Engaging with 2.6 Million People

The Greater Manchester Low Carbon Hub is a “one-stop-shop” for knowledge and information concerning sustainability issues. Mistra Urban Futures and the Greater Manchester Local Interaction Platform (GMLIP) are links to opinions and expertise from the outside.  

Mark Atherton is the director of environment for AGMA, the Association of Greater Manchester Associations. A key part of his work is about the transition to a low carbon economy, reducing carbon emissions but also to take advantage of potential opportunities in the process. Greater Manchester is made up of 10 local authorities, the largest one being the City of Manchester.

Q: How does the Mistra Urban Futures play into what you do? 
A: It’s largely benefits. I was keen to engage because I wanted to increase the interaction with the universities and their expertise and bring that to some regional policy. But I also wanted to improve the engagement we have to people in Greater Manchester. There are 2.6 million people in Greater Manchester. I would argue we probably only engage with a small number of thousands of them. 
So then comes the questions, how does a city region engage with 2.6 million people? How do we use the knowledge to develop policy and strategy – and how to communicate?

I was keen to engage because I wanted to get greater interaction with the universities and their expertise and bring that to some regional policy. But also, I wanted to broaden out the engagement we had to people in Greater Manchester. There is rigor in how we go about testing and understanding what changes are occurring, and what change is required. Mistra Urban Futures gives me outside voices and access to expertise.

Q: What are the advantages? 
A: It is useful to have academic insight into how processes and organisations are formed and how they change. It’s particularly useful for me because when you get to a certain level, some people are afraid to tell you the truth. Most people outside the organization, not least academics, are willing to give you a reasonably unbiased opinion. The GMLIP gives me the outside voices and access to expertise. 

On the downside are the time scales, both accelerated and slowed – sometimes things go too slowly, and sometimes I’m doing lots of other things and need to create time for this. I recognise they are two sides of the same coin. It’s probably saying more about my resources.

Q: This is midway for Mistra Urban Futures – is there anything you expect or would offer for the future?
A: I know that some work has been done across other UK cities and it would be quite interesting to see the results of that. I do know that there’s further work required this year to bring knowledge together and say what has been learned. I’ve also seen the annual report with summary in Cape Town – quite interesting. A little bit more of learning between the cities would have been good. You can’t get that from a document.

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