A civil servant in transition – three lessons from three months at DRIFT

As part of her traineeship for the municipality of Rotterdam Emmy joined DRIFT to work on social innovations in the energy transition. As a young civil servant interested in transition management, she aimed to find inspiration for a local authority in transition. In this blog, Emmy shares three lessons learned.
By Emmy van Gennip
While working for the city of Rotterdam, I noticed that the role of local authorities is changing. Thinking in silos and making policy top-down are becoming less effective, and new ways of working, such as cross-sector collaborations and citizen participation, are on the rise. As a young civil servant, these new ways of working inspire me. At DRIFT I have learned how to put these concepts into action, and how I can bring positive change to my organisation.
Lesson 1: Grab your policies out of the drawer
Policies are a useful tool for governments. However, all too often it seems that policies are being hidden away in drawers. Consequently policies are not read by a lot of people and are less likely to have a large impact. Besides, in today’s ever-changing environment, it can be hard for policies to adequately address complex issues in society.
At DRIFT I learned how policy can be made interactive, and simultaneously more effective, by engaging citizens and other stakeholders. This way, policy making becomes a participatory tool by including stakeholders in the process. Through this process, policy can have a bigger impact while being more effective at addressing complex issues.
A perfect example of a policy tool that can create such interaction is roadmapping. The process of roadmapping is not about the final outcome, but about the ‘road’ itself. The road to create policy can include roundtables, creative sessions, debates or community gatherings, engaging citizens, politicians, companies, NGOs and scientists. So, grab your policy out of that drawer and interact with it!
Lesson 2: Take a walk on the social side
The energy transition is often so much focused on technological interventions that it can be hard to imagine the social side of it. At DRIFT I came across interesting social innovations that bring surprising insights to the energy transition. Take for example ‘Le Grand Débat’ from Nantes, where the city initiated interactive debates with citizens of the town. Another great example is the creation of the Round Tables of Cadiz, a platform for participation on the energy transition from schools, companies, civil servants and environmental organisations.
These examples teach us that we need a social approach to create participation and collaboration for the energy transition. Participation is needed to involve all stakeholders that are connected and dependent on each other in the complex process of the energy transition. In order to make progress, we should build stronger collaborations between different stakeholders. Taking a walk on the social side of the energy transition is necessary, and results in inspiration and new connections.
Lesson 3: When you look across borders, you will reach far
In Stockholm they have an impressive open district heating system, in Dublin they launched the very successful Home Energy Saving Kit, and Utrecht has spearheaded the inspiring Energy Plan meetings with its citizens. Municipalities do not have to reinvent the wheel – have a look around, and you will find that plenty of wheels already exist. With their innovations, other cities can inspire and help us in our transition process.
Beside exchanging knowledge, close-knit cooperation with other countries and cities is necessary to achieve a successful energy transition. Climate change does not stop at the borders, so we need all countries to put in effort. Participating in international collaborations helps raising global climate ambitions, and working across borders will therefore help accelerate the energy transition.
As a civil servant, I will continue working on the energy transition in the newly established sustainability team of the city of Rotterdam. The lessons I learned at DRIFT will keep inspiring me, as I strive to be a civil servant that connects people and subjects, looks across our city borders for inspiration and forging new collaborations.
If you have any questions about this or you just want to reach me, you can email me at a href=”mailto:e.vangennip@rotterdam.nl” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>e.vangennip@rotterdam.nl. Thanks to Tessa, Julia, Sophie and all other DRIFT’ers: I had a very inspiring and fun time at DRIFT!

June 12, 2019