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Universities

Lessons from the demise of 100 Resilient Cities

100 Resilient Cities closed its doors at the start of August. Although principally aimed at local governments and city administrations, the organisation’s focus on solving locally-identified challenges made it, in my opinion, highly relevant for universities.

The three African cities in my doctoral research – Accra, Addis Ababa and Kigali – are all resilient cities. Several posts on this site focus on resilience (examples here and here). And I have interviewed the Chief Resilience Officers in Toronto and Milan for several research projects that have stressed the role of universities in tackling urban problems.

There’s good coverage on CityLab and The Conversation on what the closure of 100 Resilient Cities means and some of the reasons for it being shuttered. Over on LinkedIn, Elliott Cappell, the former Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Toronto, posted an excellent analysis of the ascent and demise of 100 Resilient Cities, asking what can we learn. Elliott kindly gave permission for me to republish his post here – it’s well worth a read for considering what we can learn for similar future initiatives. Over to Elliott…

As of August 1st, 2019, 100 Resilient Cities is winding down.

Yes, you read that correctly: the $160m, Rockefeller-backed, global organization with offices from Mexico City to Singapore, and Chief Resilience Officers in 80 cities, has shuttered its windows.  This is a truly acute shock for anyone working on urban development, climate change, or international development.

I remember the first day I walked into 100RC’s offices in Manhattan, because that was the day I met Otis Rolley (who was then an executive of 100RC).  If you have met Otis, you will also recall your first time. Otis is so charismatic, so honest, and so intelligent that it defies description. It is hard not to like Otis.

On that April day in 2017, Otis cited scripture to describe the ascent of 100RC and its network of CROs: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”.  The passage, in this context, meant that 100RC was growing, drawing in the best people, the greatest cities, and the brightest ideas – and so drawing in even better people, more partners, and better ideas.  Otis was right, too.

Yet, just 28 months later, 100RC is finished. Wow.

How did this happen?  If you are working in cities or climate change or development, it is worth trying to understand how 100RC went from ascent to demise in just two years.  From my perspective, there are three lessons:

In public policy, simple ideas become complex very quickly.

In public policy, simple ideas become complex very quickly.  100RC started with a great idea: making cities around the world resilient to shocks, like Hurricane Katrina. They made it a bit more complex, by introducing the concept of ‘stresses’ that make those shocks worse, like poor land use planning or institutional racism.  Tackling ‘shocks and stresses’ was a huge, audacious idea, literally with the potential to change the world.

But then 100RC made it much more complex.  They promised resilience wouldn’t just be focused on the pending doom of climate change, but would actually solve ‘any challenges cities faced’.  They would create a ‘marketplace for resilience’, and ‘innovative finance for resilience’.  100RC’s approach was documented in a ‘guidance manual’ of hundreds of pages, in which ‘meetings’ became ‘bootcamps’; ‘consultants’ became ‘strategy partners’; and ‘discovery areas’ would feed into cities’ ‘opportunity assessments’.  Even the press releases are complex enough that it is really hard to understand what 100RC is doing or why.

Cities are complex systems, so it’s hard to simplify and still create meaningful change.  But the 100RC strategy should have been simpler; because simple becomes complex, and in this case, complex became unachievable.

If you get the local political economy wrong, your project will fail.

100RC’s second challenge was to apply their model, which was based on American cities’ governance, to cities around the world.  But cities are governed differently around the world. For example, as CRO in Toronto, I reported to the City Manager, who is like the CEO of the city, whereas our Mayor is like the Chairperson of the Board.  But in New York, the CRO reports to the Mayor, who is CEO and Chairperson both.

In international development, we refer to these subtle but very important differences as ‘the local political economy’.  If you get the local political economy wrong, your project will fail.

From my perspective on the ground, 100RC was not able to internalize the differences between New York and Toronto – which are only an hour away by plane.  Those differences created massive barriers to implementing 100RC’s model in our context. Now multiply that problem by 100 cities across dozens of countries, and you have a second reason 100RC is shut today: local political economy matters.

The third reason is money. 100RC spent lots and lots of money.  Annually, 100RC flew dozens of tech entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to Italy, where they were served meals literally topped with edible gold leaves (or gold leafs, in Toronto’s political economy).  They held a ‘resilience track’ at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas (Vegas was not a 100RC city). They held ‘learning labs’ around the world on a range of topics such as a ‘city currency’, and they spent lots doing so.

What do Las Vegas, a city currency, or consumer electronics have to do with protecting cities from climate change?  Didn’t we start this whole thing because of Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy? Where was climate change in all this spending?  One can draw a connection from venture capital to city resilience (100RC tried), but it certainly isn’t straightforward.

If you’re working on public policy or using public resources, you need to keep tightly accountable to linking your budget with your outcomes.  It isn’t easy to explain why using philanthropic funds for ‘living labs’ and ‘platform partners’ (100RC parlance for site visits and for short term consulting advice) leads to improved resilience.  So the third lesson here is that monitoring and evaluation is crucial: tracking to clear metrics help us demonstrate that money is leading to change.

100RC was successful and continues to be relevant, as climate change causes problems faster than cities are coming up with solutions.

100RC was not a failure.  In a short time there has been a substantial change in how cities act and think, and it’s very impressive how much was achieved.  With most people living in cities and the climate causing problems faster than we come up with solutions, 100RC is actually still relevant.  That 100RC was successful and is relevant makes today feel like a brutal, bruising failure.

I hope many other people in our industry share their thoughts on how we got here.  100RC was a very important organization, and it is important that we, as urban development, climate change, and international development professionals, own and understand this as a collective failure.  If, by the grace of the Rockefeller Foundation, we get another shot at helping cities combat climate change, we need to identify and learn the lessons from 100RC’s demise.

Elliott

Read the original post on LinkedIn here.

(Image credit)

Categories
Universities

Tracking strategic internationalisation over time

Giorgio Marinoni and Hans de Wit ask in a recent edition of International Higher Education whether ‘the internationalisation of higher education has become a strategic process at higher education institutions (HEIs) around the world’.

They correctly note that having a strategy does not mean having a strategic approach. Drawing on a survey of 907 universities from 126 countries, they conclude that ‘the presence of an institution-wide policy/strategy for internationalisation, as well as the presence of a dedicated office or team to oversee its implementation, are becoming the norm at HEIs around the world’. Both the presence of a strategy and of dedicated teams have grown significantly over the past 15 years, according to previous survey data.

However, the development of monitoring frameworks has ‘stagnated’, and the authors find a risk of a gulf opening up between those institutions who choose to (and can afford to be) strategic about internationalisation, and those who are less engaged.

These discussions build on two related strands of work I’ve been involved with in the past: universities working with cities on internationalisation (with a central conclusion being a need for ‘strategic internationalisation’), and the ineffectiveness of many university engagement strategies. On the latter, and with a UK-focus, this post on the HEPI blog is worth a read: ‘almost 63% of university strategies have end dates in 2019, 2020 or 2021 and hence will need to be re-written and re-launched over the next few years’.

(Image credit: Unsplash)

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Universities

Entrepreneurship in UK education: the local dimension

The National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education (NCEE) launched the Inspiring Entrepreneurship in Education report last week at the House of Lords, capturing the views of 62 Heads of Enterprise from UK universities (I provided the analysis).

The report was covered by Times Higher Education (paywall article), who led with the finding that university support for enterprise in local schools and communities has significantly decreased in the past six years. The full report here (PDF) covers a wide range of activity and indicators, perhaps best summed up by this visual heat map from the annex. The first column is 2018 activity and the second column 2012 data, and greener is better:

The article ends by summing up the report conclusions focusing on local activity:

The report also recommends that universities consider how existing activity and the work of students in particular could engage with schools and communities, and that staff promote the work of local entrepreneurs, in preference to tales of high-profile examples such as Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson, to make entrepreneurship seem more accessible to students.

The final recommendation in particular was also echoed by Professor Alison Wolf, Baroness of Dulwich, who also spoke at the event.

Categories
Universities

How to write an engagement strategy

Writing an effective strategy for local engagement is difficult.

Read through the following statements, taken from a UK university’s strategic plan, and see if anything looks familiar:

As a vibrant knowledge hub, we have an important role to play both locally and globally. The university is a large employer and economic contributor in the region.

We aim to build a clear and distinctive reputation for excellence through strategic engagement and communication with our regional, national and international communities.

We will help the region address its challenges and opportunities while incorporating its many possibilities in education and research.

Could this be from your university’s strategic plan or external engagement strategy? I actually lied at the start: these statements aren’t from a single university. They’re a jumbled mix of statements from five universities from across the UK nations, and from various mission groups. But if they look familiar this could be a problem.

A Barnum effect?

Speaking at recent events, I’ve asked the audience – mostly of higher education professionals – whether these statements about engagement could be from their strategic plan. Nearly everyone raises their hand.

This reminds me, perhaps a little uncharitably, of the Barnum effect. Emerging from a series of psychological experiments in the 1940s, the effect involves showing participants – for example, a class of students – an individual personality statement based on a handwriting sample or a piece of written work. Statements include:

  • You have a great need for other people to like and admire you.
  • You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.
  • You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage.

Because the assessment statements are so vague, people interpret their own meaning, and the statements become personal to them. Nearly all participants believed their assessment to be uncannily accurate.

Engagement expectations

There is a growing expectation for universities to be regionally engaged, and this follows from a recognition of the role universities can play in their area and with local communities. The interest and enthusiasm around the Civic University Commission is evidence of this.

This local role isn’t new. Many universities have had engagement as a core part of their mission since their founding. But in recent years government has focused on the role of cities and regions in devolved policymaking, as well as the institutions, such as universities, that can help steer this.

As regional plans – from City Deals to Local Industrial Strategies – shape the policy environment university planners need to factor the issue of place more highly. Often, however, the result is strangely place-neutral: a series of engagement strategies and university planning documents that are largely indistinguishable from one another.

Place, positioning and partnerships

There are positives to be drawn from my (admittedly unscientific) scan of university engagement strategies. Many recognise how the local and international activities of universities reinforce each other. Universities are bridges for their towns, cities and regions to reach the world, and this offer to connect the local and the global is made loud and clear.

In my work for the British Council on universities and cities working together on internationalisation, I found that effective planning was built on a deep understanding of place, positioning and partnerships. It is long-term, deliberate and part of a wider vision of the future of the local area. Universities often have a clear sense of their positioning, but articulating this in the context of place and partnerships can be tricky.

University strategies are not the place to detail individual activities and actions. But a greater degree of specificity is often needed, and this is likely to mean dropping some of the broad statements to focus on a few areas of institutional strength, perhaps joining up with other local universities.

Rooting strategies in place, positioning and partnerships is a good start. The Civic University Commission’s progress report notes that measuring civic engagement is not widespread (but does highlight Cardiff University’s use of quantitative and qualitative analysis). Further work on this is also important.

A good incentive to write a long-term strategy (image credit)https://unsplash.com/photos/cKjxGyfNdQc
A good incentive to write a long-term strategy (image credit)

So too is taking a longer-term perspective. Many universities proudly promote their anchor presence in their area, but their plans are often on five or ten-year cycles. The city of Amsterdam has a 200-year strategy. Although this is prompted by climate change (as an official said, “we don’t want to just let the water flow and all have to move to Germany”), thinking about what a university strategy spanning one or two centuries may look like is perhaps a useful exercise.

A test when looking at your university engagement strategy: if you remove your institution’s name, and mix it up in a pot with other anonymised strategies, is it clear which strategy is yours?

This post first appeared on Wonkhe.

Main image credit

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Guest post Universities

No ordinary think tank

Guest post by Jonathan Schifferes, Associate Director – Public Services and Communities at the RSA

At the dawn of a new parliament – one which will be gripped by negotiating Britain’s international relations while also negotiating new alliances in the House of Commons – the UK gained another think tank last week.

Some political insiders explain that this kind of parliament is likely to sideline the philosophers and reformers with a policy vision for government. Instead the deal-makers, the tactical masters, and the charismatic will be in demand.

In this context, what contribution can a think tank realistically make in the coming year? At the RSA we have been working over the last two years to support the development of a new kind of think tank: one that is focused on the issues of a specific place, within an ‘anchor institution’ that itself shapes the place it is in.

Despite over a decade of devolution and localism in UK politics, there are remarkably few1 civil society organisations that have been established with a place as their focus. We hear frequent complaints of policy silos and politics centred on Westminster, yet most think tanks organise themselves around a policy issue and locate themselves in Westminster.

To generate a richer debate on the social and economic development of the UK’s towns and cities, we need to bridge the gap between the sidelined political philosophy and the daily grind of machine politics. For several years, the RSA has recognised that universities have enormous potential to drive social and economic outcomes in the places they exist – echoing calls for a new breed of ‘civic university’.

RSA Chief Executive Matthew Taylor gave the keynote speech last week, launching Nottingham Civic Exchange, based at Nottingham Trent University (NTU). In partnership with the university leadership, the RSA has helped shape this civic think tank – bringing together many of our Fellows across the region and pooling our research capabilities. NTU views Nottingham Civic Exchange as a key part of delivering its overall strategy.

Going to the heart of what will matter in the lives of one million people across Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, the first programme of Nottingham Civic Exchange is called ‘Out of the Ordinary’. Today, NCE publishes an analysis of ‘ordinary working families’ in the city-region. Rather than simply using economic analysis to fuel Westminster soundbites, and packaging up a new demographic for electoral fodder, this study uncovers important data on Ordinary Working Families in a specific place.

Six million people define themselves as ‘just about managing’

While the struggles of the ‘squeezed middle’, ‘alarm clock Britain’ and households on low and moderate incomes have been discussed for years, what is most remarkable is that nationwide, an estimated six million people define themselves as ‘just about managing’, despite being in households with income above the national median.

In Nottingham, jobs in the caring and leisure industries are more common sources of employment compared to the UK average, and the prevailing low pay of these sectors – where women hold the majority of roles – challenges household finances. The RSA’s Inclusive Growth Commission made the case for place-based industrial strategies, which will be even more crucial as the economic adjustment of leaving the EU approaches, and devolution seems likely to stall. NTU has a particular accountability to families who are ‘just about managing’ – 21% of their 2015 full time undergraduate intake is estimated to come from this background.

Through the summer, the RSA’s ongoing work with NCE will bring a further focus on economic insecurity. We think addressing economic security is a neglected policy goal, which will help bring in to focus the following:

  • The breakdown of traditional class markers. University education has expanded for the recent generation, occupational roles in the workplace are undergoing accelerating change, and home ownership is declining among adults in their 30s establishing families. The financial security previously afforded by a university degree and a white-collar job is eroding, and partly as a consequence owner-occupation is less easily accessible as a form of insurance to protect against unstable or falling incomes. As post-election analysis has suggested, ‘age is the new class’ when it comes to predicting how people align to support political parties.
  • The importance of households as a unit of analysis. Most labour market statistics, for example, look at workers as individuals. Most workers live in households and financial decisions are made in that context: 43% of people have a joint account with their partner. Families and their homes transmit wealth through the economy at a scale which dwarfs the government’s own system of tax-funded pensions. Differences in the experience of insecurity between generations remain relatively under-explored.
  • The importance of looking across the life-course rather than using snapshot data pictures. Looking at longitudinal data across Europe, the lower middle class has the highest rates of transitory poverty; moving in and out of poverty defines their economic status.
  • The economic, fiscal, social and health impacts of subjective (‘felt’) insecurity are just as, if not more potent than, the effects of objective insecurity and material deprivation. This doesn’t mean that addressing material deprivation and poverty should be neglected as policy goals. But it does mean recognising that progressing in the modern workplace brings anxieties and volatility, not necessarily the secure affluence that many crave.
  • Longer-term, a defining characteristic of our era is declining confidence that the future will be better than the past. A survey in 2015 found 25% of UK respondents thought their children would be better off than them; 68% thought they would be worse off.

Nottingham housing

My hypothesis is that in a rich country like the UK, being secure in your economic status matters alongside your absolute affluence. And overall economic inequality matters in part because it exacerbates the experience and perception of insecurity for all in society: greater inequality means there is more to gain and more to lose from a change in their position on the income spectrum.

Beyond the day-to-day parliamentary dealmaking, the election aftermath may prove be one in which austerity plans are dialled down, labour market considerations dominate Brexit talks and vote-winning policies for ‘ordinary working families’ are reconsidered. At the very least, facing a broad range of possible futures makes it a good time to be a nimble think tank.

We need more people to be more involved in policymaking

The next phase of work for Nottingham Civic Exchange will look in more detail at the lives of Ordinary Working Families through research, policy development and working with local communities to identify important issues and come up with recommendations for making changes which have real life impact. They will also link students and staff at the university with wider communities through scholarships, internships, and research projects. In line with the RSA’s wider programme on revitalising economic democracy, we need more people to be more involved in policymaking – in this parliament and beyond – if government and society is to successfully address growing economic insecurity for growing numbers of people. Through partnering with a university committed to improving the city and region it calls home, Nottingham Civic Exchange will tighten the links between policy, action and legitimacy in addressing economic insecurity.

Jonathan is Associate Director – Public Services and Communities at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce). Read his posts on the RSA website here, or follow him on Twitter here.

This post originally appeared on the RSA blog.

Photos of Nottingham: top jess_k_kent1 on Flickr, middle Mr Thinktank on Flickr.


  1. We are aware of: Newcastle City Futures, Centre for London, Southern Policy Centre, Manchester New Economy. Let us know in the comments of others that we have missed. 
Categories
Universities

History, policy and development

Having studied both history and international development, I’m always interested in work that bridges the two. ‘History, Historians and Development Policy’ fits the bill perfectly. One of the many valuable lessons to draw from such work is the importance of taking a long term view:

…history brings a particular kind of perspective to development problems – it is a vantage point for framing and viewing the nature of development which is relatively long term and comparative, while also paying full attention to, and not shying away from, critical issues of power, contestation and conflict. (p.16)

In policy both the medium and long term views are often sacrificed in favour of the short term, for example the apparent willingness to erase the institutional memory on higher education within government. Although this rarely results in colossal blunders, it clearly hinders effective learning and can engender cynicism in those on the receiving end.

At the other end of the spectrum, it is an interesting exercise to free ourselves from the short and medium term and think ultra long term. For example, this piece argues that ‘megacities, not nations, are the world’s dominant, enduring social structures’, and that cities have outlasted all ‘empires and nations over which they have presided’. If we were to frame development in terms of cities (and the towns in their orbit and the spaces that separate them) rather than nations, how would this affect policy? And would, for example, universities in those cities change their strategies? (I’ll look at this next week).

We should welcome historians into policymaking. The excellent History & Policy site attempts to do just that. An essay from 2010 on ‘The ‘Idea of a University’ today’ concludes:

If we seek guidance from the past, it is better to see the ‘idea of the university’ not as a fixed set of characteristics, but as a set of tensions, permanently present, but resolved differently according to time and place. Tensions between teaching and research, and between autonomy and accountability, most obviously. But also between universities’ membership of an international scholarly community, and their role in shaping national cultures and forming national identity; between the transmission of established knowledge, and the search for original truth; between the inevitable connection of universities with the state and the centres of economic and social power, and the need to maintain critical distance; between reproducing the existing occupational structure, and renewing it from below by promoting social mobility; between serving the economy, and providing a space free from immediate utilitarian pressures; between teaching as the encouragement of open and critical attitudes, and society’s expectation that universities will impart qualifications and skills. To come down too heavily on one side of these balances will usually mean that the aims of the university are being simplified and distorted.

Photo Credit: roomman via Compfight cc