STEP UP Companion City Coaching
Based on the state of sustainable city planning and the key issues of the companion cities, coaching activities (or ‘trajectories’) were developed by the designated STEP UP partners in each Learning Network. Companion City coaching ran from the end of 2013 until early 2015 and covered a multitude of topics that Companion Cities had expressed an interest in getting acquainted with and exchanging experiences about. Coaching was carried out in many different ways, depending on local circumstances and preferences, as well as on the availability of specific methods and tools.
At the end of the coaching process, STEP UP partners held interviews with the Companion Cities in order to gather feedback on how useful the coaching had been, and suggestions for ways in which it could be improved if further coaching was to take place in the future. Overall, the feedback showed that Companion Cities, and the STEP UP cities as well, have hugely benefited from the cooperation with STEP UP in the coaching trajectories and the many other initiatives organised for the wider Learning Network.
The Coaching Concept
The coaching was intended to assist Companion Cities in applying STEP UP’s approaches in their own context, and to share expertise from the project.
Feedback from the Companion Cities shows that, in particular, being given the opportunity to talk among peer cities has been very much appreciated; during the coaching city relationships were founded and cooperation between cities was strengthened, creating potential opportunities for further collaboration. One-to-one approaches have also been found to be effective, allowing for tailored content, and a focus on a city’s key challenges.
Overall, it is clear that cities recognise the benefit of new contacts, knowledge and methodologies they have gained from the coaching and that these will assist them in overcoming information and data gaps in their own sustainable city planning in the future. However, sharing experiences about strategies employed which did not work is also highlighted as very important as a learning tool for other cities, helping to guide their own activities, and the feedback shows that this should be emphasised more in any future coaching initiatives.
Cities have been coached on various different aspects of SEAP and integrated project development, making it difficult to draw common conclusions on specific tools or approaches. However, it is clear that strategies and approaches to stakeholder engagement in particular have been found to be highly useful by all cities.
Coaching topics included:
- Ghent: flexibility in district development; GIS-based energy mapping; green city logistics; heat market models; lessons learnt in SEAP development; financing dwelling renovation;
- Glasgow: stakeholder analysis and engagement planning; energy flow analysis and modelling; identifying and assessing SEAP actions;
- Gothenburg: energy issues in the cities; innovative project development; transforming city challenges into projects;
- Riga: mobility and transport; sustainable building renovation; financing for building renovations and district heating; sharing information about Riga’s smart city SEAP.
Some of the topics covered are featured on the STEP UP website, with links providing additional information including summaries of the topics, presentations, webinars, recordings, digital toolboxes and other documents.
For example, in the training courses section of the website, as the progress and results of the coaching activities were further disseminated among the Learning Networks:
Coaching activities and the feedback received are also covered in many other sections of the website, including: Energy Planning, the Enhanced SEAP guide for cities, Sustainable Energy Projects guide for cities and many more.
Challenges, Learning Points and Recommendations
The findings, challenges and learning points that have emerged during the coaching process have led to the identification of a number of recommendations, for cities considering coaching the STEP UP approach or components thereof in the future, and for other cities which may be considering taking up their own coaching activities:
- Adopt a flexible and creative approach to coaching: coaching plans should be adaptable, to suit local priorities, needs and resource constraints. This can help to ensure the usefulness and applicability of coaching to other cities, and means that approaches can be tailored and adapted based on feedback received in the process.
- Tailor the STEP UP approach to make it more applicable to smaller, resource-constrained cities: special attention needs to be paid to the applicability and usefulness of the STEP UP approach to cities facing resource constraints, including those of smaller size. This could include highlighting key stages of the STEP UP approach which should be prioritised, or adapting tools and approaches so that they are less resource-intensive.
- Recognise that limited resources in municipalities can restrict engagement in coaching activities: therefore consider combining coaching activities with other meetings or events in order to reduce the time commitment required, and promote these activities in a way which makes it an attractive offer to municipalities. Where possible, support for cities to engage in coaching activities could also be sought through available funding streams.
- Make the most of the expertise available across the cities in coaching activities: working with different partners to deliver coaching (including the municipality, commercial and research partners), and engaging with various city representatives and external experts within companion cities, can help to provide relevant and useful information to the appropriate people and support the development of networks within cities which will help the effective development of SEAPs and projects going forward.
- Recognise the potential for, and benefits of, a two-way coaching process: cities being coached are also likely to have experiences and expertise that can be learned from. The opportunity presented by this should be capitalised on, to enhance knowledge building and strengthen relationships between cities, as well as realise the potential this might offer for shared working in the future.
- Early engagement with cities is needed to overcome barriers to participation. This allows cities to understand the purpose and benefits of the coaching better, have more input into the planning of activities, and for priorities and activities to be aligned.
- Peer learning networks are effective and highly valued by cities: creating a peer network of cities with an interest in active engagement and learning adds value to cities’ sustainability planning and local initiatives. For example, contact and ongoing engagement with a more experienced city may well be constructive for cities that are less experienced.
- Share mistakes and best practice - talking about failures is a constructive way for cities to learn. Lessons learned about what works and what has not worked should both be shared with other cities in order to best assist with their sustainable city planning.
- Recognising and understanding city constraints and challenges is key. For example, coaching initiatives require funding support, particularly if over a longer time period, to cover staff resource and travel expenses related to coaching initiatives. Where funding is low or lacking, or distance between cities makes face-to-face coaching impractical, online workshops and teleconferences can provide useful support.
- Establish medium-to-long term coaching relationships. Cities face resource and circumstantial constraints in committing to frequent involvement over a short time period, yet have expressed a need for ongoing support over a longer time period.
- The value of practical tips and guidance should not be underestimated, and can complement the sharing of specific approaches and tools. City officers can also benefit from practical advice, such as project management tips relating to SEAP development processes.
- Both bottom-up and top-down solutions may be needed.
- Visualisations, case studies and concise information can help disseminate approaches. Visualisations, graphics, case studies, checklists and user-friendly language are all important for relaying key information in succinct and helpful ways.
- Encourage collaboration with stakeholders from an early stage. Starting early with stakeholder engagement is essential for effective sustainable city planning, and has been well recognised across the STEP UP Learning Networks.
- Recognise that the SEAP is a living document. Cities starting out may not be able to access all the required data the first time round, but this should not be off-putting: cities should make a start with the data they have, and look to improve data used for the SEAP in the future.