A Mission for Dorset Council?

My thinking on Dorset Council’s proposed Climate and Ecological Strategy and Action Plan has been clarified, largely thanks to Mariana Mazzucato’s latest book, Mission Economy. Two ideas in particular stand out for me; ideas which I think are of vital importance. One, the central argument of her book, is the need for governments to be ‘mission-oriented’. The other, more in the background, is need for us all to understand issues such as our climate and ecological emergency as ‘wicked problems’.

Mazzucato’s call for governments to become ‘mission-oriented’ is primarily a call for them to fundamentally rethink their relationship with the market economy, and to reassess the way in which they interact with business. Rather than adopt a back-seat relationship with the economy, effectively limiting their interventions to fixing market failures, they should become actively involved in both shaping and co-creating markets; they should recover a sense of public purpose; they should create a vision of what they believe needs developing or achieving and then work with business and other stakeholders to foster the necessary sense of mission to bring this about. These missions may not, probably will not, have clear paths to their achievement – these will be discovered through the creative and dynamic economic relationships engendered by the revised economic attitude. And whilst Mazzucato is talking primarily about national government, I think the same principle should apply to local government. Dorset Council may not be able to change the fundamentals of our national economic structure, but they could start working with local businesses to develop a vision of the type of Dorset they want to create.

Our climate and ecological emergency is the perfect example of a wicked problem. Wicked problems are those that arise from the interaction of many complex systems; they are problems that requires much more than a technical solution; they are problems for which we do not have (perhaps cannot have) definitive answers. Without going into too much detail, complex systems are systems with a large number of variables that interact in such a way that a small variable or input can have a large consequence or output (the butterfly effect, how the flapping of a butterfly wing can be the difference between a tropical storm developing or not) and which often produce effects that cannot be reduced to the sum of their parts. If we are to have any chance of successfully responding to this climate and ecological crisis it is vitally important that we all understand the nature of the problem we face. The changes that are occurring to the Earth’s climate are the result of the interaction between an array of complex human social and economic activities and many complex inter-related natural systems. They will require a supreme sense of mission to first stabilise and then reverse.

So what does all this mean for Dorset Council and its CEE Strategy and Action? Well for one, it means that the Council will achieve very little on its own. It means that it needs to be working with residents and stakeholders to bring about radical changes to how we live. It means that it needs to take a political lead and start setting out a visions of what they think life in Dorset should be like by 2030 / 2040 / 2050. But even more importantly, having set out such a vision it needs to sell the vision; it needs to get residents, organisations and businesses onboard; it needs to start working with these stakeholder groups to help create the vision. The bottom line here is that the changes we need to make to how we live cannot be imposed – they need to emerge from Dorset communities working together in a creative way. And the only organisation that can drive this dynamic collaboration is Dorset Council.
It’s not for me to say what this vision of a future Dorset may look like, but just to start some discussion here are three examples of what could be included. Dorset should aim to be self-sufficient in renewable energy. The easiest way for this to happen would be via a large-scale off-shore wind farm. It was estimated that the previously rejected Navitus Bay project could have supplied something like 95% of our electricity – with the remaining 5% easily delivered by solar. Dorset Council should start promoting this idea and encourage discussions amongst all possible stakeholders. It should set the mission, the vision, and then work to realise it.

Another mission would be the retrofitting of all current buildings to the highest energy efficiency standards possible, and for all new buildings (all buildings granted planning permission) to be constructed to these standards. Rather than take a back-seat and wait for national planning guidelines to change the Council should adopt this as a mission and then start working on ways, on creating ways, that will bring it about.

Earlier in the year the Town and Country Planning Association published a report on how to create net-zero carbon living. It suggested various models including those for cities, large towns and for counties like Dorset which are mostly rural but with a number of market towns. The idea for this last option was to develop these towns into eco-towns – towns where local facilities are within walking distance, where the local economy is focused on shopping locally, working locally, producing locally, and where ‘active travel’ is strongly encouraged. But for when this wasn’t practical, these towns would be connected into a network by a first class public transport system. The creation of such a network of eco-towns could be a third mission.

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