In 2024, we are once again facing elections in Belgium. Local governments will be formed or reelected. Many consider these elections a turning point for the coming decades, and yes, we share that view.
Why a turning point?
Recent years have been marked by system shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate disasters, geopolitical conflicts, and an energy crisis that has drastically altered our way of life from one day to the next. These system shocks have brought us to a situation we call "The Great Disequilibrium," where certainties are under pressure, and our traditional Western model, the liberal welfare state within a free-market economy, is increasingly in jeopardy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has swiftly changed the way we work, live, and inhabit our world, highlighting the vulnerability of global supply chains. The experience and threat of global pandemics compel us to look more locally for strengths and resilience. Climate disasters ruthlessly expose the costs of climate change and force us to take radical steps. Growing geopolitical tensions, economic disruptions, and polarization threaten to further disrupt our system.
In these turbulent times, it is challenging to remain optimistic. People are losing hope, societal divides are widening, fueling the temptation to resort to simplistic thoughts and solutions that do not offer a sustainable future. So yes, we find ourselves at a turning point where we either engage people in a positive narrative or fail to address the disruptive (r)evolutions, address social unrest, and polarization.
We find ourselves at a turning point where we either engage people in a positive narrative or fail to address the disruptive (r)evolutions, address social unrest, and polarization.
The critical role of local governments
We believe that local governments play a crucial role in creating a positive vision for the future in these challenging times and can bring people back together. As the closest level of government, local governments are perfectly positioned to develop solutions to society's major challenges, such as housing, employment, and mobility. Although many problems are too large to be solved at the local level, it is local governments that must bridge the gap between the policies formulated at higher levels and a vision for the future of their local community. They can explain reality and demonstrate how certain interventions in the long term can lead to a better future.
Think of it as renovations. Many renovation projects would not succeed without a clear vision of what the end result will eventually look like. Such a vision, think of a beautiful 3D rendering of your house, provides guidance during the challenging period of demolition and construction, keeps hope alive, and saves relationships.
How can citizens embrace measures against car traffic if they only worry about getting their groceries to their front door or having a parking spot for their weekend guests? The picture changes when you envision a street where young families and seniors meet, where children can play safely, and where evenings are peaceful without cars circling in search of a parking spot. Wouldn't we all be willing to walk a little further to a neighborhood parking lot if it leads to a more livable street?
The momentum is here to finally make this future tangible, and we must not let it slip away.
Local governments are perfectly positioned to develop solutions to society's major challenges, such as housing, employment, and mobility.
The environmental analysis as a lever
Traditionally, local governments conduct an environmental analysis as a basis for future policies. However, in today's rapidly changing world, this approach, based on historical data and public surveys, is inadequate. Yesterday's environmental analysis cannot address the uncertainties of tomorrow.
This is where we come to the missing puzzle piece, an "outside-in" approach to the environment. Local governments must understand societal trends, technological changes, geopolitical shifts, and the increasing focus on sustainability. They need to take a broader view of the world and understand how these developments impact critical functions of society such as mobility, housing, and work. Only then can they develop effective strategies to be prepared for what lies ahead. We must look ahead and develop scenarios that consider various societal forces and their impact on urban and municipal contexts.
In the book "The Future Formula," Jo Caudron describes the different forces that affect all organisations, including local governments.
Developing this vision for the future is the 'why' of change. It provides a compass for local governments in these uncertain times, allowing them to act purposefully and intentionally. It enables them to create a future that citizens can recognize and participate in.
A future vision is "the Why" for change!
In short, local governments are at a critical point in history, and developing a visionary, 'outside-in' approach is the missing puzzle piece for effective local governance. It's time to look ahead, collaborate, and build a future that can address the challenges of today and tomorrow. The world is uncertain, but with the right vision, local governments can set a clear course for a better future for their residents. We can help with that!
Contact us for more information.
Also, be sure to see how we have assisted the South-West Flanders region in creating a regional future vision as a stepping stone to the environmental analysis: learn more.