Local Praxis – Making the links between research and delivery in providing local government services | LGIU: Local Government Information Unit

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At an event hosted by Edinburgh University & chaired by James Mitchell, over 30 people gathered together to discuss the opportunities available to make connections between the impressive work happening within the university on local government and public services policy and the public sector decision-making audience that LGiU reaches across the UK on a daily basis. LGiU’s Kim Fellows explores some of the ideas and themes that emerged from the discussion.

James Mitchell hosted the meeting and the gathering brought together people united by their interest in research and evidence-based policymaking. It was clear to me that everyone in the room was interested in sharing practice, exchanging knowledge and taking the opportunity to communicate with each other and a wider audience to benefit the public in general and users of public services in particular.

Andy Johnston started the meeting by outlining what LGiU does. “We are an information focused charity.  It is our mission through providing information to be cheerleaders for local democracy. In particular we aim to share information that is timely, independent and useful in these every changing times for the public sector. I see us as a convener for local council and partners interests and a catalyst for change around the services the public want.”

There was a wide-ranging discussion and a few themes emerged.

First, the consensus in the room was that local government can be overlooked in the busy policy making landscape and indeed councils are stretched with the acknowledged demands of delivering services in this ever changing policy landscape. There is a capacity available in the academic sector to make space for thinking and sharing learning across many departments and disciplines from Scotland and much further afield.  If we can find a way to share practices and exchange knowledge that could be beneficial for policy makers.

Second, the meeting felt that in Scotland the politicians are in listening mode. With over 50% of councillors’ new to that role and under the Community Empowerment act with 1% of the budget available to communities perhaps there is more chance of joining up with purpose – to make a difference. In addition city deals are designed to support new joined-up thinking and might be one vehicle with novel opportunities for action and delivery.

Third, around the room we returned to the idea that as policies are rapidly evolving and more and more people are working on short term contracts – so that new ways of working that develop institutional not just individual capacity are needed. That softer skills including sales and marketing, relationship building and influencing are required alongside professional skills such as finance and social work.

Many examples of work were touched on from different places including Brussels, Copenhagen and Stockholm. Tools including data partnerships and living labs that could be used to analyse interventions and share with policy makers to enhance learning and improve services. The key is not to lift wholesale what works in one country to another. More important is to take the evidence and learning and apply that knowledge intelligently in a different place with different laws and cultural norms.

In conclusion, it was my opinion that this was a successful first meeting. There was a real buzz as I left the room and over the following few days it was clear from email traffic that many connections are emerging.  An encouraging and exciting first step to meaningful collaboration. Watch this space.

Photo Credit: ToGa Wanderings Flickr via Compfight cc

https://www.lgiuscotland.org.uk/2018/04/30/local-praxis-making-the-links-between-research-and-delivery-in-providing-local-government-services/

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What are the challenges and opportunities of data/digital for local provision of public services?

Thoughts on five themes

It would be easy to be overwhelmed by the variety and velocity of opportunities and challenges that data presents for local provision of public services.

I am making a distinction here between data and digital.  For me digital has become a very broad term, relating to the modern application of computing through the vast array of devices, from the mobile phone to voice assistants.  What I am focusing on in this blog is the data that rests within the systems of operation that make up public services: the dates, details and descriptions captured to allow a service to operate.

To avoid being overwhelmed, I have identified five themes of challenge and opportunity that I believe are, or will, impact on how public services are, or may, be delivered, and what this may mean for how these services are structured or provisioned in the future.

five provocations

Diagram 1 – Five provocations

Regulation: The need to regulate at the pace of innovation and its adoption is fundamentally challenging how some forms of regulation are administered.  Larry Downes and Paul Nunes have written about Big Bang Disruption[i], noting that the traditional adoption paradigm of Everett Rogers[ii] – of innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards – is being “collapsed” into two groups: trial users, and everybody else.

As Downes and Nunes identify, “once the right combination of technologies and business model come together in a successful market experiment, mainstream consumers move en masse to the winner.” (2013, p.5)

It is this rapid pace of adoption that is in turn leading to challenges to the way that regulation operates.  This is evidenced best in relation to the emergence and rapid adoption of two “platform” businesses, Airbnb and Uber.  These have been widely covered in the press, so I will only provide a short summary explanation of the approaches.

In both cases, these businesses challenge the incumbent business model of operation, for accommodation letting and taxi operations.  Whilst the existing business norms have established regulatory frameworks around them, the new business models challenge this, by operating with new approaches.  The obvious element is that nether firm owns the assets they trade, nor were seen to employ the operatives who operated them.

This has been well covered in the press.  What has been less so, is the challenge of how to create regulatory frameworks that are flexible enough to cope with the emergence of these forms of “challenger” activity.

The challenge is that as more of this form of operation emerge, government goes through a series of “shock” responses to address the need for regulation, but at a pace that is far outstripped by the pace of innovation of the firms, and of a very different nature to that experienced in previous Industrial Revolutions.

Trust & Value Exchange – How to prove identity and share value is changing rapidly.  The rise of distributed ledger technologies and Blockchain is beginning to provide significant opportunity for how aspects of transactions that require trust and identify validation could be performed.  Whilst this has caught the imagination, at present, in relation to financial services, its applications in government should not be underestimated.

In November last year, the House of Lords published a report on “Distributed Ledger Technologies for Public Good: leadership, collaboration and innovation[iii].  As long ago as 2016, the Estonian Government[iv] confirmed that it was going to use Blockchain in the recording of citizen health records.

If we look forward for a moment, it is not unreasonable to hypothesis that for rules-based transactions – such as a wide variety of benefits – that the use of distributed ledger technology could be disruptive. Imagine a situation where the processing of claims can be both accelerated and verification made more robust; where a citizen provides permission for confirmation of details about them to be shared by a wide range of organisations for the citizen’s advantage.  The existing approaches to verification and validation could be fundamentally challenged, and the business model to deliver them.

Decisions will be dynamic – Decision-making will become augmented.  Many council services are about the provision and maintenance of a physical asset, such as housings, parks, roads, or street lighting.  With the rise of Smart Systems, currently best illustrated by Smart Lighting, there are now opportunities to augment the decisions that those who manage a system make with automated insights.

For example, a sensor in each streetlight, connected to a central control system, can provide data on the times that a light has been on, the energy consumption of the light, and the failure of the light.  The implications of this, is that it can assist the managers to manage maintenance more effectively: only sending out engineers when they are required.  This means that resource utility can be improved, energy consumption can be managed efficiently and the service delivered to the needs of service users.

This type of assisted, or semi-automated, support could be applied across a range of services.  Christophe Guille and Stephan Zech, at Bain & Co[v], wrote a fascinating piece in 2016, about how deploying data analytics was changing the operations of public utilities.

They identify that the complexity of the data and the analytics that are applied can provide different levels of support or automation. In the military, they call this situational awareness.  This ability to have closer to real-time awareness of what is going on offers significant opportunities for local service delivery, but requires new approaches to the way data is captured and used.

There are wider opportunities for this, when you start to add other datasets.  You can begin to develop predictive models that allow options for intervention to be considered quicker and in ways that will allow interventions to be better understood in advance.

Working with the crowd – Decision making will become diffused.  The way that opinions and views are being expressed have been fundamentally changed by the growth of social media platforms.  What this means for service provision and the relationships services have with active and passive users will be critical, as it the potential to be both either disruptive or collaborative.  The Attorney General’s Office in England and Wales has recognised this challenge, and launched a call for evidence[vi] in September last year to consider the impact that social media on the Administration of Justice.

A number of new approaches to gaining engagement with the populations that local services support have emerged.  Perhaps the most widely referenced is work done in Bristol by their first mayor, George Ferguson. He wanted to engage with the city on what ideas it should focus to improve the city and created George’s Ideas Lab[vii].  This engagement asked people to submit ideas and then for people to vote on them, so that the crowd self-selected their preferences.  This type of approach has also been used in collaborative budgeting in Liverpool[viii] and Edinburgh[ix].

These are being used currently to support the consideration of decisions, but in the future, they could be used to make the decision, particularly at a local level.

Administration: the impact of the bot – Robotic Process Automation: Simple, or rules-based, processes will be automated.  The general coverage on bots is that they will lead to significant job loss.  Wide ranges of observers have commented on this, including the recent Cities Outlook 2018 report[x].

Where a process is simple and rules-based, then it makes sense that these become automated, but with human oversight.  However, many services involve subjective assessment.  They require empathy in those that deliver the service.  An opportunity that RPA and bots offer is to “free” resource to increase the number of people available to provide person-to-person support and care.

With the projected growth in support demand from an aging population and rising child levels this way of ensuring we have people available to support this.  Technology does not need to be the direct solution; it can be a tool that enables in-direct benefits, by making other tasks easier.  Could the use of bots trigger the opportunity for a more empathy-service-focused workforce?

Final Thoughts

In all of these examples, a consistent question arises; what is fundamentally important to us in the provision of public services?  All of these technologies provide an opportunity to have a pro-social impact in the way that local public services are structured.  Alternatively, they could be a challenge.  What do we want?

 

Ritchie Somerville

Programme Advisor

Data Driven innovation Programme

University of Edinburgh

 

 

References

[i] Downes, L. and Nunes, P. (2013). Strategy in the Age of Devastating Innovation –

Big Bang Disruption. Accenture. 12 December 2013. Available at:  https://www.accenture.com/t20170411T181442Z__w__/us-en/_acnmedia/Accenture/Conversion-Assets/DotCom/Documents/Global/PDF/Dualpub_13/Accenture-Big-Bang-Disruption-Strategy-Age-Devastating-Innovation.pdf

[ii] Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations (5th ed.). New York, NY: Free Press.

[iii] Lord Holmes of Richmond (2017). Distributed Ledger Technologies for Public Good: leadership, collaboration and innovation.  Lord Holmes of Richmond, 28 November 2017. Available at: http://chrisholmes.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Distributed-Ledger-Technologies-for-Public-Good_leadership-collaboration-and-innovation.pdf

[iv] Kar, I. (2016). Estonian citizens will soon have the world’s most hack-proof health-care records, in Quartz, 3 March 2016. Available at: https://qz.com/628889/this-eastern-european-country-is-moving-its-health-records-to-the-blockchain/

[v] Guille, C. and Zech, S. (2016). How Utilities Are Deploying Data Analytics Now. Bain and Co, 31 August 2016, Available at: http://www.bain.com/publications/articles/how-utilities-are-deploying-data-analytics-now.aspx

[vi] Attorney General’s Office (2017). The Impact of Social Media on the Administration of Justice. National Archives, 15 September 2017. Available at:  https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-impact-of-social-media-on-the-administration-of-justice.

[vii] Bristol City Council (2014) George’s Ideas Lab. Accessed on 30 January 2018, at https://georgesideaslab.dialogue-app.com/ideas.

[viii] Liverpool Express (2013) Have a go at setting council budget. Accessed on 30 January 2018, at http://www.liverpoolexpress.co.uk/have-a-go-at-setting-council-budget/

[ix] The City of Edinburgh Council (2018) 2018/19 Council Budget Engagement. Accessed on 30 January 2018, at https://consultationhub.edinburgh.gov.uk/ce/2018-19-council-budget-engagement/

[x] Centre for Cities (2018) Cities Outlook 2018. Centre for Cities, London.  Available at: http://www.centreforcities.org/publication/cities-outlook-2018/

 

 

 

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It’s not (just) “the environment, stupid!”

 

Rachel Howell, Lecturer in Sociology/Sustainable Development

People who cut their carbon footprint because they’re worried about climate change are ‘environmental’ types, right? They love ‘nature’ and get fired up by those photos of polar bears stranded on melting ice. They might even rate ‘protecting the environment’ or ‘respecting the earth’ as their number one value.

Well, no; not necessarily.

As part of a research project on promoting lower-carbon lifestyles, I interviewed people who have cut their carbon footprint because they’re worried about climate change, to try to understand more about what motivates them. Concern about ‘the environment’ for its own sake is not generally their main reason for action. They tend to be more bothered about the effects of climate change on poorer people in developing countries. They’re often motivated by a deep sense of the injustice of a situation where those who will suffer most are those who have contributed least to the problem, and they talked in terms of trying to live with a fairer – therefore smaller – share of the world’s resources. When I asked them to imagine that we live in a different kind of world, one in which climate change would threaten polar bears with extinction but would somehow have little effect on humans, several interviewees said they would probably not be so concerned about the issue.

Moreover, their stories about how they’d got engaged in climate change action were about human rights groups and issues as often as environmental ones. Sally said that because she believed that all the gains she’d worked for in terms of women’s rights in developing countries were threatened, “it was probably actually feminism which brought me into climate change.” Deepta explained that many of her friends in her university Amnesty International group were also involved in environmental campaigns so she joined in with them too. David talked about growing up in South Africa, which led to political and social awareness that developed into concerns about many issues, including climate change.

It seemed to me that these were people who cared about the environment but who cared even more about people and social justice. To check this, I asked interviewees to answer a short questionnaire testing the strength of ‘biospheric’ (environment-centred), ‘altruistic’ (people-centred), and ‘egoistic’ (self-centred) values as guiding principles for their lives. The top-rated value was ‘social justice’, with ‘equality’ second. ‘Protecting the environment’ came third, and ‘respecting the earth’ was only sixth (after being ‘helpful’ and ‘a world at peace’). The majority of interviewees scored higher on the altruistic values scale than the biospheric one. Not surprisingly, they scored egoistic values low.

To me, perhaps the most remarkable finding was that some of these highly motivated people weren’t even that keen to talk about climate change. They thought the phrase was off-putting, or they were irritated by it because it’s overused, or they were simply not that interested in climate change. One person said she didn’t think you even have to believe in climate change to want to live a lower-carbon lifestyle, because of the benefits you’d gain from it.

These findings have important implications.

For example, appealing to altruistic values and to desires for things like quieter streets and stronger local communities may be more effective ways of encouraging people to change their behaviour than focussing on information about climate change impacts on the natural world.

People who want to promote lower-carbon lifestyles might find it worth working with human rights and development groups, and with organisations that place emphasis on altruistic values, like many religious groups. Development charities such as Oxfam and Christian Aid are already campaigning on climate change, but more could be done to make links between the concerns of organisations promoting women’s, children’s, and refugees’ rights and welfare and the potential impacts of climate change on these groups.

The fact that ‘climate change’ is not necessarily seen as interesting suggests that action campaigns should promote a much broader, more holistic view of a lower-carbon future, not just a ‘to do’ list to ‘combat climate change’. People do need information and advice about what action they can take, but “Ten Tips to Save the Planet” type messages may not be the best way of framing it – or not for everyone.

Obviously, these interviewees are not typical of the general population, but if “It’s the environment, stupid!” is not a catchphrase that really captures the range of motivations of even these committed people, the approach it represents is probably even less likely to inspire widespread behaviour change among the general public. Climate change is a complex problem with social, economic, political and ecological dimensions. This research suggests that it shouldn’t be framed merely as an ‘environmental’ issue by those who hope to engage the public in dealing with it.

 

Note: all names used in this post have been changed.

 

 

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Scotland’s Climate Change Ambition – ‘the people bit’

Ragne Low, ClimateXChange Programme Manager, University of Edinburgh

2017 will go down as the year when Scotland unequivocally nailed its colours to the mast of climate change action, with not one, not two, but three comprehensive policy commitments on climate change. The draft Climate Change Plan sets out a programme of policies that aim to bring our emissions down by 66% by 2032. The draft Energy Strategy paints a vision for Scotland’s energy future that is fundamentally decarbonised. And in proposals for a Climate Change Bill the Scottish Government is consulting on a new statutory target for a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. All of this sends a very clear signal that Scotland intends to become a net-zero carbon nation – perhaps within a generation, certainly within two.

Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 11.48.08

But what do we mean by ‘Scotland’ here? Who are the people doing the intending?

Surveys consistently show that majority of the Scottish public believes that action should be taken on climate change. In the wake of news that Trump planned to take the US out of the Paris Agreement, 70% of Scots wanted to see climate change legislation retained.[1] Around 50% of people in Scotland see climate change as an immediate and urgent problem[2] and 68% want the Government to invest in projects that cut emissions[3].

But what about the 30% who feel climate legislation should be scrapped? Or the 50% who do not see climate change as an urgent issue? And are all of the 68% who want more Government investment really prepared to see higher public sector borrowing to fund that investment; or indeed to pay for it through higher taxes/bills? What proportion would be prepared to invest themselves – to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, for example? The academic literature is littered with studies that show that people very often do not turn personal belief into personal action – the so-called value-action gap[4].

The Scottish Government itself recognises the need for ‘behavioural change’ to accompany top-down policy prescription if we are to achieve the huge emissions reductions set out in legislation. The ISM tool supports policy makers to think through all the factors, Individual, Social and Material, that influence people’s behaviours. ‘ISM’ has been used in formulating some policy interventions, but it is by no means embedded. Some four years after the launch of the ISM tool in 2013, the draft Climate Change Plan states:

The Scottish Government has used the ISM approach in various ways to support policy

development, including:

  • Running smaller internal workshops to initially explore behaviours…
  • Delivering ISM workshops with broad groups of stakeholders… to gather wider views on the behavioural challenge, investigating the current landscape and identifying potential barriers and gaps.
  • Following up the ISM workshops with a small working group approach focused on action planning and delivery, using insight (potential barriers and gaps) from initial workshops.
  • Using the ISM framework to support literature reviews of the behavioural challenge.”

This hardly suggests that ‘behaviours thinking’ was at the heart of the policy development process for the Plan.

But I would argue that having a focus on ‘behaviours’ is itself limiting. The ‘people bit’ of climate action is about more than an aggregate of individuals changing their behaviours. It’s about social change. The decarbonisation of Scotland will have massive impacts on people’s lives, from changing how we travel about to restructuring the jobs market. Some of these changes will happen slowly. Others will be faster but no less profound – a baby born today will grow up never having sat behind the wheel of a petrol car.

Although it is still sotto voce, there is an awareness on the part of the Scottish Government that the low carbon transition entails a fundamental social transition. In announcing the new £60m Innovation Fund a fortnight ago, the First Minister said that she wants Scotland to “embrace social changes that will reduce our emissions” (my emphasis). The draft Energy Strategy includes commitments to deepening public engagement and to “involve people in the decisions that affect them”.

So, who is doing the intending? Is ‘Scotland’ really up for all the changes that deep decarbonisation will bring? Based on survey data, the answer seems to be yes. But in fact we simply don’t know. That being the case, we should support the Scottish Government to go beyond the ‘behaviour change’ narrative, and make explicit the social change that’s so fundamental to Scotland’s decarbonisation.

[1] Survey conducted by YouGov for the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/83ir18dia2/ECIUResults_170509_Climate_Change_W.pdf

[2] Scottish Government’s Key Environment Statistics 2016 https://beta.gov.scot/publications/key-scottish-environment-statistics-2016-9781786525505/pages/4/

[3] Survey for WWF Scotland http://www.stopclimatechaos.org/sites/www.stopclimatechaos.org/files/SCCS_thousands%20taken%20action22-08-17.pdf

[4] For a quick summary of the value-action gap, see the Climate Change chapter of the International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (2015)

But what do we mean by ‘Scotland’ here? Who are the people doing the intending?

Surveys consistently show that majority of the Scottish public believes that action should be taken on climate change. In the wake of news that Trump planned to take the US out of the Paris Agreement, 70% of Scots wanted to see climate change legislation retained.[1] Around 50% of people in Scotland see climate change as an immediate and urgent problem[2] and 68% want the Government to invest in projects that cut emissions[3].

But what about the 30% who feel climate legislation should be scrapped? Or the 50% who do not see climate change as an urgent issue? And are all of the 68% who want more Government investment really prepared to see higher public sector borrowing to fund that investment; or indeed to pay for it through higher taxes/bills? What proportion would be prepared to invest themselves – to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, for example? The academic literature is littered with studies that show that people very often do not turn personal belief into personal action – the so-called value-action gap[4].

The Scottish Government itself recognises the need for ‘behavioural change’ to accompany top-down policy prescription if we are to achieve the huge emissions reductions set out in legislation. The ISM tool supports policy makers to think through all the factors, Individual, Social and Material, that influence people’s behaviours. ‘ISM’ has been used in formulating some policy interventions, but it is by no means embedded. Some four years after the launch of the ISM tool in 2013, the draft Climate Change Plan states:

The Scottish Government has used the ISM approach in various ways to support policy

development, including:

  • Running smaller internal workshops to initially explore behaviours…
  • Delivering ISM workshops with broad groups of stakeholders… to gather wider views on the behavioural challenge, investigating the current landscape and identifying potential barriers and gaps.
  • Following up the ISM workshops with a small working group approach focused on action planning and delivery, using insight (potential barriers and gaps) from initial workshops.
  • Using the ISM framework to support literature reviews of the behavioural challenge.”

This hardly suggests that ‘behaviours thinking’ was at the heart of the policy development process for the Plan.

But I would argue that having a focus on ‘behaviours’ is itself limiting. The ‘people bit’ of climate action is about more than an aggregate of individuals changing their behaviours. It’s about social change. The decarbonisation of Scotland will have massive impacts on people’s lives, from changing how we travel about to restructuring the jobs market. Some of these changes will happen slowly. Others will be faster but no less profound – a baby born today will grow up never having sat behind the wheel of a petrol car.

Although it is still sotto voce, there is an awareness on the part of the Scottish Government that the low carbon transition entails a fundamental social transition. In announcing the new £60m Innovation Fund a fortnight ago, the First Minister said that she wants Scotland to “embrace social changes that will reduce our emissions” (my emphasis). The draft Energy Strategy includes commitments to deepening public engagement and to “involve people in the decisions that affect them”.

So, who is doing the intending? Is ‘Scotland’ really up for all the changes that deep decarbonisation will bring? Based on survey data, the answer seems to be yes. But in fact we simply don’t know. That being the case, we should support the Scottish Government to go beyond the ‘behaviour change’ narrative, and make explicit the social change that’s so fundamental to Scotland’s decarbonisation.

[1] Survey conducted by YouGov for the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/83ir18dia2/ECIUResults_170509_Climate_Change_W.pdf

[2] Scottish Government’s Key Environment Statistics 2016 https://beta.gov.scot/publications/key-scottish-environment-statistics-2016-9781786525505/pages/4/

[3] Survey for WWF Scotland http://www.stopclimatechaos.org/sites/www.stopclimatechaos.org/files/SCCS_thousands%20taken%20action22-08-17.pdf

[4] For a quick summary of the value-action gap, see the Climate Change chapter of the International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (2015)

 

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If having children is bad for the environment, what should parents do about it?

Dr Elizabeth Cripps, Senior Lecturer in Political Theory, Programme Director, MSc Global Environment, Politics & Society, University of Edinburgh

 

Here’s a thought many of us find uncomfortable. When we tally up the ways our individual behaviour increases carbon emissions – flying, driving, eating animal products – there’s one thing we should put at the top of the list: having babies. Each time you do that, you effectively create another lifetime’s worth of pollution. On one estimate, the average US woman increases GHG emissions by 5.7 times her own lifetime average by having a child.

Some might claim that this way of looking at things misses an important point. Children are not passive consumption goods like driving a car or eating meat. They are people in their own right who grow up to be moral agents making their own lifestyle decisions. On this argument, parents are no more ‘to blame’ for their children’s unsustainable carbon footprints just because they had those children than they would be responsible for their crimes if the children grew up to be criminals.

But this response fails. For those of us living affluent lives in affluent countries, the point isn’t that our children might decide to live unsustainably (just as they might turn out to be psychopaths). It is that, on current trends, they very likely will. While of course it would be unfair to blame parents for everything their children do simply because they caused those children to exist, it is perfectly reasonable to ask individuals and couples to take seriously the expected carbon footprint of any children they choose to have.

What do these thoughts imply? Must ‘good environmental citizens’ refrain from having children? Some think so. But this ignores the great personal cost involved. For many who experience it, parenting is an intensely, perhaps uniquely, valuable experience and relationship. Having the opportunity to have a child is arguably a central human interest. Giving this up looks like an unreasonable sacrifice to have to make: one on a completely different scale to refraining from flying, or changing your diet.

Instead, the environmental costs of having children should prompt us to do at least two things. One is to have only a small family. There’s an enormous difference between the view that there’s a central interest in having the opportunity to be a parent, and the claim that there is such an interest in having many children. As one philosopher neatly puts it, mothering isn’t like being a Better Boy tomato plant. It is, or should be, about the quality of the relationship. If Britain’s Prince Charles is the environmentalist he claims to be, perhaps he shouldn’t be unequivocally delighted that his son and daughter-in-law are expecting a third child.

The other is being a ‘climate-conscious’ parent: keeping childhood emissions low and raising educated, motivated children who are more likely to fight for political progress on climate change and make individual changes themselves. Recall that the emphasis, earlier, was on parents’ responsibility for their children’s expected carbon footprint. There are no guarantees – and we wouldn’t want parents to brainwash their children even if they could – but this is one way of keeping that predicted footprint down.

This is only one of many reasons for climate-conscious parenting, which could also be required by broader climate justice duties, or owed to the children themselves. But it is a distinct – and I think an important – rationale. Having children contributes to harmful climate change. Even if we can justify having them despite the harm, we have to take it seriously and make up for it as far as reasonably possible. EC

 

This post also appears on the University of Edinburgh’s Just World Institute blog and is based on a paper presented at Reflecting on the World, and Changing the World: Philosophy in Practice, University College London, 23 June 2017.

 

 

 

 

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The Trump Administration and the Curious Case for Climate Optimism

As part of ‘Climate Week’, the Academy of Government will blog on the subject of the environment this week.  We start the week with Professor Bomberg on President Trump and the environment.

Elizabeth Bomberg, Professor of Politics, University of Edinburgh, e.bomberg@ed.ac.uk

 

A perusal of President Donald Trump’s climate and environmental initiatives makes for sobering reading. Within his first 100 days he appointed a series of climate sceptics and oilmen to his cabinet and closest advisory circle. He vowed to ‘end the war on coal’ by attempting to dismantle Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), which is designed to regulate carbon emission from power plants. He lifted a moratorium on coal leasing, and issued permits for controversial oil pipelines. Meanwhile, his proposed budget included huge cuts in funding for scientific agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the federal institution charged with upholding and implementing environmental legislation.  This list is partial.

 

What readers might not realise, however, is that regardless of what Trump would like to implement, his policies, budget cuts and actions will confront constitutional, institutional and societal barriers. Some of Trump proposals will get through, but a lot will not.  Four checks and countervailing trends are particularly important.

 

The first check is constitutional.  Both Congress and, even more so, the judicial branch will pose formidable checks on Trump’s power. Any proposed dismantling of the CPP, for instance, will be subject to lengthy congressional but also judicial review, triggered by suits filed by a range of states, environmental, labour and health NGOs.  Even if these NGOs are ultimately unsuccessful in their legal challenge, the delay could last years, longer than the presidential term itself.

 

The second barrier is economic. Trump cannot stop the global and national market forces which have sent coal use in a downward spiral. Hundreds of US coal power plants have closed, the number of jobs in the coal sector has plummeted. Meanwhile, renewables are a tremendous growth industry in the US, especially in the Midwest. Costs for wind and solar have fallen markedly and employment has shot up.  In the electricity sector, according to the US Department of Energy, employment in solar alone now outstrips employment in oil and gas.

 

We have also seen formidable opposition below the federal level. Much of the relevant statutory power (and creativity) in climate and environment policy is found here.  California has led other states vowing to defy Trump’s  policies and committing to sharply reduce state emissions in light of federal inaction. Just as important is pushback from a growing number of Republican states like Iowa, Kansas, and Ohio who have benefitted enormously from a renewables revolution which has brought to their states jobs, investment, and reduced energy costs. These Republican leaders have become unexpected champions of low carbon economies and low carbon policies.  Cities will also continue their core efforts to reduce carbon as part of their efforts to reduce costs, protect coasts, infrastructures and public safety. More general citizen mobilization has also grown and diversified. In addition to dramatically increased membership of environmental NGOs, 2017 has featured a record breaking number of protests from unlikely quarters including religious communities, health groups and scientists concerned by the Administration’s dismissive view of research and data.

 

The adverse impact of Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the Paris Climate Agreement will  also be limited.  The official withdrawal will take a minimum of four years (longer than his term) due to provisions written into the Paris Agreement. More importantly, the Paris Agreement enjoys wide support from a huge range of countries, and several other parties to the Agreement have promised to fill the void left by US inaction. These parties include the European Union (‘We are ready to lead the fight’ said a spokesman), but also India and, especially, China which has huge incentives to take on the leadership role abandoned by the US.  China is highly vulnerable to climate change and suffers dangerously high levels of urban pollution. Moreover, its economy benefits enormously from the global development of renewables. For most countries, the environmental, economic and diplomatic incentives for moving forward on Paris far outweigh the temptation to follow a laggard.

 

Several contributors to this AoG Environment series will identify the changes necessary to address climate change in Scotland and globally. These changes include societal mobilization, an economic shift to low carbon energy, sub-state action and behavioural and cultural shifts. While not receiving much attention in the UK press, these forces are all thriving in the US.  Combined with the constitutional checks outlined above, it is not unreasonable to think these countervailing forces will shape – and in many cases curtail – the Trump’s Administration’s attempt to scupper progress on climate policy and action.  The case for climate optimism continues, with or without Trump.

 

This blog is an updated version of post first appearing as: Trump’s First 100 Days: The Curious Case for Climate Optimism in The Geographer. Thanks to the Royal Scottish Geographical Society for permission to re-post.

 

Further Reading

For a fuller analysis of Trump’s early environmental and climate policy, see Bomberg, E. 2017. ‘Environmental politics in the Trump era: an early assessment, Environmental Politics, 25(6): 956-63

 

 

 

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Lobbying in the UK: legitimate reform or wishful thinking?

Joshua Bird

 

The quest for increased transparency is very appropriate given the various lobbying scandals that have plagued Westminster over the last decade. Lobbying legislation in the UK has thus changed considerably over this period. In 2014, the UK coalition government passed the “Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act” (Lobbying Act). In addition to creating a register of lobbyists, this legislation also imposed new campaigning and spending limits for anyone lobbying at Westminster during the ‘regulated period’, which is 12 months before a general election and 4 months before devolved elections.

However, implementation of the Lobbying Act has fallen far short of expectations. While the coalition championed the legislation, opposition MPs, journalists, academics, and civil society almost universally criticised it. They held that the new definition of “lobbyist” was too narrow for the Act to capture the vast majority of actual lobbying, but also that the legislation was so complex and burdensome to comply with that it would have a “chilling effect” on legitimate democratic activity. Further, the Electoral Commission (which is responsible for disseminating guidance to campaigners) held that the Act was neither clear nor enforceable. After it eventually passed in January 2014, 162 of the UK’s biggest charities called for its repeal.

Subsequent research has found that these criticisms were not unfounded. The Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement has released several reports outlining the Act’s (largely negative) impact on campaigners and organisations, and Lord Hodgson’s independent review of campaigning during the 2015 General Election (the first election cycle when the Lobbying Act applied) offered recommendations for improvements whilst retaining the spirit of the law. In addition, recent research found evidence that the Lobbying Act adversely affected Scottish organisations during the same election cycle. This research specifically highlighted how ambiguities in the legislation (especially the new spending limits) mean campaigner’s perceptions of the policy are as important, if not more so, than the actual effects of it.

The criticisms persist to this day, with 122 organisations recently claiming they are being “gagged” by the Act’s regulations. Nevertheless, and despite the snap election in June 2017, this issue has largely fallen off the policy agenda and the UK Government has (as of this writing) yet to act on any recommendations.

The Scottish Parliament is also currently overhauling how people engage with MSPs. The Lobbying (Scotland) Act, passed in March 2016, will establish a separate Scottish lobbying register, and a working group exists to inform the development of the register. This participatory approach is in marked contrast to Westminster’s more top-down implementation methods. Despite this, serious concerns about the Scottish Lobbying Act remain.

First, as in Westminster, the Scottish Act will apply uniformly to any campaigner whether it is a private organisation, charity, community group, etc. The ‘catch-all’ nature of the legislation is problematic because a PR firm working on behalf of global oil or tobacco conglomerate is in a completely different league in terms of access to funding and political capital than, say, a Highlands-based social enterprise. Yet these two organisations must abide by the same lobbying regulations under this law.

Another issue is that the Scottish Act only captures personal interactions. That is, all face-to-face contact between any campaigner and MSP must be recorded and reported. However, any digital communications such as emails, text messages and even phone calls fall out with the scope of the Scottish Act. As Martin Sime, chief executive of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, recently pointed out, “where is the evidence that face-to-face lobbying is more effective than other methods?”

Worth noting here is that there are eight other EU countries with mandatory registers, which represents an important policy learning opportunity for the Scottish working group. Most notably, strict rules in Ireland, implemented after the 2008 recession, are considered the “gold standard” of lobbying regulation. In contrast to the UK, Ireland’s law employs a broad definition of lobbyist, which ensures that activities that actually influence public policy are monitored appropriately. Indeed, a close analysis international best practice in Ireland and elsewhere is crucial for robust policy development in Holyrood.

Overall, it is necessary that there are safeguards in place to ensure transparency and openness in our parliamentary systems. However, these safeguards must not hinder organisations from legitimate campaigning and engagement activities. The participative manner in which Scotland’s Lobbying Act is being developed is positive, but there are still many issues to be resolved ahead of the planned implementation of Scotland’s Lobbying Register in early 2018.

For further information, see: Bird, J. R. (2017). The Lobbying Act and the Scottish Third Sector: Implications for Policy Development, Implementation, and Practice. Scottish Affairs, 26(3), pp.297-320.

 

Joshua Bird is a Policy Engagement Officer for the Rural Policy Centre at Scotland’s Rural College, where he conducts research on a variety of rural issues and also facilitates knowledge exchange between academia and policy processes. His professional interests include maximising real-world impact from research across a variety of disciplines, and how to ensure that researchers and academics are more aware of the policy contexts in which they work more generally. He is also an alumnus of the Academy of Government, having completed a Master of Public Policy with Distinction in 2015.

 

 

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