If that’s not a mouthful, I don’t know what is. Perhaps, after you’ve read this blog you’ll be able to help us find a snappier title.
My name is Einir Young, I’m Director of Sustainability at Bangor University and I also chair Wales’ Higher Education Future Generations Group (HEFGG), representing every HE in Wales . On behalf of the group I’d like to introduce our new joint venture and invite you to get involved. This is the first in a series of blogs leading up to two conferences coming up, one in Bangor in September and another in Cardiff in November – plenty of time and information to decide whether you want to be involved.
Having worked together as a group for some time we decided that it was time to put the principles of the WFGA into practice, in particular the five ways of working, asking ourselves the following questions:
- What is the long term contribution of the group? What’s the point of us meeting every so often, and exchanging our ideas? What happens to those ideas? What can we show for our efforts?
- Just meeting to tick a box is not a worthwhile activity so how can we prevent inertia and stagnation and make our group relevant?
- Collaboration is something that we aspire to but too often our institutions are in competition with each other and as someone said: ‘collaboration is the suspension of mutual loathing in search of further funding’. That produced a laugh, because we all recognised a grain of truth. How could we then truly collaborate.
- Integration is another aspiration – integrating what we do rather than pursue our own goals in silos. How could we do better?
- Involvement is another word that carries a lot of weight but is difficult to achieve. Who should be involved? Who should do what? When? Where?
As we were pondering these questions as a group at the Wales Audit Office’s Behaviour Change Conference in Aberystwyth in April 2017, Yvonne Jones from Swansea University, the last person standing from the secretariat of the original Regional Centre of Expertise Wales (RCE Wales) challenged us to revive and revitalise the RCE to reflect our new thinking and the thinking behind the WFGA. And here we are, 18 months later about to re-launch RCE Cymru in its new guise, ready to contribute actively to an international network of more than 160 similar groups who are busy putting global sustainability objectives into a local community context, with an emphasis on the well-being of current and future generations.
The RCE networks have rules of engagement and the two golden rules are that i) an RCE has to be led by a University and ii) it must engage with the wider community. So we have brought together a tiny group of three people to act as a Secretariat to deal with reporting but the rest is fluid and open to suggestions.
Currently we’re developing several circles of interest and are looking for interested participants. So far the following groups have emerged:
- The circular economy (co-ordinated by Dr Gavin Bunting, Swansea University)
- Healthy Universities and Colleges (co-ordinated by Chris Deacy, Cardiff Met)
- Regeneration (co-ordinated by Dr Sheena Carlisle and Tim Palazon, Cardiff Met)
- Teaching and Learning (co-ordinated by Dr Carolyn Hayles, UWTSD)
- Communication is a cross-cutting theme and is co-ordinated by my team in Bangor.
Other circles are starting to brew:
- Education for a better food system (Jane Powell)
- Social Prescribing (co-ordinated by Nina Ruddle, Glyndŵr)
- Language and Culture (co-ordinators to be confirmed)
- Sounding boards for the Public Service Boards (Nina Ruddle and Dr Einir Young – in the north of Wales initially)
So to answer our original five questions, this is where we’re at:
Our long term vision is to create a truly collaborative structure (we think the RCE set up will facilitate this) to provide ‘thinking space’ for circles of interest to explore their theme-specific challenges, in their own time and their own way. It is up to each group to decide how they organise themselves and measure success.
The circles of interest will provide a two way dialogue between the core RCE group and the circles, generating a constant flow of new ideas and providing opportunities for cross-fertilisation of ideas between the circles. The meetings will be organised as required by the participants thus aiming to avoid ‘meeting fatigue’.
Collaboration has to be based on trust and this is an opportunity to explore, with no strings attached, how the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts. There is no funding to squabble over, there are no targets to dispute. There is no pressure to join and most important of all, no shame in failing – we are here to learn together.
There are many initiatives associated with all the circles of interest and many attempts to force institutions to work together before the necessary foundation of mutual trust has been built. We hope that the voluntary nature of the RCE Cymru relationships emerging through the HEFGG will facilitate greater integration and sharing of ideas breaking down the protectionist ‘us v them’ barriers.
The good news is that anyone and everyone can be involved if you want to. This is not an exclusive club. The main requirement of involvement is an open mind, a can-do attitude, creative thinking a willingness to take risks (where failing might be an option) and a commitment to have a go. But we are not looking for martyrs either – if you are too busy, it’s not a problem. Involvement with any of the circles of interest should fit in with the day job or be an extra that you particularly want to invest your time in. Work-life balance is a goal for all of us.
Watch this space for the forthcoming blogs explaining the aspirations of each of the circles of interest in turn.
I am ready and waiting for comments and feedback to flow like a Tsumani. Let the fun begin!
 Originally the group was called the Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship group but morphed into our new form in response to the Welsh Government’s Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015 which became law in April 2016.
About the Author
Dr Einir Young is Bangor University’s Director of Sustainability. Her Sustainability Lab team is located in the University’s Central Services alongside the Planning, Governance and HR teams, to reflect the importance of sustainability and well-being of future generations in terms of strategic planning, business intelligence, compliance issues, policy development and partnerships.
She has extensive experience of collaborating with business and institutions who are disillusioned with a ‘one size fits all’ approach. She relishes the challenge of finding effective solutions to complex ‘sustainability’ issues, focusing on generating prosperity through respecting people and living within the resource boundaries of the planet. In her opinion the days of ‘old power values’ with its top down command and control style are over and welcomes the fluidity and energy offered by ‘new power values’ of crowd-sourcing, radical transparency and trusting people.
In her spare time she is passionate about walking. Current projects include the Wales Coastal Path and the Snowdonia Slate Trail; she recently walked around Malta – every destination is judged by the quality of its walks. Wales wins.