What is Governance Anyway?

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I ended the last blog by announcing I would address the most fundamental issue in cities: Governance.

On the 27th of February a first workshop will be held on the matter based on the TAIDA (https://www.kairosfuture.com/publications/reports/taida-a-framework-for-thinking-of-the-future/) method. I am learning this during the course I am following in Stockholm to become an internationally certified Future Strategist (https://www.kairosfuture.com/academy/courses/international-certified-future-strategist-programme/). The first course was given by the amazing teachers Ulf Boman (https://www.kairosfuture.com/about/our-people/ulf-boman/) and by my Belgian mentor and expert systems thinker Philippe Vandenbroeck (https://shiftn.com/team/philippe-vandenbroeck).

The first three days literally energized me! They felt logical, they triggered my thinking, broadened my mind (even further) and also gave me concrete methods to address various issues and insure the strategy development is owned by a whole group from the very start. This is something we feel extremely passionate about at Cities of People.

TAIDA is composed of 5 steps: Tracking, Analyzing, Imaging, Deciding and Acting.
I am starting with Tracking but first you must define a clear focus to track. As mentioned last week I will focus on governance. But a theme is not enough. The client, focal question, purpose and timeline must also be defined. Otherwise, as I have clearly experienced in the past the range will be too broad for the search and the result might not be concrete enough to act on.

After a week I came up with the following focal question: How will governance develop in Flemish cities in the future (2050)? The purpose is to develop a way to help cities move forward.

What is governance?

I once discussed this with a politician, that declared that governance is way too complicated. I found this quite a strange statement as this is in essence what politicians focus on.

I wondered why this person had become a politician and why other more promising individuals with long-term vision and natural leadership had not. When asking around it seems individuals that want to make a difference are not convinced they will be able to do this in the political system. In Belgium, the system is that of a particracy where a few individuals decide what the rest of the members of the party will follow. The parties are mostly divided by themes. This is oversimplified of course, but following the leader is valued more than original ideas and vision. The last might even be threatening to some that are especially focused on climbing up to the top no matter what it takes. Many have often questioned the democratic system “the best of the worst” but the Economist Intelligence Unit also rated Belgium a “flawed democracy” in 2019 adding insult to injury… This is illustrated in the illustration with this blog.

According to Oxford, governance is “the action or manner of governing a state, organization, etc.”. This is not to be confused with corporate governance, in other words governing a firm. “Governance determines who has power, who makes decisions, how other players make their voice heard and how account is rendered.” Governance is needed anytime a group of people come together to accomplish an end.

I believe, The “end” of a city should be delivering on the vision and objectives and not solely on rendering a balanced budget. The thing is both of these elements (and even the budget) are extremely ideologically charged. Many cities divide the responsibilities and the objectives hence eliminating the need for conducting ideological debates. But the wicked challenges we are faced with are those that involve many subjects and responsibilities. And these same wicked challenges might require foresight and only lead to results after a political term has ended.

Smart cities do not just find optimizations they can make smarter by adding technology like for example with the traffic lights that could take the traffic into account when determining the laps of time someone must wait before crossing. Smart cities are also willing, prepared and able to involve the expertise within the city to take into account the complexity of issues and unite the brain power to fundamentally solve these issues. They offer true (with an effect on decisions not just as a means of communication) and timely (before everything is fixed) participation opportunities and find ways to compensate the efforts. A form of compensation can be simply the change to a situation one is impacted by, credit where credit is due (instead of upholding the illusion that the elected have done all the work) and also by giving financial means.

But I might be going too fast and skipping steps because this would require an openness on the issues and problems instead of drowning us in slogans. Maybe later in the process we will come to this.

In order to work on the future we must first look at and learn from the past. When doing this we might notice important cycles and this might keep us from repeating errors. Because, as George Santayana (writer, poet and Philosopher) once stated: “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it”.

My next blog will look into the past of governance in flemish cities and hopefully the current system will be cleared out a little with at least a federal government in Belgium.

If you have any interest in participating or would like to share elements of the timeline of governance in Flemish cities which are critical and the changes that lead to this, please contact me or leave feedback to this blog.

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