29 Nov 2017
I recently attended a workshop hosted by Main Street Consulting as part of a contract they were undertaking for Scottish Natural Heritage to look at the opportunities for green infrastructure mainstreaming in social housing https://scotlandsnature.wordpress.com/2017/09/07/social-housing-green-infrastructure/
This in itself was a bold move by a government agency charged with championing the natural environment set within wider social and environmental justice agendas and certainly an area where limited NERC science exists to draw upon.
The workshop was transformational for me in several ways and I think offers valuable lessons for those people trying to mainstream any concept into practice or to maximise social learning and knowledge exchange. It also challenges the way many workshops or conferences focus on particular sectoral audiences with their supporting congregations where in effect they are often preaching to the converted.
The Edinburgh workshop I found myself in had some 20 participants including social housing providers (4), tenants (2), tenant association (1), Scottish Government (1), SNH (2), academics (1), green partnership managers (2) , delivery agents (1), consultants (2), planners (1), landscape architects (1), architects (1), ecologists (1) and community activists(1).
We were split into 2 self-managed groups to discuss the barriers and opportunities to deliver green infrastructure in social housing schemes focussing on the development cycle with various report back sessions to compare with the other group.
So why was this transformational?
- Many of the people in my group had never met each other before. They all had different experiences in both green infrastructure and social housing with no one expert on both areas. Thus, the group had to work together to share insight, experience and lessons learnt to tackle the sequential tasks.
- The group had the full pipeline of those involved in formulation of planning policy to those involved in the design and delivery of social housing schemes and maintenance to those who actually live there. These different lenses of experience were all shared and thus improved all our understandings of the priorities and barriers facing design and delivery of green infrastructure in social housing. For example, the views of the tenants and the social housing providers were insightful to me given I had never really engaged with these audiences before.
- This opportunity to look at this interface between green infrastructure and social housing within a wider interdisciplinary placemaking agenda shows the value and power of having cross sector agendas that can unite different people across disciplines, professions and sectors thus helping to breaking down traditional silos.
- The discussions at this interface maximised social learning and led to several novel insights. This involved immediate actions that social housing providers could do with regard to tree planting and food growing areas and leaving areas for tenants to manage as well as an appetite to try out new ideas to develop green infrastructure in their developments. It also enabled people to see how the local plan process might be better used to try to identify the kind of places people want in the first place thus connecting with the current reform of the Scottish planning system. It also identified the need for earlier tenant engagement and co design of schemes as well as a surprising finding that social housing providers wanted more regulatory input to ensure that green infrastructure actions are carried out.
- Reflecting on the transformational nature of this event, my take is that it was the diversity of the audience across the different aspects of social housing and green infrastructure policy, delivery and practice that was key. That diversity was supported by a culture whereby everyone in the room had a stake in a positive outcome and that the workshop provided a safe space managed by main street consulting. This boundary space between social housing and green infrastructure was negotiated in my group where everyone was respectful of differing viewpoints set within a group mentality which was creative and willing to go outside usual comfort zones.
- I see this as a formula to help overcome the silo conferences/workshops that we often encounter and then try to influence other agendas retrospectively. This workshop taught me the need to work with people across different areas upfront and to start to understand the barriers and constraints that affect their actions and then collectively identify ways forward. This is not rocket science but is a transdisciplinary space that is rarely exploited in my This kind of space is key to my own work in my fellowship and is captured in my recent open access paper. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264837716306421
*Special thanks to Main Street consulting for allowing me to participate in their work.
 Main street consulting http://mainstreetconsulting.co.uk/
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All comments are greatly appreciated - please help mainstream green infrastructure by adding to the conversation.