The Steering Group – paths not taken #Manchester #climate #MACF #abolishitnow

The Steering Group was supposed to engage and INVOLVE stakeholders (sorry for shouting, but this bears repeating). There were supposed to be annual elections, and an annual conference. None of that happened because it was all too “difficult”. It’s now a private company, grubbing around for European money to stay alive (we can only hope that potential funders ask what the group has done so far before giving money that would prolong the stupidity).

So, about two years ago a new guy took over. I interviewed him (here’s the video, but really, you have better things to be doing with your life). And I offered to write a ‘back-casting from success’. I wrote it and sent it in, [and posted it at the time] for all the impact it had. I had forgotten it, and have stumbled on it while clearing out old files.

Steering Group September 2014 Status Report

What a difference a year makes! From quips about “fills a much-needed gap” to “vital midwife in constrained times” in less than a year. Where did it all start to go right?

September 2013 – a full and frank discussion about what members were willing and able to bring to the table, what they expected personally and what they expected the organisation to achieve. Some people left, but over time membership of the steering group had become something that was both challenging and rewarding – personally, professionally, intellectually and morally. With a higher profile – both on the web and by routinely identifying themselves at all climate-related events, and giving a short spiel about the Steering Group, more and more citizens of Manchester became aware of the Group, what it could and couldn’t do, and how they could help and be helped by it.

The “triage” of the MACF document was – all agreed – much needed. And there was surprisingly little complaint from, well, anyone. With a new, more tightly focussed set of targets, with SMART goals, names and traffic lights attached, everyone felt a little more confident.

The turning point was the March 2014 conference. Money and goodwill had been found, with capable and organised volunteers creating a real buzz. A series of well-designed “feeder” events, questionnaires and seminars beforehand meant that it was not so much an “information-gathering” event for the Steering Group, but a slickly-run opportunity for people to learn who else in the city was at work on climate, facing what challenges, and having/lacking what “human capital” resources. Death-by-powerpoint and plasticine were nowhere to be seen, and even the write up in Manchester Climate Monthly (back in print after a successful funding bid to Manchester Airport) was grudgingly neutral. Trust and profile had been built up slowly, by constant and honest communication in the run up to the conference. The idea of sending out “what would it take to make you want to spend a day talking about climate change?” survey in October 2013, and then building the agenda to meet those stated needs was widely regarded as a master-stroke.
The election process for the 2014-15 steering group was so straightforward that some cynics wondered why it hadn’t been done before. The anonymous feedback from the conference, promptly analysed and published, created a stir – it was mostly positive, and crowd-sourcing the “how can we improve further” was seen as, well, clever.

The Steering Group’s website had become the single “go to” place for information about ALL climate and environment related issues. As groups became aware of its usefulness, Metcalfe’s Law kicked in. On the calendar events, were “tagged” as, business, community, academic, biodiversity etc. It was initially a lot of work, but many people commented on how it gave them a sense of what was going on and how to get involved..
The website’s frequent blog posts – both by steering group members writing in a personal capacity, but also invited guest speakers created discussion and debate. There were controversies and no pretence that everyone would agree and that all was rosy. There were some issues with climate “trolls”, but not unmanageable ones. The fortnightly blog post from the chair were refreshingly candid, to the point of bluntness. His focus on “capacity building” for what he termed “adaptive governance” was seen by some as an excuse for inaction on mitigation, by others as realism about the need to become unshockable about coming surprises.

Still, there are some big unresolved issues, and those may always be with us
a) Can any one group like the Steering Group ever “manage” the overlapping but competing interests and expectations upon it. Should it even be trying, for instance, to get businessmen and community activists/”ordinary people” in the same room at the same time? To achieve what? Will this not just alienate one or the other constituency at any given time? Better to be the go-between than the master-of-ceremonies perhaps. Perhaps to acknowledge the de facto reality that the Steering Group had morphed into the successor for the 100 Months Club/Business in the Community.
b) Who is performing the watchdog function? Given the lack of stomach and teeth for it among the Steering Group members, growling – let alone biting – the Council for its rhetoric/reality gap was still being unofficially outsourced to “activists.”
c) And where is the bloody money coming from.

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About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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