The Scottish Smart Urban Intermediary (SUI) researchers, James Henderson and Oliver Escobar, consider their learning from the fourth Govan Local Lab in May 2019.
Twelve of us – five local practitioners – the Smart Urban Intermediaries or ‘SUIs’; five cooperation partners; and the two researchers – gathered on 28 May for the final Govan Local Lab at the Pearce Institute on Govan Road. We continued to build from our work together at the previous three Local Labs and the two European Transnational Labs (Glasgow and Lisbon) in seeking to explore and understand the complexities of contemporary urban practice and their implications for policy-makers.
Reflections from on-going practice and the Lisbon Transnational Lab
The checking-in exercise as to recent exciting and frustrating practice experience brought us back into this shared SUI ‘space’. Following on, SUI Yvonne Reilly, from Glasgow Community Planning Partnership, and Cooperation Partner Kaela Scott, from Involve, reported back on their experiences and learning from the Lisbon Transnational Lab in January. They spoke enthusiastically of the community and project partners there who organised the study tour of the working-class neighbourhood of Curraleira – and participated in the on-going discussions and learning across the two-day Lab. The Lab was “full-on and high-energy” and key learning for Yvonne and Kaela included:
- similarities between low-income communities in Lisbon and Glasgow – despite differences in climate and culture – and the need to build participation and collective actions through, for instance, community arts and food-based activity … “we have more in common than we don’t have”.
- the importance of stories and developing a shared narrative within working-class communities to sustain collective energies for change – in this case a community that moved from being a former shanty-town to public housing with a proper water supply – as they still need to campaign hard to keep the attention of policy-makers.
- there are differences, too, given distinctive policy contexts: Portugal puts emphasis on charitable, voluntary-based welfare – community activism there can be productive but hard to sustain; whilst Scotland has a community empowerment policy focus that brings public services, third sector and communities together.
Read more about Kaela’s learning here in Curraleira, Lisbon.
Emerging learning from our participatory research processes
Oliver presented on some of the early findings from our SUI research, in particular:
Five heuristics or ‘rules of thumb’ common across diverse urban practitioners in the four case-sites (communities in Amsterdam, Birmingham, Copenhagen and Govan/Glasgow) that can support discussions of practice and its development. One example being: the diverse motivations and values that practitioners bring to their work that can be explored through the following triad as the following three elements:
- altruism and concern for others;
- personal interest and development; and,
- political cause – in the sense of seeking to make change.
Each SUI may be motivated by elements of all three at any one time and these will change and develop further through their experience over time.
Eight inter-connecting challenges in working within complex urban contexts and systems – for example, risks of burn-out; increasing demands on their ‘services’; and funding insecurity and pressures – each of which can feed into the others. These seek to offer a rich language for exploring the current demands on urban practitioners and in seeking spaces to generate ‘socially-smart’ responses to such challenge.
The Local Lab members considered the five heuristics and eight challenges in more depth through small group and plenary discussions and illustrate where the heuristics and challenges were resonating and generated constructive practice conversations and/or needing refining to related current aspirations; for example, exploring motivations and values fuelled deepening discussions and emphasised aspirations for social justice as needing to be a central part of the ‘political cause’ element of this triad.
The final full report on the heuristics and challenges will be published this autumn (2019).
Our local co-inquiring and working towards a final Policy Briefing
The SUI research team from across all four-sites is looking to produce a range of research reports and outputs that:
- support socially-smart urban practice
- provide policy recommendations – at European and more local levels
- provide more in-depth analysis – through journal articles.
This Local Lab offered space to deepen discussions on what we are learning about the policy context locally and further afield. James presented on the Govan Local Lab process so far:
- Lab 1: shared aspirations e.g. ways of working, place-making and social justice – read more about this Lab 1 here
- Lab 2: context of practice e.g. regeneration planning, media bias, asset ownership
- Lab 3: inquiring into challenges – innovating vs sustaining; community-building – read more about Lab 3 here
He added to this developing shared thinking with some of the insights offered by the local practitioners individually through the interviewing and shadowing work, for instance:
- ‘strategic let-down’ as the cause of practitioner burn-out … when policy-makers fail to continue to invest in long-term process then practitioners lose hope;
- fundamental tension in partnership-working … it relies on partner organisations valuing their contribution to a shared agenda rather than organisational objectives.
Group discussion then supported further thinking about what policy-makers need to hear about supporting socially-smart practice and development, for example in relation to:
- building an effective understanding of the complex roles and capacities of urban practitioners – across the many services and organisations within a CPP
- how to invest in stable structures needed to support community-led approaches
- the potential of film and other media, community radio, and online and digital technologies as key tools to support community participation and development …
Next steps … and reflections on the process
Finally, the Lab turned to the next steps and the final phases of our shared work together:
- advice for our local delegates to the Krakow Transnational Lab in June
- likewise, in beginning to think through preparations for the forthcoming Copenhagen Transnational Lab in September
- a Policy Briefing launch event in Glasgow to follow in the autumn
Further opportunities for reflection on the value of the Local and Transnational Labs will follow, including through final reflective exit interviews for the participants. Early reflections at this Lab emphasised the value of these Labs as spaces for dialogue across practitioners from different fields (e.g. regeneration, social enterprise; community media, food and arts; community development, community planning); different sectors (public, third, community); and, of course, different countries. They offer practitioners and policy-makers encouragement in this complex area of practice, highlight new ideas and opportunities, and have supported more critical and policy-related discussions.
Acknowledgements: the researchers want to thank all members of the Govan Lab for their ongoing contributions and commitment to this project. The local SUIs and their organisations are: Martin Avila (Kinning Park Complex); Pat Cassidy (Govan Workspaces); Moya Crowley (Plantation Production); Owen Fenn (Govan Community Project) – now left the organisation; Susan Hanlin (Central Govan Action Plan); Fiona MacTaggart and Ryan Davidson (Govan Housing Association); Jim McMillan (Sunny Govan Radio); Anne Philbrow (Urban Roots); and, Yvonne Reilly (Glasgow City Council, Community planning). The cooperation partners are: David Allan (Scottish Community Development Centre); Fiona Dickson (Glasgow City Council, Community Planning); Andrew Magowan (Inspiring Scotland); Derek Rankine (SURF); and, Kaela Scott (Involve).