Communication with Decision Makers Is a Key Challenge for Budapest Sustainability Initiatives

It’s vital for local urban sustainability initiatives to build connections with local municipalities and with each other concluded the Accelerating and Rescaling Transitions to Sustainability (ARTS) projects’ Budapest team, which was led by CEU’s Department of Environmental Sciences. The EU Commission-funded project’s started in 2014, and its regional Budapest phase ended with a meeting on October 28 at CEU.

“The purpose of the ARTS project is to identify and work with local urban sustainability transition initiatives in Budapest. Based on our meetings, we want to come up with strategies and tools to help,” said Laszlo Pinter, professor at CEU’s Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy and team leader of CEU’s involvement in the project. The ARTS initiative aims to accelerate change towards a sustainable low-carbon society and has mapped and studied local initiatives in Brighton, Budapest, Dresden, Genk, and Stockholm. The meeting was also part of the Regional Environmental Center’s Societal Engagement in Science, Mutual Learning in Cities initiative.

ARTS participants discuss what their dream Budapest would look like:

10 Budapest social entrepreneurs were studied in detail during the project, with activities ranging from ethical community banking (Magnet Bank), cargo bicycle based logistics (Cargonomia), or catering services using solely local produce (Haziko). “They are neighbors, community members, they are not mysterious, unattainable figures. They are average people who have good ideas, saw problems in their communities and started creating their own solutions to challenging issues in their locality,” said Logan Strenchock, CEU’s Campus Environmental and Sustainability Officer, member of CEU’s ARTS team.

During the first meeting of Budapest changemakers, participants shared their experience and know-how with each other during an interactive workshop. Some of the areas where participants gained and shared considerable experience was in organizational planning, communication strategies, connecting with decision-makers, tendering and lobbying and increasing impact. To strengthen cooperation participants established a communication strategy to share useful information within the group, like new tenders, and to advance already existing cooperation between their organizations through partnering. They also pledged to organize common events in the future.

One of the conclusions of the first meeting was that it is very difficult to communicate with local municipalities, though cooperation with them is a decisive factor in sustaining these initiatives and having their impacts resonate at the policy level. A lack of connection and communication, the difficulty of finding entry points to the system, mystifying bureaucracy, scarcity of human resources and a lack of vision on the district municipalities’ part were the most commonly mentioned problems.

Summary of the first Budapest ARTS workshop:

For the second meeting, representatives of the local municipalities were also invited. The two sides agreed that they have to work together and overcome the difficulties of very different organizational cultures and languages to achieve synergy between the civil sphere and the municipality. Education and outreach could play an important role in this process, social entrepreneurs realize that they need to learn how to pitch their products and services better in the short timeframe they are generally provided.

Creating opportunities where the two sides can meet is a key challenge, participants agreed. Organizing civil forums has been the most common proposal, but creating an innovation board at municipalities and facilitating communication with “digital receptionists” and general email address-formats for all institutions was also mentioned. Another important point brought up by innovators was that tendering processes are following a top-down approach, with very strict criteria and short deadlines. The participants suggested consultation about the topics with the decision makers, so these resources can help local businesses more efficiently.