Localising solutions means a lot to the average person because a global picture on a local canvas, bending to corrugation is everything. There are persistently more ideas than there are people in towns, cities and metros. In SA, most of the activism is outsourced. I do not subscribe to municipalities perpetually lacking capacity to execute what defines them: serving the public. Devolving key talents to municipalities is a high impact effort to activate underlying resources, dormant, waiting to be tapped into. Rattling the public sector underbelly is a local act, not of altruism, but of gratitude. One of the most exciting contributions is re-engineering best practice from the global scale to local, practical and realistic actions with tangible results.
Working with public sector should not be a chore, but a mission. I see it in many people, using public sector service as a springboard, or as an exit strategy into consulting. This is the most frustrating sight to see among young people in my age group (under 30). There is a blinding reality to escape the tabooed 9-to-5, arguing that public sector is slow and growth is limited, and various other reasons. High return environments are only viable if people in them know why every moment counts and that meaning simply justifies actions. Seeing energetic, vibrant, young people looking at government internships as an opportunity to secure employment and not be part of a change is worrying.
Ofcourse there are cultural limitations underlying public service and this varies from one place to another. Yes, there are also issues around leadership and mentorship through out the internship process. I spent a long time (2 years) working my way out of an opportunity to contribute to much needed change. 4 years later, our team is working intimately with public service, locating students, placing actions, and directing key institutional reforms. My role has been to literally bring global best practice on mobility and access and translate it into something that a district transport coordinator can use, transfer and motivate actions with. At a team level global best practice is only valuable if it is localised within various other political, cultural and technical frameworks. For an intern, all of these elements are simply notes during a meeting — if the contract is renewed then many of them join the action ranks. Big problem: joining the group think, settling silently and not picking up the public service baton to critique, reform and innovate the delivery of public services. Getting good transport planning and implementation done in an inclusive way is as good as making sure that access to water is a real thirst quenching, and healthy experience.
Is global best practice really useful? Yes. Can it be localised? Yes. Can it add value? Not automatically. There is a serious mental shift that needs to happen in public sector transport service provision. Honestly believe that there was a much deeper relationship with transport planning looking at reports between 1998 and 2009. Small and large towns are the hardest hit by change left on auto in public service. A few trends between 98 and 09 is that transport plans were developed by multiple small company teams each with unique skills; the intellectual culture related to action was a desperate attempt to escape an apartheid planet (SA). The globalisation of knowledge and action has been used to repackage, encourage retrofitting, and stimulate various interventions and “solutions” in SA. One of the main reasons why the public asked “why BRT” over “minibus services” is truly because someone was convinced outside of their geolocation. Truth is, policy, institutional and economic cultures are different and one constant to locally rejuvenating change is a story from the inside out. Every time I see a young person working in public sector, its nice to remind them who and what they are to a naive 13 year old rolling out of scholar transport window because it was poorly maintained. It’s just easy to forget that lives are at stake when so many of us are sinking in the same ship.