Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Is collaboration the key?

As an intern at CIBSE, I was fortunate to be invited to be a participant in two events concerning the London Plan (Draft):
  1. The London Plan Discussion
  2. The Blue Roofs Event
Both events highlighted a major challenge in policy-making and implementation – the lack of collaboration. And it is this theme of collaboration that the blog tries to address.

No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it. 

H.E. Luccock

This quote serves as an analogy for collaboration in the built-environment sector as well as policy-making in general. Think of the built-environment as an orchestral concert. The various disciplines associated with it are the different instruments. The orchestra symbolizes the disciplines working in collaboration with each other. While they may be good enough by themselves, the symphony sounds the best with all the instruments played together in a rhythm. This is also true for policy-making, where collaboration between individual actors from different backgrounds can lead to better policies and implementation. The CIBSE Resilient Cities group also shares the ideology of collaboration in its objectives which state:
  • To seek collaborations with other groups, networks and societies within and outside of CIBSE.
  • To facilitate a two-way interface with the research community, encouraging knowledge co-generation, highlighting knowledge gaps and working with relevant bodies to ’translate’ research into practical advice.
(Objective 3 and 4, Resilient Cities Group.
Having worked in the construction sector, I have been privy to how collaboration generally happens in the industry. Early stage involvement is still a theoretical concept in many projects. From the discussions, I have come to understand that this may also be true of development projects and policy.

Collaboration contributes to building holistic systems. It can help link a variety of cross-disciplinary ideas and creation of better systems which serve more multiple functions.  For the London Plan (Draft), it was identified that most policies were considered in isolation. For example, in the flood risk management and the sustainable drainage sections under the chapter titled ‘Sustainable Infrastructure’, integration of green infrastructure was not considered while it might have been used to address both these challenges. This issue of the lack of integration (and thereby lack of collaboration) was identified by stakeholders at the consultation along with a more comprehensive focus on integrative design. Bringing all the issues together at a policy level also has implications for the level of collaboration that occurs on the field for development projects. Clients and designers would be more likely to address issues at early stages if policy guidelines are more holistic. 

Another reason that collaboration is important, especially in the policy context, is that the way a policy is worded may have a unique meaning in different professions and guidelines/standards. One stakeholder identified that the word ‘standard’ in the context of trees might mean different things depending on the guidelines followed. It was also noticed that many guidelines, policies and standards were not on the same page. In a world where technological change is rapid, it is necessary that the standards keep pace too. Potential conflicts in standards inhibit the application of technology. It was prescribed in the consultation that revisiting them might lead to a better implementation of policy and application of technology. 

Development projects have interdependencies like fire safety, monitoring, maintenance etc. which come to the fore after a project has been handed over. Early stage involvements in the design of projects and, more importantly, of policies would enable stakeholders to take better care of these interdependencies. New technologies are accompanied with a reluctance on the part of insurers due to their perception of risks related to them. This impedes quick adoption of these technologies. In turn, clients and designers are reluctant to use them in their projects. Collaboration might be a key to solving this problem. Including professionals at an early stage in the design process (of a project or a policy) could lead to a better understanding of risks associated with them. This, in turn, could lead to better prospects for insurance and increased trust on the part of clients and designers.  Hence, collaboration could help to extract the maximum benefits that the technology offers. 

As CIBSE points out in its response to the draft plan, the planners could collaborate with and learn from other cities that have successfully implemented collaborative efforts in the past. For instance, in Gentofte Municipality in Denmark, by forming ad hoc committees called “Task Committees”, the local councillors have reduced the time spent on case processing. This is done by tackling the most pressing problems confronted by the locals by policy interventions which are created through sustained interaction over time with the citizens and concerned stakeholders. This way, not only is the policy contextually sound but also more responsive to solving the problems. [1]

A global city like London faces enormous environmental (pollution, climate change etc.) and social challenges (housing, infrastructure etc.). And like every challenge, this also presents opportunities – including for policy interventions. As one of the greatest cities on this planet, London could stand out as an example of collaborative working (/planning). Collaboration will not only help in creating solutions to the problem it faces but also spur innovation for London. In summary, collaboration can help build holistic systems, allowing for better design and implementation. It also has implications for better risk sharing and insurance. 

This blog would not be possible without the inputs (collaboration!) from Julie Godefroy, Susie Diamond and the people at both the London plan events. Thanks!

[1] Ansell, C. et al. (2017) Policy and Politics: Improving policy implementation through collaborative policymaking [online]. Available from:

Shobhit Chepe
MSc Disasters, Adaptation and Development
Department of Geography
King’s College London