Climate Change : Local deliberation on a global issue

Last week I was in Edmonton, Canada discussing how to go about setting up a province-wide public deliberation on Climate Change. There are a number of significant challenges around taking forward a regional deliberation on climate change and this is particularly true in Alberta – a province with a thriving economy based on its rich natural resources.

In this post I want to look at just one of those challenges – a question which can be transferred to any regional or local deliberation on climate change:

How can a localised deliberation effectively address what is a shared and global issue?

Just before arriving  in Alberta I read a recently published US Government scientific report which outlines ten key findings on climate change. These findings are bold for a US focused climate change document, and with Obama at the helm, we can expect to see more where this came from;

Ten Key Findings from the recent US Global Change Research Programme report:

  1. Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced.
  2. Climate changes are underway in the United States and projected to grow.
  3. Widespread climate-related impacts are occurring now and are expected to increase.
  4. Climate change will stress water resources
  5. Crop and livestock production will be increasingly challenged.
  6. Coastal areas are at increasing risk from sea-level rise and storm surge.
  7. Risks to human health will increase.
  8. Climate change will interact with many social and environmental stresses.
  9. Thresholds have already been crossed and have lead to large – and in some cases, irreversible – changes.
  10. Future climate change and its impacts depend on choices made today.

However, these points are not country or region-specific, and we all know that even decisive action from the mighty USofA cannot address climate change on its own. Climate change is a shared and global concern, involving and affecting all nations and citizens, particularly those from key areas of growth and vulnerability such as India, China, Africa and Brazil.

In Canada, the Albertan economy has benefited enormously from the extraction of natural resources in the North of the province, making it one of the most dramatic Canadian economic success stories of recent years. However environmentalists and sustainability experts consider the oil extraction industry in general and the Athabascan oil sands in particular to be disastrous for the environment.

Yet does now seem as if there is now a real chance for meaningful dialogue and deliberation at this point in time more than any other. A number of influential factors have recently shifted, providing a clear opportunity for progress on climate issues in Alberta for the following reasons:

  • It is becoming clear that ‘business as usual’ extraction of resources cannot continue, partly in light of the current economic climate and partly due to increasing global pressure to curb emissions
  • The USA, Canada’s most influential neighbour  is taking a strong lead on environmental issues as reflected in proposed initiatives such as Cap-and-Trade
  • The scientific evidence base connecting human action to climate change is becoming more compelling, the messaging is more mainstream, and public concern seems to be on the increase in key countries including Canada.
  • Influentials are changing their attitudes; indeed one of the authors of the Albertan economic success story, ex-premier, Peter Lougheed, is now looking to re-write the ending by slowing down development and taking a more measured approach to extraction. Although this might not be the answer that green advocacy groups such as the Pembina Institute are looking for – it is perhaps indicative of a rising sea-change in attitudes towards the environment from both political and business leaders.

All the same, due to the significant economic interests that the energy industry brings to Alberta,  it will still be challenging to create a truly open and meaningful deliberative dialogue on environmental and energy issues in the province. What is more, if the shared and global nature of the  issue is not addressed adequately as part of any local deliberation there are a number of serious resultant risks in any such regional process:

1) Potential participants do not engage with the proposed citizen engagement process in the first place as they feel it cannot make a difference. The lack of acknowledgment of the global context of the climate project may leave individuals feeling overwhelmed by the scale of the issue.

2) Participants, once engaged, feel powerless to affect real change, and feel that their contributions are without significant meaning given the scale of the task in hand. Whatever initiatives or actions are proposed at a regional level at the end of an engagement process are seen to be just a ‘drop in the ocean’ compared to the true scale of the problem.

3)    Participants do not fully engage with and understand the wider context of the challenge of climate change and sustainability and end up making recommendations based solely on the regional experience (This is not to say that say, the Albertan context is not important and special, but it is not and should not be considered to be the full story.) No region can solve the problems alone.

4)    The benefits and lessons learned through an experimental  deliberative engagement project are not disseminated to benefit or inspire others. This process of communication and ‘reporting out’ could make a significant impact on the way in which climate change is addressed by citizens and decision makers across the globe, as examples of best practice are sought out increasingly by provincial leaders  unsure as to how to proceed on climate change.

How can we address these issues?

I believe that there are a number of factors to consider when planning a regional deliberation on a shared global issue such as climate change. Firstly there is a need to address the scale of the issue in a way which feels empowering, not overwhelming. Humanising climate change and encouraging connections is important to help ensure that potential participants do not feel that they are experiencing and solving the problem in geographic isolation. Connection can help to provide a sense of global perspective and of being part of a larger community.

Secondly, deliberation cannot be confined to linking concerns with discussion –  there needs to be a further connection between deliberation and action. In other words, participants should feel that they are not acting independently, but that their decisions and ideas should be coordinated or  linked in some way across regional boundaries in order to be more effective in addressing the issues.

Finally; learning from any regional deliberation is well-disseminated in order to inspire others to participate in planning their own regional or local deliberations.

Below, I have outlined just a few potential ideas to address the four risks listed above. Ideas below correspond to points above.

1) A global network of interested organisations should be grown around the project and clearly signposted so that participants and decision makers feel, and are, part of a larger more powerful international network of deliberation working to advance the issues in a productive way.

2) Participants could be enabled to connect at some point in the deliberations with citizens in other countries, whether directly over the web or asynchronously through video reports and forums. Twinning of global towns and cities based on a commitment to progress on environmental and economic issues could be facilitated to encourage global dialogue and understanding.

3)    Deliberations should necessarily have some global context and framing, and should not be concerned solely with regional issues. Information and materials provided should have an inspiring global dimension and not focus solely upon the region in which the deliberation is located.

4)    All processes should be designed with replication and transferability in mind. Materials should be produced under the creative commons license for distribution. Translation should be encouraged and made available where appropriate. Regional pilots such as the Alberta project should be seen as innovators, leading the way – but  should also acknowledge that they cannot ‘solve’ the problems alone.

In conclusion, climate change is a global problem requiring an understanding of some part of the complex systems behind the issue before a meaningful and empowering deliberation can take place. I believe that locally focused dialogue and action has a very important role to play in finding a solution, but that any meaningful deliberation relating to policy change must address the global context. Finding the balance between local-global is the key in terms of framing the issues, motivating participation, and for more informed and impactful policy input.


Blogging Ideas : Pakistani Spectator

A -kind of- festive post for you before the holiday season kicks off for real… I read a few international blogs through the excellent global voices and one of the active ones is the Pakistani Spectator. Ghazala Khan does a regular series of interviews with bloggers from all over the place and it was my turn last week: 

Would you please tell us something about you and your site?

I write about public involvement in decision making. This is actually takes in quite a wide range of different issues, from the tension between different modes of governance and electoral systems to how individuals collaborate on decision making in their own communities, both locally and online. I blog here.

    Do you feel that you continue to grow in your writing the longer you write? Why is that important to you?

I think everyone learns as they write more frequently – it forces you to order your thoughts in a structured format and to try and imagine how others might understand your meaning. Having said that, I feel that the most important thing is to get out from behind the keyboard and monitor and to speak with a whole range of different people to gain inspiration whenever possible. That’s where you find opportunities to grow as an individual and as a member of several wider communities.

    I’m wondering what some of your memorable experiences are with blogging?

My favourite recent post was an interview with an Obama supporter on London bridge – I took a quick photo of him with my camera phone and it came out so well – really capturing the enthusiasm and spirit of the moment. I was affected by the belief of an individual that genuine change can come from those at the top rather than the cynicism that is often expressed towards decision makers in the UK.

    What do you do in order to keep up your communication with other bloggers?

I use RSS feeds to keep up to date – attempt to keep my netvibes page which pulls all of those feeds together in good order. Then of course, I read and comment when I have some spare time.

    What do you think is the most exciting or most innovative use of technology in politics right now?

In politics, it has to be the Obama campaign in terms of excitement and the interplay between online connection and offline action. This was a very powerful mix and am very glad to see this strong emphasis on online tools continuing. See obamacto for an interesting take on what should happen next!

    Do you think that these new technologies are effective in making people more responsive?

I do think that new technology can make people feel more personally connected than ever before, and more able to respond quickly and easily to causes or issues that they are interested in. Not only this, I think that it can supplement our existing networks in new ways which are only just beginning to be realised.

    What do you think sets Your site apart from others?

It focuses on public participation and involvement from a personal perspective. I work for an organistion called which is based in the UK – this enables me to look at public engagement and participation from a more analytical viewpoint during the day – then my blog covers the aspect I feel is often not covered so well – what do these ideas and projects mean for real people in their working and home lives?

    If you could choose one characteristic you have that brought you success in life, what would it be?

Critical optimism!

What was the happiest and gloomiest moment of your life?

I’m not sure on this one – life is a journey and I’m usually looking forwards not back!

    If you could pick a travel destination, anywhere in the world, with no worries about how it’s paid for – what would your top 3 choices be?

I like this question – I’d go to Tierra del Fuego to see lava pouring into the sea, then drop by Venezuela to see the Angel Falls, and then maybe to Dongtan to see the eco city… in a year or two.

   What is your favorite book and why?

I don’t have a favourite – I love reading and lots of books have strong meaning for me – one would be ….read the rest here

Enjoy the holidays! 

(Yes, I know the life is a journey line is a bit Forest Gump –  is tough not to be able to edit your words after you write them…!)

Goodgym Wins @ Social Innovation Camp

What is Social Innovation Camp?

Well, the sicamp website explains far better than I could here and here so in their own cut n’ pasted words, the idea is basically that:

The web has already had a huge impact on the way we live our lives: it has changed how we communicate, how we entertain ourselves, our friendships and the way we work. Now it is going to change how we access our health care, how we educate our children and how we provide for the most vulnerable in our communities….

Social Innovation Camp is an experiment in creating social innovations for the digital age.

It  is a competition to find the best ideas for web tools to create social change, a participant-driven event aimed at bringing together software developers and designers with those at the sharp end of social need: social innovators, entrepreneurs and those with direct experience of need themselves.

Got that?

So I spent the last weekend holed up in the basement of The Young Foundation working with a bunch of talented people with a whole range of different skills in order to build a prototype webtool, business model, social case and funding pitch for a project called The Good Gym. Which then won!


The idea of GoodGym is to provide isolated or immobile older people with regular human contact and to provide motivation for people to run and get fit.   The Good Gym aims to make it easy for people to channel the energy used up as part of their exercise routine  toward a wider social good.  The project will set up a matching and vetting service for joggers/cyclists to integrate brief visits to isolated older people into their regular exercise routines.

Here’s the final presentation which should explain a bit more of the detail. Check out the other finalists here.(The sheer amount of work done on AccessCity is worth a look!)

So, just goes to show – lock people with different skills together in a room, feed them, give them a deadline and an incentive – result = a bunch of amazing online projects for social good!

Now to sustain the momentum…will keep you posted.

Reading List: Morgan Inquiry, MORI:Impact of Empowerment, Carnegie UK

This is what I’ve been reading over the last day or so with some brief info and initial thoughts on each:

1) Morgan Inquiry

Report looking at barriers to volunteering for young people aged 18-24.

The inquiry found that:

  • volunteering needs to be more flexible- possibly supporting an 8hours/year volunteering allownace with employers
  • there needs to be greater clarity in terms of jobseekers’allowance that volunteering is a valid route to employment
  • there needs to be better and more centralised information on opportunities available for volunteering
  • there needs to be formal recognition of volunteering

Seems to me that the most easily fixed would be the information issue – V are doing good work in this area already, why not support them further to continue and develop this work. Also, could link this promotion to an awreness campaign amongst job centres around clarifying status of volunteer work for jobseekers’allowance claimants.

Also, seems to be something missing around motivations to volunteer in the first place- though I realise this wasn’t exactly in the scope – it is v.significant.

2) Searching for the Impact of Empowerment

Ipsos MORI report using survey data from the New Deal for Communities National Evaluation to look at how involvement in NDC activities, and feelings of ability to influence link to feelings of community, trust and quality of life.

It does well in trying to unpick some of the tricky discussions around subjective and objective empowerment (ie. feeling like you can change stuff for the better, and opportunities to engage with decision making.) It backed up the more small scale qualitative research looking at the impact of empowerment in that there are relationships between involvement in local activities/feelings of abilty to influence – and positivity around general satisfaction with life/community/local area/wellbeing.

BUT – as with all the best reports – more research is required ;)


  • Who wants to be empowered and what does that mean in practice?
  • What are we trying to acheive through empowerment?
  • What is the best way to measure the good done through empowerment?

3) Carnegie UK Annual Review

Does what it says – a review of Carnegie UK’s activities and outline of future plans.

Building on the work of the futures work Carnegie recently did around civil society – the review highlights some really interesting areas of work across all its programmes.

Random quotes that stood out for me:

“our aim here(in futures work) is to assist citizens working at local, national and international levels to prepare for change and to combine their strengths to try and determine that change.”

“The challenge of sustainability and the threat of climate change is a common theme in public discourse, yet the implications are largely uncertain and potentially devastating. Perhaps this threat presents an opportunity to strengthen civil society and re-engage people in formal politics?”

“What collective action can rural residents take to build resilient communities? We understand the ‘resilient rural community’ to be one which accepts that any status quo is unable to last for long and that the community needs to be constantly learning new ways of self-sufficeiency, collaboration and living errangements. Every dimension of life is up for challenge and creative response”.

Right – am off to read a novel now….

Only Connect

So, I’ve been getting some stick as to what this blog is about exactly –  and would refer you on to the about section…. if you’re too lazy to click, have copied it in below!


Only connect

The more we fill our lives with tasks and objects, the less time we have to connect with one another and with ourselves. 

This blog is all about repairing and renewing our connections – whether that is to yourself and your inner motivations or to friends, family, neighbours, strangers and structures of governance and power. I look at these ideas through the rather blurred spyglass of engagement, personal empowerment, public participation and involvement and aim to focus in on ideas around communities, people and connections in a way that brings it all back to practical outcomes and end results.

In a world where ‘anger and telegrams’ define our urban environments more often than ever – the call for connection has become ever more urgent.

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, And human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect…

Without it we are meaningless fragments, half monks, half beasts, unconnected arches that have never joined into a man. With it love is born, and alights on the highest curve, glowing against the gray, sober against the fire.

–E.M. Forster, Howards End —

Bla bla blah….etc.

Palliative care and Dipex : end of life stories

I was pleased to be able to speak at the National Council for Palliative Care conference today – “Ask the Experts: Improving End of Life Care in Partnership with Patients and Carers”.


The work of the NCPC is vital, as the issues they look at around end of life care affect virtually everyone at some time or another, whether as a carer or patient. When people interact with palliative care services they are at their most vulnerable, so involving them effectively and appropriately in shaping services and making better decisions is highly important to all concerned.


The NCPC are certainly making positive steps forward in promoting user involvement, and have recently added a sharing and feedback section to their website.

On a related note, this sharing facility reminds me of one of my all time favourite involvement websites: dipex

The Dipex site helps people to share their experiences of health and illness and does it in a very clear way using video. I think its a great site in form and function, bringing people together to share their own experiences in a powerful way.