent, they cannot be solved by such scattered initiatives in isolation. We need scalable, evolving collaborations, focusing on systems and policy change and committed to by a myriad of societal stakeholders. Only then can the massive transformation of the global political and economic order take place that is required to reach measurable collective impact in time.

The 2018 Dutch Klimaatstroom Zuid Climate Summit

Early 2018, in the southern Netherlands, several organizations, including the Province of North Brabant, the Brabantse Delta regional water authority, provincial future studies institute BrabantKennis and the municipality of Breda  were thinking along these lines. They decided that to effectively address their share of the Paris Agreement goals, a movement of organizations in the three southern Dutch provinces of Zeeland, Noord-Brabant en Limburg should be started: Klimaatstroom Zuid (Climate Flow South).

From their manifest:

Collaborating with Concrete Goals in Mind

Every participant has its own responsibility, while at the same time we need to work collectively. We can succeed by collaborating with concrete goals in mind. The will is there. What matters is that solutions are realized across the boundaries of individual organizations and sectors.

To kick-off this “climate movement of inititatives”, a climate summit was organized in the former Breda domed prison  in June 2018. A fitting location for policy and decision makers plotting their way to escape from the global governance system that keeps us all trapped in climate inaction…

As the manifest states:

The manifest is not a goal in itself. It is part of a movement towards more attention for the climate in the Southern Netherlands. Furthermore, there is a connection with the national climate ambitions. To translate those ambitions into a concrete action perspective, we organize a climate summit of and for the Southern Netherlands on June 4, 2018. We bring together existing initiatives to accelerate and bundle them, and also to connect them to the proces of the National Climate Agreement. We determine how we will realize the further ambitions and specifythe desired transition paths for the various sectors. In this way, we will arrive at concrete implementation plans with measurable results.

Interest to participate in this hands-on summit was beyond expectation. Representatives of over 80 governmental agencies, 100 non-governmental organizations, and 130 companies participated in the conference, not only symbolically, but also concretely in so-called working “arenas”. These had the explicit goal of arriving – during the day – at draft agreements for specific combinations of themes and domains/sectors, as starting points for future collaborations. Following the classification of the National Climate Agreement negotations, the themes included Energy, Climate Adaptation, and Circular Economy , whereas the sectors concerned Electricity, Built Environment, Industry, Agriculture & Rural Areas, and Mobility & Logistics.

Discovering  Collaborative Common Ground in Budding Climate Coalitions

All over the world, even when the intentions and enthusiasm are heartfelt, fragmentation of efforts and bureaucratic inertia remain major problems. These institutional hurdles stand in the way of transforming the nascent climate change coalitions of the willing into effective and scalable collaborative networks with collective impact. The stakeholders involved are already engaged in numerous initiatives, each with their own goals, interests, governance procedures and collaborative culture. There is no overarching hierarchy that can command & control everybody into the same direction, nor would that ever be even possible and desired: the complexity and scale of the climate adaptation and mitigation challenges ahead and the many divergent, often contradictory organizational interests involved preclude that.

Of course, top down (inter)governmental frameworks and directives remain crucial, to legitimize and enforce the boundaries of the collaboration between societal stakeholders. However, within those political boundaries, we need a different paradigm to provide the necessary alignment and coordination. Instead of centralized, forced integration of climate change initiatives, we should work on smart scaling through common agenda setting: identifying conceptual and actionable common ground between existing initiatives, weaving ever more meaningful connections between them, and identifying collaboration gaps that can be filled by new initiatives. A light and agile form of alignment of initiatives, if you will, partially integrating them only where useful and feasible.

community network development cycle

With this philosophy in mind, we decided to use the CommunitySensor methodology for participatory community network mapping in combination with the Kumu online network visualization tool to symbolically map the collaborative connections between the initiatives represented at the summit. Previous experiences, like the participatory mapping of social innovation connections between major European cities and collaborative connections between participants in a global agricultural conference, had demonstrated the usefulness of such an approach.  By showing that there are already many, often hidden, collaborative links between initiatives – the “connection force” – and subsequently actively making sense of them, the potential for achieving collective impact turns out to be much larger than one would think at first sight. By developing a visual knowledge base representing that connection force, stakeholders should, first, become aware of that hidden collaborative potential.  Second, such a systematic knowledge-driven approach could help more easily identify issues, priorities and next actions to address the WHAT? SO WHAT? NOW WHAT? questions in growing these extremely complex collaborations.

Visualizing the climate initiative connections

So how did we make visible the connections between the climate initiatives submitted during the conference?

Preparation

Prior to the summit, in consultation with the summit organizers, we defined the following common element types, drawing from both concepts key to the National Climate Agreement negotiations then taking place, as well as the focus of the conference working arenas:

  • Themes
    • Energy, Climate Adaptation, and Circular Economy
  • Sectors
    • Electricity, Built Environment, Industry, Agriculture & Rural Areas, and Mobility & Logistics
  • Projects/Initiatives
  • Organisations
  • Locations

Of course, these are just rough simplifications of a messy working reality, but they were deemed sufficient to sketch some of the initial contours of potential common collaborative ground in a very complex field.

Different possible connection types between these elements were also defined, for example, a project/initiative having a location, or contributing to a particular theme or sector.

We then configured a visual knowledge base using the Kumu visualization tool. This configuration included defining an initial set of perspectives on the collaboration ecosystem, to help focusing on potentially relevant subsets of connections. Examples of such perspectives included which stakeholders are already involved in what projects and initiatives, what projects and initiatives contribute to which themes, and what projects and initiatives are worked on by what sectors?

Climate Summit Day

On the summit day itself, we set up a “mapping station” on the periphery of the main stage. Interested members of the audience who wanted to register their project or initiative could fill out a simple survey  – in either paper or electronic form – and submit it to the mapping team. We processed the forms on the fly, adding the data to the growing Kumu knowledge base.

Key to the CommunitySensor methodology is that the mapping is not  about the maps as deliverables on their own, but about the process of participation of the community of stakeholders, from defining the mapping language, collecting the data, to making sense of the evolving maps and using them in their collaboration processes.

Excerpt of the bird’s eye view on the collaboration ecosystem of the 2018 climate summit participants

Despite the mapping event literally only being a side show, and the data collected forming only a very random sample, at the end of the conference, we had already put 47 projects / initiatives, 144 organisations, 37 locations, and 428 collaborative connections between them on the map. You can get a sense of what those connections were through the following example perspectives on the emerging collaboration ecosystem:

There are also more specialized and actionable perspectives, such as the collaboration contexts for the various arenas. An example is the arena where decision makers are collaborating on the theme Energy and the domain/sector Built Environment.

Although such general perspectives are good starting points for common sensemaking, there are many other ways to use the knowledge base in generating useful agenda setting perspectives. For example, this customized perspective shows the projects/initiatives around and between the four largest cities in the province of Noord-Brabant. This could be used by, say, municipal and provincial decision makers,  for discussions on which existing or new (inter)city initiatives to develop to jointly  get more meaningful and scaled up climate action going.

The climate projects/initiatives that the cities of Breda, Tilburg, Eindhoven, and Den Bosch have in common

Still, such maps are meaningless without together making sense of them: what parts are relevant for understanding one’s own position in the ecosystem, identifying new partners, opportunities for linking up existing initiatives or starting new ones, and so on? One way we promoted such small scale sensemaking, for example, was to take interested participants on a private tour of the map at the mapping station. People were very interested in discovering the to them often unknown connections around themes, sectors, or locations their collaboration had in common with other endeavors.

Source: Klimaatstroom Zuid

We also engaged in more scaled up, collective sensemaking. Several times throughout the summit day, I was invited to the main stage to be briefly interviewed by the conference chair in my role as map maker, to present interesting perspectives on the map-in-progress. This, in fact, was the main outcome of the day: giving the audience a glimpse of how much (potential) common collaborative ground there already was between all their projects and initiatives, and how important it was to actively reflect upon them. Showing the connection force implicitly present between – on the surface – often fragmented efforts conveyed a powerful message that reaching collective impact is not just about starting more initiatives, but also about more systematically aligning and connecting those efforts.

After the summit

After the summit, its initial results were made available on the Klimaatstroom Zuid website . The photo gallery  gives a palpable sense of the level of participation and enthusiasm throughout the day. The map of collaborative links between existing initiatives was also included as a symbolic representation of the connection force between existing initiatives  on that day. It gives a good sense of the potential power that is there to reach impact together faster if only we could get our act TOGETHER.

The Climate Summit kicked off an ongoing process of ever closer climate action collaboration between a multitude of stakeholders at and between the provincial, regional, and municipal levels. Of course, it is not easy to keep the energy and focus generated during such an inspiring launch event. Setting common working agendas together requires very hard and ongoing work, for which a visual knowledge base-driven approach could provide important support. The Klimaatstroom Zuid coalition is still taking shape in a complex field of initiatives and interests, but bit by bit momentum is building.

Towards common agendas with impact: participatory mapping to help break the “collaboration paralysis”

Participatory mapping of the collaboration ecosystems that are to make impactful climate action happen should be a crucial input to make sense of actual and potential collaborations. Of course, it is not a panacea. People often say that “the maps are so complex”. True, but only such a tiny snapshot of initiatives at one event of thousands all over the world already shows such a complex (yet still highly simplified) web of collaborative relations. How then are decision makers to grow impactful alliances at regional, national, and international levels without a more systematic approach to common agenda setting?

As we continue to experiment with making such actionable maps, the perspectives through which to look at them, and the settings in which we make sense of them (e.g. workshops, meetings, brainstorming sessions, project planning), we are developing increasingly useful ways to inform common agenda setting and collaborative alliance building processes.

We are still only scratching the surface of what exactly are climate change collaboration ecosystems, what are useful visualizations of these networks, and how to use these effectively in common agenda setting efforts.  Not only in high profile climate summits but also in the more mundane, but possibly even more important day to day policy making efforts.

I hope to have made clear in this post that we MUST address this collaborative complexity head on, if we are to jointly, timely and more effectively build the collaborative infrastructures the world so desperately needs to address the massive climate change challenges ahead. There is no more precious time to lose by remaining stuck in avoidable collaborative ignorance.

 

Community(Es)Sense

Last week, I attended the 2019 Communities & Technologies conference in Vienna:

The biennial Communities and Technologies (C&T) conference is the premier international forum for stimulating scholarly debate and disseminating research on the complex connections between communities – in their multiple forms – and information and communication technologies.

It is one of my favorite conferences, and as usual, it was an amazing meeting of minds. See the tweet stream for an impression of the topics discussed. More on the paper I presented in a future post.

After the conference, some of us took a tour of the futuristic new campus of  the Vienna University of Economics and Business. The buildings are phenomenal, however, what really struck me was how the concept of the campus being a community space has been designed into everything, from the overall master plan of the campus area to very specific building details. Instead of constructions creating artificial barriers between people, this campus in everything promotes the meeting and mingling of people and the building of community. There is a lesson or two to be learnt here by us working on community building with ICTs, where we often still let technology get in the way instead of acting as a community catalyst….

At any rate, a great symbol of where the worlds of physical architecture and online community spaces meet is this picture, where the three words I am pointing at neatly summarize what I am working on with CommunitySense. I am eager to further explore how the worlds of “traditional” urban planning & architecture and community informatics can mesh. Surely to be continued…

190608_campus walk

Mapping the social innovation ecosystems around public libraries together: the Czech connection(s)

Public libraries are cornerstones of civil society. They form the “third places” where individual citizens meet and mingle, get informed, learn, as well as form and share opinions. Increasingly, however, public libraries are also seen as the meeting and co-working hubs of the many communities making up the rich fabric of urban society. Thus, public libraries are getting new, societal roles as city labs and social innovation catalysts.

The Tilburg Public Library  is known for its groundbreaking library innovations, such as the recently opened LocHal, which is truly a “world-class urban living room for Tilburg in an iconic former locomotive shed of the Dutch National Railways”. More about that in a future post. Another one of its strategic innovations concerns the KnowledgeCloud, the “network in which persons, communities and organisations meet one another both online and offline to discuss current, societally relevant themes”. It has grown into a national library project, including several other Dutch public libraries as well as the Dutch Royal Library.

From 2013-2015, I was the project leader for developing the initial demonstrator of this KnowledgeCloud. In the project, I used my experience with knowledge sharing for social innovation to help conceptualize the KnowledgeCloud methodology, network, and platform. This rich experience has convinced me even more of the crucial role that public libraries all over the world (should) play in dealing with many of the complex, “wicked” problems playing out at the local and regional levels.

In the meantime – as you know if you have been following my work – the main focus of my fundamental R&D and practical consultancy has become the CommunitySensor methodology for participatory community network/collaboration mapping supported by online network visualization tool Kumu. Helping community networks visualize their common ground is essential in creating more effective collaboration between such a wide variety of stakeholders. Think of European cities sharing social innovation lessons learnt or Malawian farmers and other stakeholders jointly improving their agricultural governance practices.

A Czech connection: the CIDES project

These research and consultancy interests – public libraries, social innovation, and participatory community network mapping – have come together in the Czech Center for Social Innovation in Public Library and Information Services (CIDES) project. This major ESF-funded project – coordinated by the Division of Information and Library Studies of Masaryk University in Brno, the second-largest city of the Czech Republic – aims to strengthen the social innovation capabilities of the Czech public libaries. As the Czech Republic has the highest density public library network in the world (one library for every 1,971 Czech citizens!) , it is an ideal testing ground for developing new public library concepts.

Because of my relevant expertise, I was asked to participate as an external expert in the CIDES project. Since 2017, I have been on several working visits to Brno and Prague. It is a very inspiring project to be involved in, because of its scope and importance, as well as the professionalism and dedication (not to mention the great sense of  Czech humor ;-)) of the library studies team involved.

CIDES focuses on (1) collecting and analyzing practical social innovation lessons learnt by public libraries across the country, (2) refining and extending the most promising of those lessons through a range of incubators and accelerators – and (3) disseminating these lessons nation-wide. Underlying the approach is a solid methodology, of which the CommunitySensor methodology is becoming an integral part.

One way we use CommunitySensor is to chart the local social innovation collaboration ecosystems around participating Czech public libraries. As we are using the same mapping language for all library maps, it also becomes easier to do cross-case analysis, integrate maps, and even see connections at the national level.

More Czech connections: mapping public library social innovation ecosystems together

We have also done several mapping experiments to test and validate the participatory aspects of the methodology. Two of these experiments – one in Prague and one in Brno – nicely demonstrate the gist of the approach:

Mapping the social innovation ecosystem around the Prague Public library

In March 2018, we conducted a mapping experiment with around 35 librarians of the Prague municipal library. In break out groups, the librarians were to come up with local social innovation themes, then select and map existing or proposed initiatives that would fit those themes. We then all together tried to make sense of the emerging bigger picture in the concluding plenary discussion. This process was considered very valuable by participants for building a joint sense of understanding and ownership. It also helped to validate and inform the CIDES methodology for collecting, connecting, and scaling up social innovation lessons learnt with public libraries. This visual impression should convey the spirit of the mapping session:

 

 

 

Mapping the collaboration ecosystem around the #Brno2050 common agenda

Another experiment took place in Brno in October 2018. The city of Brno has invested heavily in an ambitious public agenda setting process to ask local stakeholders what their city should look like in 2050: #Brno2050. By design it has been a very participatory process to come up with the themes that matter to and are co-owned the citizens of Brno:

However, how to make these themes work in practice? How to go from idea(l)s to working, aligned initatives, projects, and programmes with collective impact? How to pool resources that were already there, acknowledging that Brno is a truly smart city in terms of its large social capital formed by its many vibrant communities?

To support this common agenda setting process for the city, we explored if and how we could use our emerging participatory collaboration mapping approach for social innovation in and by public libaries.

To this purpose, we held an initial meeting to do a quickscan of the existing Brno collaboration ecosystem, using the city themes as a starting point. About 30 participants – including many stakeholders representing various Brno social innovation initiatives – gathered at the Brno Jiří Mahen Library. We asked them to make a rough inventory of their own and other initiatives that they knew of. On the fly, we added as many of these initiatives as we could to the draft ecosystem map, so that many of the hidden connections between the initiatives were made visible immediately. We then again had a lively plenary discussion in which the participants commented on the collaboration patterns they saw emerging. It was a very fruitful and spirited exchange of ideas. Participants indeed saw this approach as a way forward to keep building momentum on not just dreaming about the long term city strategy, but also making it actually work in the long run. Representatives of the municipality were enthusiastic and committed to investigate if this approach could become part of their urban planning process.

To conclude this post, a visual summary capturing the involvement of the workshop participants building (on) their common city agenda:

 

 

 

More details about our methodology and the experiments we conducted will be shared in future research papers. This blog at least should give you a sneak preview of the cutting edge work currently being done in the Czech Republic on making public libraries catalyze social innovation.

New publication – A Community Network Ontology for Participatory Collaboration Mapping: Towards Collective Impact

A. de Moor (2018). A Community Network Ontology for Participatory Collaboration Mapping: Towards Collective ImpactInformation 2018, 9(7): art. no. 151.

Abstract

Addressing societal wicked problems requires collaboration across many different community networks. In order for community networks to scale up their collaboration and increase their collective impact, they require a process of inter-communal sensemaking. One way to catalyze that process is by participatory collaboration mapping. In earlier work, we presented the CommunitySensor methodology for participatory mapping and sensemaking within communities. In this article, we extend this approach by introducing a community network ontology that can be used to define a customized mapping language to make sense across communities. We explore what ontologies are and how our community network ontology is developed using a participatory ontology evolution approach. We present the community network conceptual model at the heart of the ontology. We show how it classifies element and connection types derived from an analysis of 17 participatory mapping cases, and how this classification can be used in characterizing and tailoring the mapping language required by a specific community network. To illustrate the application of the community network ontology in practice, we apply it to a case of participatory collaboration mapping for global and national agricultural field building. We end the article with a discussion and conclusions.

New publication – CommunitySensor: towards a participatory community network mapping methodology

A. de Moor (2017). CommunitySensor: Towards a Participatory Community Network Mapping Methodology. The Journal of Community Informatics, 13(2):  35-58.

Fig 2 - The Community Network Sensemaking Cycle

Abstract

Participatory community network mapping can support collaborative sensemaking within and across communities and their surrounding stakeholder networks. We introduce the CommunitySensor methodology under construction. After summarizing earlier work, we show how the methodology uses a cyclical approach by adopting a Community Network Development Cycle that embeds a Community Network Sensemaking Cycle. We list some observations from practice about using community network mapping for making inter-communal sense. We discuss how extending the methodology with a pattern-driven approach benefits the building of bridges across networked communities, as well as the sharing of generalized lessons learnt. To this purpose, a community collaboration pattern language is essential. We show initial work in developing and using such a language by examining the cross-case evolution of core community network interaction patterns.