Beyond the technical? Function versus experience

21 marras 2018
Iina Sankala

In this blog series, we catch a glimpse of the BEMINE scenario work led by Joe Ravetz from the University of Manchester, Centre for Urban Resilience & Energy. With Integrated Envisions we aim at new insights which are beyond current trends or the results of any one study or field. These short stories are formed from the ‘baseline envisions’ developed by knowledge-mapping and co-design. This came from the creative ideas of the BEMINE partners, in workshops from 2017-2018, to explore newly emerging futures.

Urban development and spatial planning is generally focused on direct tangible issues, such as numbers of houses, jobs, schools etc. And most of our policy is built on a fairly simple idea of problems and solutions – a technical style of knowledge and management that is suitable for a technical urban system. But many emerging trends cut across, leaving gaps in our knowledge and policy systems. All around there are tensions and contradictions between economic, social, political and technology forces, each pulling in different directions. While urban policy aims to provide functions and services, such as health education or housing, what if the people are more interested in experiences?

If a school or college is also for entertainment, social networking, transport hub or business centre, we may need to shift to a more responsive, nuanced kind of knowledge, looking ‘beyond the technical’. Similar for public services, with growing pressure for continuous performance management, benchmarking and evaluation. In contrast, in health or education there are quite different pressures and opportunities for responsive operations, community co-production, platform skills and resources.

For the MALPE system of collaborative agreements in urban planning, there is a need to share new kinds of knowledge between policymakers, experts, citizens, activists, NGOs and newly emerging networks. Much of this knowledge is beyond the technical, with deeper layers of cultural and ethical and psychological experience, in organizations, communities, networks. By default, cities could lose green areas, small towns could decline, large cities could sprawl, local neighbourhoods could gentrify, public services could be more expensive and less effective. On the positive side there are emerging ideas, from networked organizations, public service co-production, platform ‘wiki-nomics’, and ‘associative governance’.

What is the dynamic? Cultural dynamics are at the root of change, in organizations, institutions or communities. Technical systems for management, benchmarking, evaluation etc, are also instrumental in organizing knowledge learning and exchange. Political and policy systems are involved as agents of change and/or resistance, with new models for participation, deliberation, co-production. Urban agendas focus on policy and management innovation, in multi-level and multi-sector governance.

What are the challenges? Organizations and public services are under pressure to adapt and innovate, doing ‘more for less’ by co-production and partnership. But they are also tied up with smart technical monitoring and management and evaluation, which make it harder to adapt and innovate. Urban policy for spatial planning, as in the MALPE agreements, is expected to manage forces which are beyond its control, involving citizens beyond its boundaries.

Joe Ravetz, University of Manchester, Centre for Urban Resilience & Energy

Got interested? Come visit us at the open house poster session in the upcoming Urban Forum V 23.11.2018! These are also some of the most relevant topics in this Envision:


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