Sustainable Community Action
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This page was triggered by discussion on the localsustuk email list (around February 2006) about the development of the Government's Community Action 2020 (CA2020) process. As happens from time to time, the idea of a national network for sustainable development practitioners came up. Wouldn't it be good, we said. Isn't it an important thing to have, we said. And all looked around for somebody else to do something about it.

Pfft. Alright, let's see if we can actually articulate what we're on about and maybe actually get somewhere, or stop talking about it. This page is a skeleton for discussion. The main page is for building up a collection of ideas; a kind of brainstorming board. The attached discussion area reached by the tab at the top should be used to air issues that might go on a bit, or to seek consensus for something that might be contentious (e.g. changing the structure of the main page after folk have started building it up).


Phase 1

This page was created on Monday 20th February by Tim Gray. The stated goal was to run an initial brainstorming period for a week, focusing on building a consensus on what a network should do, and then to take stock of discussion to see if it was worth moving forwards.

Around half a dozen people contributed something, though there was more interest in adding to the list of useful existing initiatives than in exploring the functions the network could usefully have. There was some level of consensus around very standard networky things: exchange of information; bringing people together; providing a unified voice.

But is there enough energy to merit doing something about it? An eternal problem with networks is that most people will agree it sounds like a good thing but expect others to provide it for them, and this seems no different. Some people on the localsustuk email list said that the list itself provides enough networking for them and were not interested in taking the time to learn to use the wiki in order to discuss things here. One would expect there to be a phenomenon of boxes that feel comfortable and/or under siege from other demands. The trouble with people in boxes, even if they're doing good local work, is that they tend to be invisible to the public and those in decision-making positions, leading to the sense of sustainability being over and past.

I find I don't know what to suggest. There was more interest than I feared but less than I hoped, so it's not at all clear whether it's worth somebody plugging away at this. What do you think? --Tim Gray 12:37, 27 February 2006 (UTC)

What should it do, and for who?

We'll be able to think of different functions, and different target groups who should be linked in somehow; and each of those groups will have its own needs and contributions. So, brainstorm! (These categories might or might not seem exhaustive - best use the discussion area to sound out major changes.)

Purpose of a network

The purpose of such a network would seem to be pretty similar to that of many networks:

  • To enable the exchange of new ideas, information about events, publications
  • To improve access to information, facilities, training events (the objective here should be that no-one negaged misses out on a relevant development opprtunity simply because they did not know it existed)
  • To permit the coming together of like-minded people and organisations to do the above but also to agree common aims, policies etc. as and if appropriate

On top of that I would suggest that such a network would have an advocacy role, to promote the value of work being done on local sustainability. this might involve helping network members develop skills in analysing and promoting their outcomes. An obvious current example here would be making local sustainability practitioners voices heard in the development of CA2020.

Chris Church Friday 24th feb

As a general point what networks (of all kinds and when at their best) can do is move us on from the talking to the doing - going beyond talking with each other (which email lists are very good for) to actually collaborating (which itself goes beyond what perhaps some of us are more used to, which is merely co-operating).
Part of the problem it seems to me is that by just concentrating on what a network might do, (although I can see the point in not starting off with too wide a discussion) doesn't get us to envisage what it would actually be like, how it would operate, the nitty gritty of what we are talking about, what we want, when we say a Network (a lot of us may be talking at cross purposes?).
I assume, though I might be quite wrong, that there might be some consensus, for something like at least an annual national gathering, as frequent as possible regional / smaller area gatherings, all supported by, and reinforcing as much as possible whatever continuous electronic collaboration and networking we can manage? If so, perhaps a priority would be to collaborate on an Agenda for a first Sustainability network for England meeting?
Travel sensibly - if we are serious about sd don't we have to have some sort of pragmatic recognition that most of our networking for larger areas (e.g. England) should ideally be electronic? Not face to face networking and electronic networking as an either / or - I've always argued for face to face and electronic networking being mutually supportive. But if we're to make real progress with the face to face stuff don't we need to be pragmatic about what's feasible, what works best, what actually delivers something real and substantial, etc etc? see also discussion on Talk page Philralph 17:21, 24 February 2006 (UTC)
Your second paragraph confuses me a bit. Obviously the discussion goes where the participants want, but what I introduced is precisely the "nitty gritty". Perhaps the language is ambiguous. I was asking what its functions should be; what are the needs that lead us to want something that doesn't currently exist? To me, getting some consensus on a remit like this is the absolute bedrock; if that isn't done, further discussion *will* be at cross purposes. How it will operate and specific projects that deliver its major functions will follow from that. Without some prior consensus on that, I think attempting to organise a meeting is pointless. As you say, let us use cheap and easy electronic communication to see what basis we're working from first. --Tim Gray 21:09, 24 February 2006 (UTC)

Voluntary/community sector and social economy SD practitioners

SD = Sustainable Development

  • Sharing info and good practice
  • Feeling of solidarity
  • Helping to raise profile as a significant movement
  • Engaging with Local Strategic Partnerships
  • Engaging with the Community and Voluntary Sector
  • Engaging with Government e.g. local , regional and national
  • Promoting and advocating the joined-up aspect of sustainability - I reckon we need to bang on and on about this 'cause nobody else seems to bother anymore, at least not at the local level.
  • Advocating Open publishing - as few unnecessary barriers as possible to the widest possible spread of information and know how, and the greatest inclusion of people from all walks of life reached and encouraged to active involvement.
  • Avoiding duplication - As regards CA2020, and in particular Resource Banks, I've serious misgivings about this. Defra might recognise its a good thing to avoid duplication, but I'm unsure how theyll ensure this. How will it be ensured that what Idea, LGA, etc may be already doing, or what exising groups and networks can do, and already have done to a certain extent through iniitiatives such as this wiki, isn't duplicated? If the public money (going into CA2020) is to be used properly and effectively mustn't it produce something which is genuinely additional to that which already exists? It would be a pity if even some of what precious little public money there is to support SD ends up being wasted). Philralph

Local authority SD practitioners

  • Sharing info and good practice - facilitating annual conference/regional conferences and encouraging existing county networks of SD practioners to continue to operate.
  • Promote annual sustainability awards best regional collaboration, county group collaboration, LA SD practice

Voluntary/community sector more generally

  • Demystifying SD; crucially, connecting it to what they see as their areas of work (not "that weird greeny stuff" any more!)

General public

  • Raise profile of SD and make it digestible enough to take on board

Misc background information

Jamie - raised England/English issues recently with SDC (Sustainable Development Commission, Harriet) as Celtic SD event has SDC support. No equivalent in England (or for UK) on SD (Specifics/Sustainable Communities notwithstanding).

Communicated with SDC (Harriet Festing) about potential support - really needs LA (Local Authority)/Public sector SD 'network coordinator'. (LGA - Local Government Association - just set up Env Network for LG Env Officers & Directors Env Forum.) (Does this refer to a public-sector-specific network? If not, why assume coordination comes from there? Perhaps this belonged in the public sector bit above and I moved it in error - apologies if so. - Tim)

(Apologies from Harriet who seems to have missed the communication with her. The Celtic Nations conference is funded primarily by the Welsh Assembly - last year it was the Scottish Executive. Defra may be willing to support something in England - perhaps this is something that Chris Church could set up).

Any network should include those involved in groups arising from and connected to Local Agenda 21/Local ACTION 21 (LA21). This may be formal voluntary/community sector groups and social enterprises. It may also be local authority supported 'arms length' groupings such as sustainability fora, networks etc. Not all volunteer activity inspired by LA21 made it to a formally constituted independent status. There remain a variety of fora through which good work is done, but who fall between being local authority and genuine voluntary sector. / For a listing of some projects see Projects by location: England

In view of the declaration of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, maybe need to consider Higher/Further Education SD practitioners. The Environment Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC) is the nearest formal membership organisation, but there are other adhoc mail-lists using the academic JISC system through which a wider invitation might be circulated.

Need to get some real local democracy i.e. when local communities try to make a difference it is dispiriting for central authority to easily over-rule. Sustainability is for the people by the people.

Some points to get people thinking

In November 2005 a seminar held as part of the development of the CA2020 initiative brought together about 30 local sustainability practitioners. One of the conclusions was that the value of coming together in such a workshop was agreed by all those present. It was suggested by several attendees that there would be real value in holding a larger national network event, which could enable:

  • Developing common strategies for working with Councils and the VCS (voluntary and community sector)
  • The building of cohesion between local projects and networks
  • Reporting on the progress of CA2020
  • Work on policy ‘joining-up’ by those working with different govt. departments and agencies
  • Reviewing progress on SD within LSPs {Local Strategic Partnerships} etc.
  • Discussion and planning on local consumption and procurement issues
  • Development of joint communication and IT (information technology) strategies and frameworks
  • Identifying common research needs
  • Sharing of experiences

It was felt that such an event could be done on a low-cost basis, given the recognised need for it and the desire from many organisations to make it happen. The London 21 Sustainability Network has in the past discussed hosting such a meeting but we are currently v. stretched for staff time due to London Sustainability Weeks in June. We would be happy to advise/discuss.

These points above contributed by Chris Church 20/2/05

Background information

External links and resources

  • Sustainable Community Action wiki (this site!)
  • SD UK and Sustainable Development UK Conference (GOvNet) - not necessarily 'practitioner focussed' or action learning.
  • Permaculture Association - email group and networking.
  • Sustainable North Country - e-group to explore and network on 'Northern Way', sustainable communities, sustainable development and North Country Futures for 15m people. Annual event in Manchester (Urbis) - Jamie Saunders 20/2/06
  • SPN (Sustainability Practitioners Network) e-group approx 240 emails - 10 actives and 49 'alive' members - from April e-survey - though on not-very-user-friendly Microsoft e-service - SPNUK(-at-)
  • Y&H (Yorkshire and the Humber) e-group 'alive and well' as info-exchange - 74 email addresses - GOYH (Government Office) do not have SD in SLA from Government - network support diminished. Y&H Education for SD - run separately and resourced by Yorkshire Forward RDA (Regional Development Agency) and others...
  • Other 'professional groupings' eg recycling/waste, etc
  • The West Midlands Region has a regional sustainable development officer network which meets quarterly. Purpose is for peer-learning, and to advocate SD. Membership is open to all local authorities in the region. See . Maybe other regions have similar? [Added by Vicky Dunn 20/2/06]
  • The Sustainable Development Research Network - contributing to sustainable development in the United Kingdom by facilitating better use of evidence and research in policy making. SDRN Coordinating Office supported through Policy Studies Institute. For inquiries about joining the Network, the Network Newsletter, or the UK Sustainable Development Research Guide, please contact Kate McGeevor.
  • SD Scene E-newsletter Launched. Defra’s Sustainable Development Unit has launched a bi-monthly e-newsletter ‘SD Scene’. The newsletter is intended to keep subscribers informed of progress being made in sustainable development by Government, businesses, communities and individuals. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit the SDU’s website: