Connecting Cities, Nature and Innovation
Providing tools, knowledge and contacts to practitioners
The new buzzword, nature-based solutions (NBS), is a study area focusing on how to work with rather than against nature when imagining, designing, and rebuilding cities. The IIIEE belongs to a joint academic venture that offers commissioned courses on innovation and sustainable governance for practitioners from economies in transition with the financial support of the Swedish Institute.
This program aims to develop transformational skills and capacities of individuals that represent key bodies governing and/or influencing natural resource-related urban infrastructure. This kind of training is right up the alley for course coordinator, Berni Kiss, who is passionate about nurturing change and crossing borders between different disciplines and cultures for a sustainable future.
The online format makes it possible to enrol participants worldwide, equip them with skills and strengthen their capacities required facilitating long-term transformations toward sustainability
“The great thing with this urban nature-themed programme is that we are working together with urban practitioners, who are directly involved in change-making processes, such as city planning. The online format makes it possible to enrol participants worldwide, equip them with skills and strengthen their capacities required facilitating long-term transformations toward sustainability,” says Dr Bernadett “Berni” Kiss — lecturer and research associate at the IIIEE— about the capacity development programme Innovation in Governance for Urban Nature-based Solutions.
This course is part of the Public Sector Innovation Programme that has been initiated and funded by the Swedish Institute and carried out in different domains by a handful of Swedish universities since 2020. The aim is to support public sector innovation and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development in low- and middle-income countries. Accordingly, Innovation in Governance for Urban Nature-based Solutionstargets five former-Soviet states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldavia and Ukraine.
We use multiple ways of learning and provide at least two channels of expertise for the participants – both related to nature
The course has been developed and run by IIIEE, and the School of Economics and Management (LUSEM) in close collaboration with Lund University Commissioned Education (LUCE). “Both my colleagues, Philip Peck (IIIEE) and Ola Mattisson (LUSEM) – as well as staff at LUCE – have decades-long experience of tailoring capacity development training programs for professionals in different forms and contexts. I first got engaged in the second iteration of the course as an expert to hold some workshops, but shortly after I took over the baton,” says Berni. Having come out of a recently-finalized European research project, Naturvation (or NATure-based URban innoVATION), which sought to explore how nature-based innovations can be fostered in cities by working with communities and stakeholders, Berni has found this course to be the most suitable way for her to pass on and further enrich the experience and knowledge base acquired through this international and interdisciplinary research collaboration.
Some 20 years ago, in our countries, environmental and sustainability challenges were often seen as technical problems accompanied with economic burdens, which could only be addressed by engineering solutions – most probably with high costs.
he course’s general theme is about innovation in current governance structures and implementation of nature-based solutions in cities — primarily as a response to climate change and sustainability challenges but also improving people’s well-being. “We use multiple ways of learning and provide at least two channels of expertise for the participants – both related to nature,” says Berni Kiss. “The first is ‘the outer nature’, or urban nature. In this context, we are working with a quality change of physical urban environments through exploring and analysing case studies of nature-based solutions. A rationale for this is provided by the promise of NBS that uses the properties of nature to address urban and sustainability challenges. The second channel is ‘the inner nature’, or human nature. In this channel, we are working with individuals’ skills and relational capacities necessary for sustainable transformations, on a personal, professional, and organisational level, with the aspiration that it trickles out to their broader networks and communities.”
Having grown up in Hungary, Berni Kiss has hands-on experience and cultural insight into the mindset of countries east of the Iron Curtain. This allows her not only to think for, but to think together with the course participants when working on their real-life NBS projects. “Some 20 years ago, in our countries, environmental and sustainability challenges were often seen as technical problems accompanied with economic burdens, which could only be addressed by engineering solutions – most probably with high costs,” she says. Accordingly, it is with a special kind of enthusiasm she navigates the “soft” side of sustainability. She has evaluated energy efficiency policies for sustainable buildings, explored innovation pathways in the built environment both for grey and green infrastructures, and engaged with both individual and institutional learning processes within education, research, and local authorities alike.
I let the different topics cross-fertilize each other. But I do not stop there. When I am learning about something new and interesting, I usually ask myself how do I best convey this message to a broader audience?
“I have always loved to learn about and engage with new topics,” she says. “I let the different topics cross-fertilize each other. But I do not stop there. When I am learning about something new and interesting, I usually ask myself how do I best convey this message to a broader audience?” Berni, together with her colleagues at IIIEE, Björn Wickenberg and Kes McCormick, and supported by a professional team from LUCE, Malin Pahlmblad, Natassjha Venhammar and Alexandra Hertz keeps on engaging with urban practitioners to work with nature in cities within and outside existing frames and structures.
The impacts – on team, organisational, participant and societal levels
On a team level:
- The innovation focus of the curriculum cross fertilized domains of urban nature and public administration and sharpened the skills of the team to design, produce and deliver hands-on, case-oriented online courses.
- Working closely with the School of Economics and Management (LUSEM) and Lund University Commissioned Education broadened the experience and created new ideas and opportunities for cooperation with academic expertise from different fields.
On an organisational level:
- The course activities bring IIIEE closer to the reality of the practitioners – in this case former communist countries who face great challenges. This produces new insights, research ideas, and opportunities for multi-disciplinary cooperation and networks, as well as spin-off projects and courses.
- The activities promote IIIEE and Lund University in the public sector of a number of countries. In addition, the support of the Swedish Institute strengthens the ethos of the organisation.
On a participant level:
- The course conveys two kinds of expert knowledge – “what to do, and how to do it”. The first is technical and factual, explaining the scientific background and showing examples of nature-based solutions. The other is about leadership and transformation skills, which can be transferred to the organisations and networks of the participants.
- The participants – who represent middle and upper management from city administrations and civil society organizations – can work closely with peers from other countries, comparing their approaches and interchanging their experience.
On a societal level:
- By reaching out to practitioners worldwide, these courses open up a number of opportunities for change in the real world. Already embedded in the course, the participants work with real-life NBS projects, where they can directly apply what they have learned.
- Every course – and alumni activities across courses – is putting practitioners in touch with other practitioners; this makes it possible to form strong international networks, and facilitates the exchange of case stories, know-how, and experience.
Berni is a curious person by nature from the abstract to concrete, from structural analysis to practical solutions. Accordingly, she is just as interested in system-wide policies and technologies as in the processes and the solutions that come out of them – like energy-efficient buildings or nature-based city planning. Her activities occupy the border zone between research, education, and networking. She calls herself “a mindful messenger of nature” who naturally loves to be in nature in her leisure time.
Creating impact and lifelong learning
Challenge: Many economies in transition face rapid political and economic change, or demographic shifts combined with inadequate or degraded infrastructure. They may be burdened by a heavy historical heritage of environmental impacts, corruption, and economic scarcity, as well as structural and institutional settings. This exacerbates social, and economic and environmental problems, putting them further from achieving sustainability goals. In this context, strengthening individual transformational skills and developing organizational capacities are key to accelerate public sector innovation and governance in the field of sustainability.
Approach: Innovation in Governance for Urban Nature-based Solutions is one of the commissioned training programmes of Lund University started in 2020, with the support of the umbrella initiative of the Swedish Institute’s Public Sector Innovation Programme. The course has been developed by staff from the IIIEE, the School of Economics and Management (LUSEM) and Lund University Commissioned Education (LUCE). The course is interdisciplinary and aims at developing transformational skills and capacities of individuals representing key bodies that govern and/or influence natural resource-related infrastructure in larger cities of the former Soviet Union.
Outcome: Since 2020, the one-year online course has been run twice with over 50 participants from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Ukraine. Another 25 participants are enrolled in this year’s course – extending the call for another country, Moldova. The training runs as an online course for one year with 4–7 hours of study each week and finishes with a week-long intensive on-site training, including theme-specific workshops, experience exchange, team-building activities, and site visits. Capacity building, however, goes beyond the individual participants and flows into their organisations, and networks; it contributes to building long-term intra- and inter-organizational innovation capacities for sustainable urban governance (organizational-level capacity building).
Audience: The participants are mid-to-upper-level managers in public administrations from five post-Soviet countries. Predominantly from city administrations, but also from regional and national authorities, non-governmental and private organizations, urban development institutes and international organizations, such as UNDP, WWF and GIZ. What unites these organizations is their involvement in green infrastructure and nature-based development projects.