When the pandemic struck print and online media soon became filled with pronouncements about the implications, and how to address them. There were essentially two different scenarios. One listed the societal and natural ills that would befall us (including as presented in conspiracy theories). The other scenario traded in optimistic stories about how the pandemic had resulted in a clean plate from which new beginnings could be created in so many areas of life and society. We have not heard much from either side lately, especially from the latter one. The French author Michel Houellebecq early on posited that the situation would return to a normal that would be a little bit worse than before (France24.com 2020). More recently the Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev has argued along the same lines (Krastev 2020).
However, dramatic changes do abound, and there are challenges to be addressed. As for how to approach this new situation, some challenges have been with us always, some doors have closed (maybe for good), while other doors have opened up, partly as a consequence of the pandemic.
In my work on development cooperation internationally, what strikes me is the variability of the positions among the stakeholders in the three societal sectors of civil society, public sector, and private sector. In some countries it is not easy to identify organized civil society. In some countries the private sector is partly subsumed under the public sector, and in other countries again the public sector is weak outside urban canters, in some cases almost qualifying as a failed state. Furthermore, citizens and civil society in many countries are often uninformed, incorrectly informed, and/or not interested what is going on. It follows that also the relations between these sectors vary substantially, between continents, between countries, and within countries.
The Situation in Norway
The situation may not be all that bad. In Norway, my own country, there is a potential silver lining in two respects:
First, there is a growing focus in civil society, public sector, and private sector on creating a greener, less polluting, and more sustainable economy and society, and this appears to be gaining momentum. In my hometown, Kristiansand, the municipality is involved in several activities, including circular economy, climate, environment, the green shift, and social innovation. Further, it works on an Interreg Europe GRESS project, and has established a Center for Sustainability. The Kristiansand City Council has proposed a "Green New Deal", an inclusive and transparent process to addresses the effects of climate change, prioritizes infrastructure that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and plans to build a transport system based on renewable energy. In the private sector, there is an emerging focus on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues as necessary to an organization's financial health and future success.
Second, Norway’s economy is more or less completely petroleum-based. There is an increasing focus on what to do after our petroleum resources are depleted, and to begin preparing for this now.
According to some, including stakeholders in civil society, both these issues constitute an optimal point of departure for rethinking Norway's future. Others, including the government and the petroleum-based industry, are determined to return the economy to the situation prior to the pandemic, including production and exploration for new oil and gas resources. This means a continuation of the apparent paradox of Norway being a petroleum-based economy – and one of the world's biggest producers at that – while at the same time working to become green (for example, being a world leader in electric vehicles).
This means that it will not be straight forward to use this unique opportunity towards realizing the green shift, a circular economy, and a low-carbon economy. The organized civil society remains as the most promising arena for initiating the necessary processes and activities.
The Situation in Norway’s Agder County
The Agder county is very integrated into and dependent upon the petroleum economy. It follows that the private sector here, with support of the county- and commune-level public sector, is not very interested in discussing radical changes. Yet, exactly because of its high dependency upon petroleum, civil society stakeholders argue that it is time to begin planning for the post-petroleum situation and economy.
In Agder county the organizations in civil society are well placed to address this. That is, to determine ways and means for how to begin discussing a shift to a circular and low carbon economy. In the article "Agder After the Pandemic" on my blog Devblog.no (reference below), I present the case for organized civil society taking an initiative on this, in a partnership with the public and private sectors. I have shared this article with selected NGOs, but have so far not received much response. One likely obstacle is setting aside time and resources. Another is likely a lacking experience in collaborating on these complex issues which operate at several levels of society.
A Model and Two Questions
The flowchart, "After the Corona: Stakeholder Participation Processes" is adapted from a flowchart that I prepared for a World Bank project (World Bank 1997). It presents the iterative process of public consultation and involvement of stakeholders. It is a simplified presentation of how work on this through repetitive feedback can contribute to, first, raising awareness of the situation, and second, ensure that citizens become involved in the process of creating a new and alternative scenario for the post-pandemic situation.
Do any among you have experience with initiating and realizing such bottom-up societal processes? Based on such experience, what advise do you have for civil society in Agder county?
Lars T Soeftestad
(1) This article is revised version of a LinkedIn article published 17 September 2020, at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/after-pandemic-rethink-return-normal-lars-soeftestad/
(2) This article is partly an introduction to, and partly a summary of, a longer Devblog article on this topic, "Agder After the Pandemic" (Note 4).
(3) Image credit: Supras Limited, 2020. Adapted from a flowchart I prepared for a World Bank Economic and Sector Work (ESW) in Ghana (World Bank 1997). The sector work is also available on my academia. edu account (Soeftestad 1997) (see under “Research” and “Projects”).
(4) Relevant Devblog articles: "Agder After the Pandemic" at: https://www.devblog.no/en/article/agder-after-pandemic | "Agder etter pandemien" at: https://www.devblog.no/no/article/agder-etter-pandemien | "Climate Change - What's Next?" at: https://www.devblog.no/en/article/climate-change-whats-next | "Klimaendringer - hva nå?" at: https://www.devblog.no/no/article/klimaendringer-hva-na | "Agderkonferansen og internasjonalisering" at: https://www.devblog.no/no/article/agderkonferansen-og-internasjonalisering | "Internationalization and Globalization" at: https://www.devblog.no/en/article/internationalization-and-globalization | "Sykling og European Mobility Week" at: https://www.devblog.no/no/article/sykling-og-european-mobility-week | "Bomstasjoner og bosetting" at: https://www.devblog.no/no/article/bomstasjoner-og-bosetting | "Agder og internasjonalisering" at: https://www.devblog.no/no/article/agder-og-internasjonalisering
(5) Other Devblog articles: "Networks and Networking" at: https://www.devblog.no/en/article/networks-and-networking | "Networks and Virtual Communication" at: https://www.devblog.no/en/article/networks-and-virtual-communication | "Our House is Falling Apart" at: https://www.devblog.no/en/article/our-house-falling-apart | "Business Sector and Sustainability" at: https://www.devblog.no/en/article/business-sector-and-sustainability | "Urban Cycling" at: https://www.devblog.no/en/article/urban-cycling | "Climate Change - Sink or Swim?" at: https://www.devblog.no/en/article/climate-change-sink-or-swim
(6) Permalink. URL: https://devblog.no/en/article/after-pandemic-rethink-or-return-normal
(7) This article was published 17 September 2020.
France24com. 2020. "World will be same but worse after 'banal' virus, says Houellebecq". 4 May 2020. URL: https://www.france24.com/en/20200504-world-will-be-same-but-worse-after-banal-virus-says-houellebecq
Krastev, Ivan. 2020. Is It Tomorrow Yet? Paradoxes of the Pandemic. London, United Kingdom: Allen Lane - Penguin Books.
Soeftestad, Lars. 1997. URL: https://lars.academia.edu/
World Bank. URL: https://www.worldbank.org/
World Bank. 1997. Towards an Integrated Coastal Zone Management Strategy for Ghana. Washington DC: World Bank.