The art of impact: How creativity boosts sustainable change

Creativity is a powerful and necessary tool to drive sustainable change and effectively facilitate community engagement. It helps with cutting across language barriers and enhancing inclusivity and shared understanding. Through adopting a creative mindset and applying it to the diverse sustainability challenges we face, we can approach these challenges from a new, fresh perspective.

An interactive session at the ICLEI World Congress 2024 shared tools and approaches for embedding creativity, inclusivity and shared values into project design and implementation, in order to build trust, cross-cultural and cross-generational understanding and capacity to ensure more effective project outcomes.

“We need to think outside of the box. If something is not working, how do we get it to work? We have seen a realisation by local government officials that they don’t have to struggle on their own. The solutions lie with the communities,” said Gertrude Rose Gamwera, Secretary-General of the East Africa County & Local Governments Association (EACLGA). “We also need to get politicians and technical folks talking to each other, being together in a shared space to find solutions.”

Vision co-creation through graphics, narratives and maps

NaBa: Nature-Based Resilient Cities, a project under UK-PACT’s program portfolio in Colombia, focused on promoting and implementing nature-based solutions to the climate crisis, supporting Colombia’s transition to a greener and more resilient future.

A Book of Wonders was created for each project city, which shows, through illustrations and graphics, the mapping and participatory social cartography carried out in each of the model cities of the NaBa project.

Each booklet and map was a co-creation between the different actors that inhabit the territory and their vision for biodiversity, including the benefits that emanate from it and that provide well-being to all the inhabitants of the city. It served to increase understanding and build capacity around nature-based solutions and natural assets in the cities.

“The map that ICLEI made with us enabled us to understand the current situation. It allowed us to identify the situation in each sector, but we have to use creativity to figure out the solutions. We have the what, we now need the how,” said Alexander Novoa, Environment Secretary, Villavicencio Mayor’s Office, Colombia.

Using art to create a shared language that bridges the science-policy divide

RISE Africa, convened by ICLEI Africa, brings together thinkers, doers and enablers from across the continent and the world to inspire action for sustainable cities. The platform curates monthly engagements, photographic competitions, thought pieces and networking events, taking a whole-of-society approach to imagining African urban futures.

Engagement between poets, artists, policymakers and practitioners, through collaborative art and creative expression are central threads that hold all RISE Africa deliberations together. Expressing and celebrating multiple perspectives, cultures, visions and actions is vital for making inclusive and vibrant cities that resonate as African.

The RISE Africa 2024 Action Festival highlighted the transformative power of uniting diverse voices from across the continent to collaborate and co-develop ideas for action. This year’s programme drew over 1 200 individuals across more than 360 cities worldwide into a set of 23 creative sessions.

Creative facilitation and collective art to build shared values

The inception meeting of the AfriFOODLinks project was an exciting yet mammoth task: bringing together a consortium of 26 partner organisations and 20 local government partners to get them rolling in the implementation of the project.

“When choosing how to facilitate the meeting, we had two options:  to focus on workplans, deliverables, individuals’ roles and tasks and due dates OR to focus on deepening the relationships between partners, building a sense of trust and knowing that this would support long-term rapport, communication and support between individuals and organisations – thereby ensuring the project objectives are successfully delivered by all,” reflected Paul Currie, Director: Urban Systems, ICLEI Africa.  

This emphasis on process, joy and values as a way of meeting and working drew much praise from project partners and participants, and has led to a solid foundation on which to build the project.

Photography as a means of bringing together diverse community views and making meaning

The UNA Resilience project used photovoice and a photo exhibition to ensure community meaning-making and inputs were included in project decision-making and learnings, especially where language was insufficient, while broadening the scope for other voices (youth, traditionalist, spiritualists) to be heard.

Photovoice workshops involved community and stakeholder groups visually reflecting on their environment through photography, capturing current challenges, potential solutions, and the benefits and ecosystem services associated with their cities’ urban natural assets. This people-centred approach allowed stakeholders to explore and reflect on the nature in their cities, and highlight what they perceive as important and in need of care.

Additionally, youth workshops were held, where young people gathered to collectively imagine the future they envision for their city and its natural assets. They translated their aspirations into colourful drawings, blueprints and maps, offering a glimpse into their visions of a better future. This process is valuable because it allows different people, with different perspectives, and often different perceptions of their own agency or power, to meaningfully interact with each other and to build collective narratives. It helps to better negotiate whose voice is “allowed” or welcomed into a space. By placing photographs and drawings as a basis for conversation, participants are actively practicing a form of plurality – holding multiple truths or experiences at once – a vital skill for building consensus and setting shared priorities.

“Creative approaches are so obviously valuable to drive sustainable change and include everyone in the conversation. There is no right and wrong with art,” said Paul Currie, Director: Urban System, ICLEI Africa.

ICLEI and its cities and regions are increasing and effectively using a diverse range of creative tools and approaches to ensure that we tackle the complex, multifaceted sustainability challenges we face in an inclusive, innovative and effective way.

This session provided even more ideas! Once these are all collated into a user-friendly resource, we will share them through our various channels, so stay tuned! 

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