Love Edenborg AND ulrika palm, SALAR

The interplay between civil servants and local politicians

Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) is a members’ and employers’ organization in which all of Sweden’s municipalities and regions are members. Ulrika Palm and Love Edenborg work at SALAR on issues related to urban planning and community development. They both have extensive experience in municipal and regional planning processes but are experts in different areas – Ulrika in sustainable mobility and Love in physical planning and construction. We met them to talk about how to challenge planning processes in different ways to create change faster.

Ulrika Palm and Love Edenborg, SALAR.
  1. Engage both civil servants and local politicians!
  2. Carry out civic dialogue especially when there is a possibility to implement change in the short term, then the results will be visible immediately!
  3. Make a target group analysis – who do we want to reach and how can we reach them?

A cornerstone of Street Moves is to test new directions in planning processes at the system level through small-scale testing that leads to rapid change. Where is there most room for small-scale testing and experimentation in municipal planning processes?

It is good if it can be done at a stage of new thinking in the municipality or region. You have to have established that something in a specific area or place is not working and start thinking about what you can do differently to change it. If you come in at the right stage, there’s a greater chance of getting it right.

It is also important to start the process with some form of citizen dialogue to identify what citizens need. When the needs come directly from the citizens, it is easier to push through the change. You also need to think about where the resources will come from. Usually, municipalities have a budget that is tied to the regular activities in different areas. If you’re going to do something new outside of regular activities, it becomes something extra that you have to request and allocate money for. It can’t be done just like that. Money does not exist if you have not received it. In a political organization it takes time – you have to have worked it out in a budget before you have the money. There is also a difference between larger and smaller municipalities. In some municipalities where major urban development projects are run, there may already be money in the projects, but if you don’t have that type of project, you may not have such a pot to draw from.

This type of work can thus appear to be outside the scope of regular activities. At the same time, we are looking for strategies to help municipalities develop, communicate and achieve a variety of goals around social, economic and ecological sustainability. How do we get past the fact that this type of project is just a fun part of regular planning? How do we get politicians and officials interested in this type of practice-based research and understand that it can lead to movements in a sustainable direction?

One way could be to push for the introduction of a development or innovation pot where this type of thing is budgeted for. Another way could be to identify how to take funds from different budgets and merge them. One example of how this could be done is for slip and fall accidents, where you can spend money on heating coils in the street, which is very expensive, but which could save large sums of money in the health service if we did that. The problem is that it is not the municipalities that bear the cost of broken bones but the regional health care system. So where are the incentives to do things that have an impact elsewhere in someone else’s budget? There is also a difficulty in terms of policy instruments. If we are to achieve the climate targets, we must steer towards them in one way or another and create incentives to achieve them.

You mentioned that civic dialogue can be a good basis for the success of a change process because the commitment is then properly anchored in the municipality. Have you identified any key factors for the success of citizens’ dialogues?

You have to give residents the opportunity to have their say at the right stage and the municipality must be able to implement the initiative quickly. If you decide that you want a new seating area in a place, you must also ensure that it happens fairly quickly. It’s not always possible for the municipality to do this, and then dissatisfaction may arise from the dialog instead. Allowing citizens to submit comments in the final stage of the process when many issues have already been decided is sometimes necessary, for example as part of a statutory process. But in that phase there is often very little opportunity to act on the input. Inviting an open civic dialogue at this stage of the process may actually create more dissatisfaction.

It is also important to carry out a target group analysis. Who do we want to reach and how can we reach them? There is often a certain segment of the population that has strong opinions but may not be the ones most affected by the change in question.

How do we get more municipalities to transform their street environments into more sustainable, healthy and vibrant places?

A municipality’s development is always dependent on its political governance – and the smaller the municipality, the closer politics is often to every decision. In a larger municipality, there can be many different political currents going on at the same time. For example, there may be a very strong, driving climate policy at the same time as there are other politicians who are not interested in this type of issue, while in a smaller municipality it becomes clearer what type of policy is being pursued – is working on street transformation even on the agenda? Something we often see is that we only address and train civil servants in the municipalities. In general, if you are going to pursue any type of change, it must also go through the political level, or at least both the political level and the level of civil servants. It is an interplay between civil servants and politicians, where both levels are important to succeed in driving change.

How do you reach the politicians?

One way is to produce educational material aimed at politicians that could be shown at a committee meeting, for example. It is also important from the perspective of civil servants to involve politicians at an early stage in what the objectives mean if we are to achieve a climate target, for example. You have to talk about what you want to achieve and what the consequences will be so that politicians know what is happening and why in order to avoid it coming as a shock. If we are to achieve a goal, we must create the conditions for it by gaining an early understanding of the importance of strategic documents in planning. This is the basis for driving change.

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