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How To Protect The Future
Number 1: Forget GDP
Last week, I spoke with Sophie Howe, who was the world's first Future Generations Commissioner, a post she held with the Welsh government for the past seven years. This role was created after Wales passed its Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, an incredible piece of legislation that focuses on seven goals:
a prosperous Wales,
a resilient Wales
a healthier Wales
a more equal Wales
a Wales of cohesive communities
a Wales with a vibrant culture and mother tongue
a globally responsible Wales
This Act sheds light on the fact that despite what governments around the world would have you believe—and they are typically right wing governments—it is not only possible to put into place the changes that we need to make if we are to navigate the upcoming climate crisis and ensure a healthier, more sustainable, better world for everyone, it is a very wise investment indeed.
Thanks to Sophie’s work, Wales last week scrapped plans to build 55 new roads because they are simply not in line with the Act, given building them would increase carbon emissions, reduce incentive for healthier modes of transport, and overall do not align with resilience and prosperity goals.
The Act is framed around what the experts on Planet: Critical claim is the necessary, holistic way of re-imagining what our economy provides for us, and re-imagining what communities can provide for citizens.
People As Citizens
As a prosperous Wales, for example, Wales does not use GDP as a metric of prosperity. Instead, they use metrics like decent work: Are you contributing to your community? Do you have a living wage? Are you working with diverse colleagues, racially diverse, gender diverse? What do you contributing? How are you helping navigate the fight against the climate crisis?
It's a completely different way of thinking that re-imagines the economy as a well-being economy, or a care economy, or a feminist economy, it doesn't really what label you want to put on it. It re-imagines people as citizens, rather than merely as workers.
The Welsh curriculum, since passing the Future Generations Act, has evolved to focus on four main outcomes:
healthy, active, and confident learners
creative and enterprising citizens
learners who love learning
ethical and informed citizens.
As Sophie says, would we be in the crisis of today if we were ethical and informed citizens? Perhaps not.
This is all about agency. This is all about giving to people the chance to co-create their own nations, to co-create their own futures, and to have a say in what the government does. This process was set up through a deliberative democratic process where the Welsh government asked citizens: What do you want? What should we look out for? How can we protect future generations?
Because people who are involved in their communities, people who have their roots in the ground know what is they need, much more so than people sitting around high tables in archaic buildings, performing ancient rituals completely disconnected from the world that we live in today.
Obviously, I refer to the pantomime of Westminster. How is it possible that people living in the most expensive city in the nation, with access to an incredibly high wage relative to most other workers in this country, will have any idea about what somebody in the back waters of Liverpool will need?
The Welsh strategy is about thinking long-term and demonstrating long-term impact. They're attempting to go beyond the short-term electoral wins that fundamentally undermine progression, and undermine any politician’s capacity to think about wicked problems like the climate crisis, which reveal themselves slowly, but have devastating impacts in communities around the world and, in the future, our own communities.
Another branch of their strategy is preventative policy: prevent problems occurring and then prevent them worsening as well. This ties into the holistic vision, asking politicians to stop squirrelling problems to different civil service departments, and instead ask how they can be solved holistically. How can you look at transport through a health lens? How can you look at health through protecting ecosystems lens? Can you look at language as a mode of creativity which will help up-skill children in the education system and provide them with yet another tool that they can use to understand the world and make changes within it?
The third pillar of the new strategy is integration. How can we integrate all of these different goals to understand holistically a picture of what Wales needs and its citizens need?
The fourth pillar is collaboration within and outwith government, working with the private sector and communities and intergovernmentally to. Sophie said a huge part of her job was introducing civil servants to one another so that they can better understand how their decisions, which are typically atomised into separate solutions, impact other departments.
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This strategy deliberately undermines the bureaucratic process, a rigid control mechanism which exists to hold together the skeleton of a decaying institution. Anybody who has worked within any institution will confirm that bureaucracy massively hinders communication and progress. People need to be vibrant and flexible, and they need support to be so and to understand and impact holistically the world around them. We need to be agile.
Atomising every single piece of research and atomising every single decision into linear end points binds creativity and innovation. I imagine our institutions like aged giant dinosaurs, each step forward taking a huge amount of effort, the impact rippling through the land, causing destruction.
We need to be like a river, to flow, to understand that we are all made up of the same thing, and that thing is all of us. We must give trust back to the people who know better than anyone what they communities need. We must create processes that allow for flexibility, and allow us to change our minds. I go on about this a lot, but there is just no room for uncertainty in institutionalisation, and uncertainty is a mode of strength because it allows us to not only admit when we are wrong, but to make changes when those wrongs come to light.
“Strong and stable” governments are the slogans of parties which typically are neither strong nor stable, and would rather grip their nation in authoritarian fear than admit their own shortcomings and evolve into a fluid and curious search for the best thing to do.
Getting Citizens Involved
Deliberative Democracy is another topic that comes up a lot on the podcast, and I highly suggest you go and listen to Matt Leighninger’s episode on building democracies for the 21st century, which demands involving citizens in the decision making process. The National Conference on Citizenship has found that the more agency and responsibility citizens take for their community, the better-off that community becomes.
That responsibility has to be given back by local government. People don't just want to have a voice every few years, they want to be heard as often as they need, and they want to have impact. They want to be allowed to experiment, they want to be allowed to be fluid, even if the institution is unable to be fluid.
Wales is proving that a whole new mode of governance and thinking about how we structure the world, how we structure power, resources, and priorities is not only possible, it is necessary—and having incredible impacts.
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