First Report & Commentary on June 8th Shell Foundation Workshop
- First Report & Commentary on June 8th Shell Foundation Workshop
(You comments invited - to eric.britton@...)
I. WHAT IS THIS?
This is the first of three short reports to be submitted by Eric Britton who
represented The Commons and the New Mobility Forum at the Shell Foundation
expert workshop organized in Paris on June 8th in an attempt to gather a broad
range of ideas and independent expert counsel for their future Sustainable
Transportation Centre activity. The second note will address some of the
issues, views and some of the observed accomplishments of the workshop, while
the third will provide a set of proposals and recommendations to Shell for this
It was a terrific and wide open meeting. Those in attendance were well
prepared, had strong backgrounds in our topic, and expressed themselves with
interest and freely. The organizers did not flinch from the suggestions and
critical reactions of the group, that were at times at some variance with the
draft position paper they had submitted for comment. The comments that follow
are strictly personal and based only on my observations and rough notes. I
anticipate numerous reactions, corrections and additions to what you find here.
All these will be placed on the http://newmobility.org site, and as comments
come in they will be added directly to this original draft so that readers will
have a rounded view of the validity or otherwise of these statements. You will
also be able to cross check them for accuracy as the more definitive materials
are posted on both this and the Foundation's site at www.shellfoundation.org,
II. INTENDED NEXT STEPS
>From Shell:* They will post all meeting documents to www.shellfoundation.org, including
final agenda, participants list, working papers and presentations as available
* They have indicated as well that they are pleased to have the benefit of the
comments and suggestions of this group.
* We have invited all participants to post their notes and thoughts here on the
@New Mobility Forum site, either by addressing them as open emails to the whole
group at email@example.com, to us privately at
ShellComments@... (with your instructions concerning how they should
be treated,, or directly to the organizers at sf@...
>From The Commons;* Post the "think octagons" (you will see) - and invite you to play with
* Strategic review and commentary on the meeting, propositions made, etc.
* Our recommendation's for Shell - 2001-2003 (and beyond)
* Continued maintenance of the Shell section of the New Mobility site
A selection of the publicly submitted pieces will be turned into Yikes!
articles for broader circulation and comment. (Yikes! is the @New Mobility
Forum e-magazine, as in "Yikes!, it's already the 21st century".)
1. The workshop brought together some fifty people coming from close to two
dozen countries and four continents (The full list with affiliations will
shortly be forthcoming from the organizers.)
a. Approximately half of these were people with university or consultancy
b. A bit more than half (different half) had strong energy backgrounds
c. Roughly a quarter came from public sector institutions.
d. And another rough quarter for the Third World countries (though at least as
many of the others have a high standard of knowledge and experience in transport
in the developing world).
e. Rather surprisingly there was no representatives of the host country (France
of course), and a general dearth of people from Southern Europe.
f. Perhaps one in four or five had industry affiliations
g. Most of those in attendance were oldish (40/50+)
h. None appeared to be physically handicapped to the point of being unable to
negotiate today's transport options.
i. The very poor, the bottom 50%, say, were not present.
j. The closest to a wild-eyed public interest firebrand in the room was perhaps
me (i.e., no friends from Greenpeace, FoE, Amnesty....)
2. This kind of distribution is of course quite typical of policy and decision
fora for matter relating to transport, sustainable or other. And perhaps that
is in part one of the reasons why we finds ourselves locked into the problem.
3. Missing Women: The biggest single oversight from my point of view was that
only one in ten were women. Now to my way of thinking, this is or at least
should be no longer possible. The transportation/environment mess that we face
today is the product of basically all-male expert guided decision-making, and
while that does not of course account for everything - far from it - we now at
the very least should be making a MAJOR effort to provide "Finnish style" 50/50
parity in all reflection and decision counsel on these matters.
a. Just to see if we are not alone in this, we placed a quick poll device on the
site the day of the workshop. Thus if you have any views of the subject we
invite you to make them known.
b. There is also space there for comments on a logbook, which might also be
helpful to Shell (and to us all).
4. I do not run down this list in the attempt of politically correct
disparagement of the organizers - not least because achieving this necessary
balance is a challenge that thus far in our circles few have directly
addressed, never mind solved. But it is a vital consideration and I certainly
hope that it will be take seriously into account in ALL their future activities.
Since the goal of the new Centre is sustainable transportation (something that
cannot exist without social justice), then we can only hope that all of us will
take this very seriously and strive to attain the necessary broader and better
balance in future projects and consultations. Whether run by Shell, or indeed
any of us!
5. Not to be clever, but as McLuhan reminded us: the medium is the message. And
here the medium was of course our group.
IV. THREE QUICK PRELIMINARY OBSERVATIONS
1. Flexibility? The organizers gave every evidence of flexibility and a general
willingness to take into account the messages that came out of the workshop and
all their other preliminary conversations and consultations.
* Their sincerity in this was evidenced by the way that they showed themselves
ready to back off from a number of the propositions set out in their preparatory
thinkpiece/background paper, to revise them radically, and to take on new and at
times very different ideas.
2. Social Justice? Probably the strongest single "contrary statement" and
proposition that was made was offered by Dinesh Mohan, when he said with a
certain vigor that the goal of all initiatives of the foundation should be
specifically in making major improvements in the transport and daily life lots
of the bottom half (in economic terms) of society. (I translate this in my own
mind as meaning (a) if that slice of our society is not the MAJOR beneficiary of
any given project or effort created or sustainability by the Foundation, then it
should be set aside swiftly and forever; and (b) that the target group in the
OECD nations should be the bottom quintile.
* Professor Mohan further made the fundamental point that if the activities of
the new Centre were to concentrate on either congestion reduction or energy
issues per se, they would immediately be skewed away from the priority needs of
what should be our main target group.
* If Dinesh's proposal is to be taken seriously, it suggests a name change. The
proposed working title w as "Shell Foundation Centre for Sustainable
Transportation, Energy, and Environment". Might it not be better as "The Centre
for Sustainable Transportation, Environment, and Social Justice".
* We can look at this later, but I bring it to your attention right here up
front because it is such a fundamental building block in their new structure.
(Though I add that this also overlaps and reinforces quite nicely with the
Foundation's program in the area of Community Development, though the two are
obviously entirely separate considerations.)
3. Budget? The announced budget of the Shell Centre is on the order of an
average of million dollars or so for each of the next five years. And while
this has to be regarded as an important start, it also needs to be said that in
light of the wealth of the group, their prospects over the rest of this decade,
and the huge environmental and social impacts of its activities, this is a very
very small number.
* My thought on this is that perhaps if we all get together and help them shape
a program that begins to have visible, powerful impacts they may gain in courage
and do the right thing.
* Which of course is to put a billion dollars into the Foundation.
* There is something about a billion dollars that gets my attention.
* So let's help them get this started and then we can see.
* * *
To conclude, for now: The Shell Foundation team is off to a good start - and
their willingness to work with this very large and very public open forum,
entirely independent and perhaps at times a bit uncomfortable as a working
partner, has to be taken as a sign of the sincerely of their commitment. Let's
follow closely what happens next as the others report back their observations
and recommendations. This could get interesting.