Monday, April 11, 2011

Global Compact Cities Programme

Sustainable Cities Vol1 Small

Translating Principles into Action

The Cities Programme is designed to advance urban engagement in the UN Global Compact and provide support to city leaders in demonstrating this commitment. 
It is founded on project-based learning and offers business, government and community leaders opportunity to apply the overarching 10 Principles of the Global Compact. The inter-sectoral collaboration together with research-based management tools provide a unique approach for city leaders to approach seemingly intractable issues.

Methodology - Summary


The development of ‘The Circles of Sustainability’ has been developed by Global Cities Institute at RMIT University, following completion of an extensive international research exercise that investigated how people understand and measure the sustainability of our cities, communities and organizations.
It is a unique approach that assists city leaders understand the inherit complexities of intractable urban issues. It is tailored to a city’s local context by providing a flexible framework for city leaders to re-think the ways that urban issues are governed and understood. It provides guidance and tools for cities to refine the way in which they design, manage, monitor, and assess the project and its outcomes.
The Accounting for Sustainability Briefing Paper 1, Circles of Sustainability: An Integrated Approach to Developing Sustainability Indicators’ publication (PDF) summarizes the limits of current practice and introduces an alternative approach, which responds to key contemporary issues of indicator sets, this being, the difficulty of harnessing clear links between the program development and creating actual change to decision-making and policy outcomes.

A Sustainability Indicator Set

Achieving sustainability begins as the task of reflecting upon the nature of human activity. In the first instance, sustainability indicators are simply a means for assessing the ‘distance’ between the current state of affairs and the ongoing task of achieving sustainable way of life, given the context of a city, or an institution or community setting. The challenge here is to develop a flexible framework that speaks to existing relevant measures of sustainability. Amidst major societal and ecological challenges, activities need to be woven, unwoven and rewoven in the light of new knowledge.
The ‘Circles of Sustainability’ is a two part approach that contains a self assessment exercise and a individually crafted questionnaire. It moves away from the usual approaches such as triple bottom line accounting which places economics at the centre, to an approach that gives equal weighing to economics, ecology, culture and politics.
It is a value-based approach that draws upon the principles of the original Melbourne Model, which principally focused on the need for inter-sectoral engagement across the civil society, business and government to address intractable issues. To this end, the method provided a process for these sectors to collaborate and respond to complex urban issues. Member cities are fully briefed on the processes involved are given the opportunity to receive facilitated briefing sessions and workshops.
The ‘Coming Full Circle’ (2009) article (PDF) provides a useful background and details its origins and value to decision makers and member cities.


The tools assist in ensuring the Local Secretariat approach and design their project in a way that can be sustained throughout the life of their engagement in the project. In consultation with the International Secretariat, these tools are to be made available to member cities, as required.
Each tool or exercise is part of an integrated process for exploring the social background to the issue on which the city has chosen to focus. The method is intended to sensitize the Local Secretariat to the broad domains of social life—political, ecological, economic and cultural. It is intended to support the refinement stage of the project development and to help cities to track their progress against desired outcomes.
Tools include:
• Strategic Workshop
The Strategic Workshop is framed around the first level of analysis within the Circles of Sustainability methodology. Within application of the Cities Programme, it is referred to as a Needs Assessment as it assists the stakeholders
The first level of analysis centres on redefining the core domains of social practice. It moves away from the usual approach such as triple bottom-line accounting, which continue to place economics at the centre, to an approach that gives equal weight to economics, ecology, culture and politics.
The decision to place sociality at the centre of all questions about sustainability is a deliberate one. It means that the economy is treated as one of the social domains, rather than something separate with its own intrinsic rules and norms. It is towards the job of recreating social relations that efforts to constitute sustainability must be directed
• Circles of Sustainability Level One 
The Circles of Sustainability Level One is a self assessment tool that is used repeatedly through the different phases of a city’s engagement. It is used to frame discussion with a series of questions that challenge stakeholders to question the relationship between the issue and the four social domains including economy, ecology, culture and politics. During this project refinement exercise, the city produces an illustrative diagram which is representative of the city’s awareness of these inherent relationships. It measures the city’s understanding of the resources and practical responses that have been or are being brought to bear on this issue at a city level.

• Circles of Sustainability Level Two
Level Two of the Circles of Sustainability has a greater depth of analysis and is designed to elicit reflection on how some of the most important over-arching issues that inform social life might contribute to or detract from the goal of achieving sustainability. Seven pairs of ‘social themes’ have been selected, each drawing attention to major sources of tension within communities.
The concepts contained within the pairs are in tension, but they are not opposites. The key question concerns how these tensions are socially negotiated within different settings in order to enhance wellbeing.
For example, in relation to the theme of participation-authority, participants need to think about how participation in sectors of social life is related to the authority structures of the body in question. The assumption is not that participation is better than authority, or vice versa. Rather, what is being brought into the question is the degree to which people participating in social life can do so in a meaningful way and how this behaviour relates to the forms of authority exercised within their communities, city or organization.

• Scenarios Planning Workshop
Scenarios planning is a tool that can help stakeholders to learn about possible future conditions. It encourages deeper, shared understanding of the impacts of socially created driving forces upon a city.
Most often, ‘scenarios’ are developed in workshops. The goal of scenarios planning is to create diverging narratives about the future by extrapolating from a set of agreed upon driving forces. This encourages learning about the social sources of possible future situations, and consensus on what are the important issues that a city faces.
The narratives that are developed in scenarios planning workshops enable stakeholders to agree upon what needs to change and what needs to stay the same, and to better gauge which groups may potentially benefit or lose out, should a set of recognized driving forces come into play.
Scenarios planning is most widely used as a framework for enabling group discussion about a common future.
• Community Questionnaire
The Community Questionnaire is designed by the Critical Reference Group to provide information that will inform the Local Secretariat with an overall assessment of the kinds of actions recommended by the quantitative indicators.
By asking community participants to express how they feel about the kinds of power relations and prevailing values associated with quantitative indicators of sustainability, such as the ‘ecological footprint’, the questionnaire will elicit a holistic understanding of the economic, ecological, political and cultural dimensions of the current efforts to improve the issue. That is, the questionnaire will provide Council and key decision-makers with insight into community’s perceptions of and feelings toward the information and policies currently provided by Council and key stakeholders in relation to achieving an improvement from the status quo.

Benefits and Outcomes

This method has a number of benefits:
Firstly, it provides a basis for the identification of key people who should be involved in design and implementation of a project, drawing in necessary expertise, champions and advocates from across the social spectrum.
Secondly, it outlines a process for collaboration and management of the project supported by the Cities Programme International Secretariat and associated international experts.
Thirdly, it encourages a comprehensive and holistic consideration of all relevant angles and viewpoints, identifying gaps in previous assumptions and actions.
Fourthly, it provides cities with specific tools for refining and monitoring the project, including the following:
• A base-line self-assessment exercise for ascertaining the sustainability of the city
• A way of framing and choosing a useful set of indicators that enables cities to monitor and report on progress.
• A questionnaire, already used in many cities across the world, which can be used to monitor progress and make global comparisons.