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Practical Collaboration

Published: 23/08/18 | Categories: Author: Steve Brooks

This is the second part of our series from 2017 Walter Dickie Leadership Bursary winner Steve Brooks, National Director of Sustrans Cymru. In this blog he talks about his experience studying at Oxford University as part of his bursary award, and how to avoid the twin traps of endless conversations, and silo working.

I must admit that the idea of spending time at Oxford University was unsettling.  Having been born and brought up on one of the most deprived estates in England, Oxford triggered another bout of imposter syndrome.   Since I had been reading up on what makes private sector entrepreneurs tick, I took a ‘screw it, just do it’ leaf out of Richard Branson’s book.

My course focused on health and well-being in transport and formed part of the Oxford Leadership Programme, run in conjunction with the Said Business School.  At a basic level, transport is all about moving people and goods from A to B, ideally in the safest, efficient and most sustainable way. Transport can both cause and solve complex problems, and like most subjects doesn’t sit in isolation from other topics like health provision, education, housing, economic development and climate change. Over the four days I looked at a range of issues including how transport could tackle social exclusion in developed and developing economies; the role of walking and cycling in enabling well-being; how the public health and transport sectors have (or haven’t) worked together historically; road safety; and equality, social justice and mobility.

One particular seminar that stood out was about gender equality.  If you want to change the way you think about transport, then read Emma Aldrich’s work on transportation and maternal mortality. Emma investigated how constraints on mobility affected maternal health and wellbeing in Uganda. Women’s access to transport in Uganda is limited and controlled. Getting to a medical facility can be delayed and the form of transport may be unsafe, contributing to an increased risk of death. Emma quoted Margaret Greico (2005) in saying:

“The differences between male and female travel patterns and the cultural rules and roles associated with these differences are under charted in the policy environment. No better demonstration of these constraints can be found than in Africa’s portrait of maternal mortality; constraints on mobility and on the resources for mobility and accessibility have devastating consequences for women’s health on the African continent.” 

Even in the UK we place mobility constraints on certain communities. We value certain activities, certain journeys and certain modes of transport more than others; choosing to design our world around the car. As Dr Karen Lucas argued, this matters.

40% of jobseekers cite transport as a problem getting jobs. Half of all young adults in education find transport costs hard to meet. 1.4million people in the UK miss or turn down hospital appointments because of lack of transport. Building more roads and subsidising electric vehicles is a choice. Repairing pavements so older people can walk more freely and spending more money on public transport is another choice.

Oxford was a fantastic opportunity to look again at old problems with fresh eyes and ears.  To remind myself that to deliver change on the ground in Wales, Sustrans would need to work ‘outside’ the transport box.  Restricting unnecessary car use and enabling more people to walk and cycle delivers several transport benefits, not least tackling congestion and safety.  It also delivers a number of benefits outside of the transport field.   But the moral of the story here is not we should all adopt the Future Generations Act’s five ways of working and think ‘job done’.

To bridge the delivery gap, the third sector needs to both focus and collaborate.  Avoiding the two extremes of endless conversations with partners and MoU drafting on one hand, and silo working on the other.  Perhaps this could be called ‘practical collaboration’.

In my next blog I talk about what I learnt about delivering change in Copenhagen and how those lessons can be applied to Wales.