The MEDIUM project organised its third stakeholder workshop on March 17th in Zhuhai. While the two previous workshops that focused on the Sci Tech City of Hangzhou, the topic of this one was the Zhuhai High Tech Zone. All workshops have been organised by students, respectively coming from Sun Yat-Sen University and Hanzghou Normal University, with support by members of the MEDIUM team. They were prepared through training sessions designed and led by Spatial Foresight.
Stakeholder workshops are structured processes designed to identify issues of sustainable development in the targeted urban area and explore possible solutions. They generally gather between 15 and 25 participants that alternate between group discussions and plenary sessions. The objective is to ensure that all can participate on an equal footing and to promote the formulation of innovative proposals on how to promote a more sustainable urban developmentu
Different challenges can be observed in this regard. First, the very notion of ‘workshop’ is foreign to many of actors. It can be difficult to explain the difference with a simple meeting: Workshops are not just about getting information about current and forthcoming policy developments, or about confronting perceptions and opinions. A workshop is supposed to help develop a richer, more nuanced perception of current situations and contribute to the formulation of novel ideas.
Second, mustering commitment to workshop processes as collective endeavours can be difficult. Many participants are interested in the initiative and curious to attend. However, devoting an entire day to such an exercise and if possible following it up through inputs to ensuing synthesis reports appears difficult for a number of persons. Many companies, authorities and other bodies fail to consider collective efforts to explore issues of sustainable development as sufficiently important to allocate sufficient resources to it.
Third, the focus tends to be on economic aspects of development in most discussions. A majority of stakeholders are primarily preoccupied by concerns on how to attract talents, to create appropriate environments for innovation and business development and, more generally, on the capacity to generate economic growth.
Ecological issues tend to be approached in terms of living environments, e.g. mentioning air pollution and access to green areas. More limited attention is paid to issues such as biodiversity, ecosystemic disturbance and resource consumption.
Participatory workshops are components of an open approach to planning. Some participants are uncomfortable with this idea of planning, in which it attempts to make development more robust or resilience, rather than being instrumental in the achievement of a pre-defined objective. Major efforts are required to justify a usefulness of such an endeavour.
In spite of all this challenges, the first workshops have produced a number of interesting outputs. In Hangzhou Sci Tech City, insufficient attention paid to public transportation, living environments and landscapes have been identified as main bottlenecks of development. Results suggest adaptations of government and governance systems to better address these major current and forthcoming challenges. Outcomes from last week’s workshop in Zhuhai are currently being processed; results will soon become available.