November 4, 2021

Sustainable mobility and transportation

Transcript: 16 - Sustainable mobility and transportation — with Therese Bajada
Jeanette:

With us today, there is Doctor Therese Bajada. Therese is a Lecturer at the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development at the University of Malta. She has a PhD in Transport Studies from University College London and before joining academia, she worked for six years with Transport Malta on national and EU-related projects. Her research interests revolve around transport policy.

She describes herself as motivated and determined.

Today's call is meant to communicate the message that individual planning efforts from each and every one of us can contribute to sustainable mobility so that we all do our part.

So, Therese thank you so much for joining us today.

Therese:

Thank you for the inviting me.

Jeanette:

So, I think we have to start from understanding sustainable mobility because one of the greatest environmental challenges we face today lies in mobility. People need a system of roads of networks, of vehicles, of transportation to function within their society and within their environment and obviously, to keep the economy going. And different modes of transport have, or each leave a mark on the environment. So perhaps if you could start Therese to describe to us what sustainable mobility is.

Therese:

Yes, so when looking at sustainable mobility we need to look at the two words right, so there is mobility, which is the movement of people by the different modes of transport that exist that could be walking, cycling, and using public transport, and also using the personal car. And it's there is also then the sustainability perspective. If you look at sustainability, you need to consider the triple layers of sustainable development, the environment, society, and the economic perspective. Generally, unfortunately, importance is given more on the economic perspective.

In academic literature, the environment is given way more importance in order to discuss issues associated with the repercussions deriving from the importance that is given by the economic perspective. There is also research being carried out on the social perspective and it is important when we look at sustainability and this approach to take to consider one pillar more important than the other is not sustainable in itself. So, we should look at them in an equal aspect, so combining society with the environment together with the economy. And when we look at sustainable mobility, an important perspective in which we look at is accessibility.

So, giving the right the people the right to access and in the environment in which they live. So, and when I talk about people and the human-centric approach that sustainable mobility looks into, and we need to consider that there is not only one group in society: the commuters, but there are different people with different needs, different abilities. There are the vulnerable groups which are the children and the elderly. There are the disabled persons, so when planning and creating policies and transport and their planning these should be looked into. All members in society. That is very important.

When we're looking at sustainable mobility there is an approach and in transport and in the conventional transport economics that is known as derived demand. And derived demand is the way of reaching a destination so departing from point A to reaching point B, and once you reach the destination, you carry out the activity. It can be education, it can be work and that is derived demand. Now what we do in sustainable mobility is that we manage the infrastructure that we have. We manage what infrastructure we have without adding further infrastructure unnecessarily and using what modes of transport there are available and if there is the possibility to introduce new alternative modes of transport to the car. Why? Because people then would have the ability to access destinations with different modes according to their abilities and also their likings.

Jeanette:

Quite right so sustainable urban mobility requires a mind shift so to speak, where transport in private cars and trucking give way to different modes of public transport and greener mobility structures and solutions. And creating these solutions will ensure a vital flow of people of goods of services through, you know, different parts of our economy. And we all know that we need to mitigate climate change and create-climate safe cities. So how can we contribute to sustainable mobility?

Therese:

Yes, in fact, people generally when we carry out questionnaires and ask people about what should be done to improve the situation the answer that we get is “the government needs to do the changes”. I believe that it's a two-way approach, so it's an individual perspective and sustainability, there is what is known as the Local Agenda 21.

The Local Agenda 21 refers to the Village perspective of what a community can do. But then there is also another granular approach in which you can look at it and it is from the individual perspective. There is the saying: “think globally and act locally”. So, if we think globally, if we look at it from a global perspective, we live in an environment now, even because we are experiencing all these flooding’s in Europe and fires elsewhere and the extended heat waves that we are experiencing in Malta also, they are situations that have been generated because of our own doings, our previous generations doing, it's a domino effect, right? So, what we need to do is individually we need to start thinking with regard to mobility and even in other aspects related to sustainability about how we can improve the situation ourselves. For example, it requires simple planning from an individual’s point of view. If you have a car, you do not need to use the car every day, you can plan what you are doing. A good example that I use even in my lectures with my students is that whenever I go to Valletta [Malta’s capital city] I avoid using the car. Because it's a nightmare to park, it's not convenient, so I go with the bus. I walk around the city, then I combine it with other errands in Sliema for example, and I use the ferry service to go to Sliema.

The concept is that you need to take the multimodal approach. What modes are available? How can I make use of these modes of transport? And also there is the concept of the avoid shift and improve in mobility, and it is very much associated with the sustainability paradigm where you can, you need to avoid using mobility that uses fossil fuels because you are impacting the immediate environment in which you are living and that of your children's environment and also you are impacting the rest of the world, there is this domino effect. Then there is the shift approach where you can use different modes of transport. Once these modes of transport are available, plan ahead and make use of them.

And then there is the improved perspective where if you have to have a car or not try to use alternatives fuels to that car; either invest in electric mobility or in hybrid vehicles or else also, if possible, use other modes of mobility like cycling. However, as I said, it needs to be a concerted effort, so it's not only from the individual point of view, but also from a policy making and governmental point of view. In order for the people to start from their own initiatives to make changes, they need to have the right infrastructure, they need to have the right mode of transport available for them so that that they can make the right choices.

Jeanette:

Indeed, and touching again on what you were talking about on the carbon emissions and this 3 way, this 3 part of addressing the situation we know that transport currently accounts for about 1/4 of the EU's greenhouse gas emissions, and this figure continues to increase as the demand continues increasing for, you know, fossil fuel and vehicles at demand fossil fuels. And the European Union through its Green Deal, has actually seeks seeking a 90% reduction on these emissions by 2050. And moving away to more sustainable transport means that users need to put first their needs and providing as you were saying, them with an affordable, accessible, healthier, and cleaner alternatives. So, in Malta, how are we with this target and how are we achieving this, or how are we going about in achieving this? And maybe you could touch on the perspective of local policy, what are we doing about that?

Therese:

Yes, so if you look at the policy documents, so, we have the Transport Malta strategy, the National Transport strategy and also the Master plan in association with transport specifically. But then there are other policy documents that include there was the 2008 bus reform, a public transport reform and ERA [Environment and Resource Authority] also has its own air pollution related documents. If you look at all these documents and there is also the strategy for well-being, from the environment point of view from ERA and you analyse each of these documents which I have done, you will see that they all have the same objectives that of reducing mobility and in relation to fossil fuel mobility.

And also, the idea is to encourage, if you read the documents and encourage alternative modes of transport, such as cycling and walking as well. These are known as active mobility. And cycling and walking apart from being healthy, individuals can also contribute to the environment more. However, then there is a huge gap between the policy and the implementation.

Now the strategy document and the master plan of transport were written in 2016. We are now in 2021 and there is very little effort that is being done to encourage alternative modes of transport. For example, the bicycle strategy for Malta is nowhere to be seen, and there needs to be a more concerted effort. It could be a problem associated with human resources - there might not be enough people working on these documents. However, I think that if there is even more political will and even, we are seeing, I'm not saying that improvement to infrastructure is not needed, it's always needed, however when you have infrastructure you need to consider all the modes of transport. Make it accessible for all. That is the very basic concept and sustainable mobility: accessibility for all. So, I think that is lacking in our situation. The connect between the policy documents and the actual implementation of the policy documents.

Jeanette:

I guess these policy documents are also in line with the Paris Agreement, right? Because within which I believe there are two main important aspects, really, one is the commitment to try and reduce or limit the degree of global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius and the second would be the mechanism to understand and agree within, you know, all of the countries and the commitment - this nationally determined commitment - to see how best to go about reducing these emissions. And in fact, I believe that some countries, European countries, like the UK and the Netherlands have a commitment to have zero transport emissions by 2050, which is a tall order.

But also, this is a call to action. In the sense that we need to act now and make a change every year because we are going to otherwise hand over a problem to our children and grandchildren. But added to this, over the last two years, we were also seeing the pandemic, and I've seen some studies that say that maybe COVID-19 has been a good thing for emissions. So, my question to you is this is COVID-19 offering us a chance to radically change our behaviour and to help us comply with the Paris agreement? And also, has it been a sort of silver lining to all of this?

Therese:

So, in addition to the climate change repercussions and that we are seeing even flooding and so on, there is this pandemic going on and it's now it's in its second year, right? And in the first instances of the pandemic when there were all these lockdowns we saw images of the Himalayas and that we never saw before, cities in Beijing and Shanghai that were without smog and even then we started seeing the situation in Italy, in Europe, in France and also we experienced that in Malta. In fact, and I have carried out the study and there were severe reductions by 54% reductions in Msida which is a thoroughfare, that is a well polluted area and that is also an area that other academics have found that it is associated with diseases and fatalities and higher mortality rates than in other areas.

So, it was a silver lining for that short period of time because it showed us that if we reduce fossil-fuel-based mobility, there will be an improvement. So, it was an eye opener, this COVID situation. However, this was only for a very short period of time. We are seeing now that in reality it was only a dip in the statistics, in the data, and now we are back to normal mostly. And this is because activities started being carried out as usual. There have been initiatives and I'm not saying that they are no initiative. And from a European perspective, America, and other countries, Colombia, are also considering them. They are initiatives that include more active mobility like the Barcelona superblocks or the 15-minute city concept in Paris.

In Malta we also have this slow street initiative that was launched in June 2020 by the Local Councils’ Association, and the idea is to have temporary areas around Malta that do not allow cars in the area. However, how we need to look at it is that this was just a silver lining for us and an eye opener for us to see that something can be done to make a change and it showed us for a very short period of time what that change will lead us to; less pollution, improved visibility and better respiration. I had people commenting in my questionnaires that they started listening to birds. They started smelling flowers and this was this level of situation that pollution associated with fossil fuel vehicles was leading us to, and it's still leading us to that situation.

However, now what we need to do is that policymakers, politicians, look at that eye opener and use it to improve the situation. So, applying even more active mobility, encourage more people to use alternative modes of transport than using fossil fuel vehicles, and that is what the COVID-19 pandemic, I think, has let us to understand.

Recently on the news that teleworking will start as well for public service people, the public servants, in October. That is a good initiative as well, because it makes people change their way of life; their lifestyle changes. The pandemic has also taught us that. However, I need to emphasize the fact that teleworking alone does not solve the problem. Why? Because even from the results that I had from my research: during the pandemic, when people started teleworking, they shifted to mobility in another way. Now there were people who, ok started using active mobility even more. However, there was what is known as intrinsic utility.

If you look at transport I mentioned at the start of this podcast, what is known as the derived demand. And derived demand allows the user (the commuter) to move from positioning A to position B to carry out the activities at the end of position B. That could be education, it could be work. That is derived demand. It is when someone is travelling to achieve something at the end of the commute, of the journey, and it's associated with extrinsic utility. Then there is intrinsic utility. It is when you are using the mobility either, for example, if you are walking or cycling, automatically you are engaging in intrinsic utility because you are doing something else while you are traveling, you are doing active travel. So, there is physical activity going on for your health. If you are using the bus and you are reading you are gaining more experience from that journey.

So, with the pandemic, what happened is that when people started teleworking, they resorted to use their car to go out as a way of avoiding contagion. So that led to the car being used for intrinsic utility when before it was used for extrinsic utility, for derived demand, to reach a destination. So, this pandemic shifted the roles and it led for the car, which was before used to reach a destination and carry out the activities in that destination, it shifted the role to become an intrinsic situation where you are using the car to enjoy the countryside and that shouldn't be the case. You should enjoy the countryside if you walk in the countryside not travel around using the car.

So, when such policies are being implemented like teleworking, for example, it is important that they are combined with other policies such as in Malta we have a problem with our households. A lot of people live in very confined spaces. Most of the time they live in flats, and they do not have enough open space in which to share. So, such policies need to be combined also with urban planning policies, provide more open spaces for the people. If you are working from home also people reported that they were feeling even more lonely. So, it is important that you engage people even within the community, obviously being in the pandemic, keeping still the social distancing measures in place. So open spaces are more needed, there needs to be more community involvement at the local level and that is all part of the sustainable mobility and the greater umbrella of sustainability at the end.

Jeanette:

Of course, it is encouraging to understand through your research as well is that people are adaptable, and they are capable of change. And I think from some of the research that I've read, this pandemic has actually intensified and accelerated the way things were done. People who are working from home possibly were already doing some work from home before; people who have taken up cycling were possibly already some exposures to some cycling, maybe for leisure activities before, for example. So those trends are intensified and accelerated. So, we need to question whether our society is encouraging these sorts of behaviours, and you are saying, like with the introduction of these policies, maybe or combination of policies maybe they are, and I believe the decisions are ultimately up to the individual. But it is good that there is some sort of engineering behind the system so that we can make really a change for the public good. And so going back to the policy packages that you are mentioning should change be fuelled by say individual tax incentives? Or do you think that we could encourage employees or employers rather to give a commute to their employees as part of their corporate social responsibility, how do we stand with that dilemma?

Therese:

So, this was this is not a new thing. This this idea of that the employer does something for his or her employees. And in fact, there was what are known as green travel plans that can be implemented by employers, so that then their employees can start thinking about using alternative modes of transport. Now, in our case in Malta, the Planning Authority in some of its major projects requires that there is a green travel plan to take place. It's part of the contract in the permit. However, it is rarely really implemented.

We have an ongoing green travel plan at the University of Malta and where we are bound to provide reports on how it is going, how it is progressing, but the thing is that it is not, the green travel plan, is not a project, that is, it has a start date and end date. It's an ongoing process and this is what also employers need to understand. And even for their corporate social responsibility, having a green travel plan helps them change the culture within the organization itself. So, you would need to think about providing alternative modes of transport not only in terms of disincentivizing people, and not only in terms of taxes to make them change their use of mobility. But you need to think, it's in a balanced way. There needs to be carrots and sticks. That is, you need to provide the sticks, right? So, tax where it is necessary do not allow car use where it is unnecessary, avoid using some fossil fuel vehicles. But then, on the other hand, as a balance, and this is also what policy packaging is about, you need to provide the carrots: what people would use; that would need to be provided. We need to provide the right infrastructure. Safety in the streets for cycling. I'm sure that in Malta, if there was enough infrastructure and for people to walk safely and cycle safely in our road people will take that as an initiative and they will take it for sure because it is a healthy lifestyle, you spend much less money on your vehicle; you have a bicycle, you walk, and combined with public transport then it's a very good solution to this fossil fuel issue. Let's say that.

Yes, so employers need to take this into consideration. They can be catalysts, they can be the entities, the organisations that can show that they are successful story to make a change and that they can make a change - a cultural change within their community. And in that way if that community makes this change and it is a success story then it can be seen and taken on board by other entities. I'm saying this even from our university’s point of view. As a green travel plan it has had its very small successes because we have seen throughout the years also people cycling even more to university and there is, that need, that feeling that it needs to change, that there needs to be a change.

Jeanette:

Yes, I completely agree with change or transformation, maybe, things happening slowly but surely. And from this conversation I can sense a lot of takeaways for different stakeholders in this issue. There are, you know, the contribution by the public, the contribution by designers and the contribution by the authorities of course. Would you give us some nuggets to go away with them and think about them?

Therese:

Yes. So, from an individual perspective, I would say, and it is very easy to start thinking. You just need to think. And think about how you plan your day ahead and, in that way, you can help in making a change in the modes of transport that you use. And that can be reflected that if I do it and my neighbour does it and the other neighbour does it, that's the community approach. So individually we can become a community.

From going up further in the notch and looking at the local situation, local councils can have a more important role in making a change as well. They can engage in alternative mobility, they can help people organizing activities in open spaces, they can dedicate, like this a project of this slow streets, if it's implemented at a faster rate, it would be even better because people would see that it is happening and there would be a more car free areas in the village core that in reality and such environments would increase the footfall. What does that mean? People would start walking in the village core even more, and that boosts the economy when there are shops, small shops on a local level so it improves the local economy as well.

Then I would say from a policy point of view, the important thing is that - and planning point of view - is that transport is not seen alone, so it is important that there is synergy between the different entities in terms of urban planning, transport, the environment. They should all work together and not only that, even from a health point of view and education point of view. And I'm sure I'm missing other aspects that should be involved in the discussions, even more. So, stakeholder involvement is very important. And from a political point of view, I would say that think about the future. So, think about this strategy, we have strategy documents. It is important to try and implement a as much as possible for the current generations to benefit from them. So that is an important approach to take. So, it needs to be a concerted effort from the political, the policymakers, and from the individuals: they need to work together.

Jeanette:

Need we will have a big task ahead of us, but together we'll be able to do it. Thank you so much.

Therese:

Yes, and the whole OK. Unfortunately, it's easier said than done. However, motivation is what is needed.

Jeanette:

Exactly. Thank you so much Therese. That was a very interesting insight as to what's happening locally on sustainable mobility.

This was Therese Bajada, and you are listening to The Human Agenda.

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October 22, 2021

How inclusion fosters a sense of belonging

Transcript: 15 - How inclusion fosters a sense of belonging — with Ritika Wadhwa
Jeanette:

Today's guest is Ritika Wadhwa. Ritika is Director of UK Operations at Cultural Intelligence Centre. She is responsible for leading the Cultural Intelligence Centre’s work in the UK and beyond. Ritika brings over two decades of extensive experience in client retention, marketing, business development, and project management. This experience has been gained by working with senior stakeholders across continents, the corporate and Government sector.

Born and brought up in India, Ritika has the unique experience of living, studying, and working in senior roles in several multicultural countries. She is passionate about Cultural Intelligence and is a Diversity & Inclusion champion. Ritika has a degree in Economics and an MBA.

She describes herself as resilient and passionate.

In today's call, we'll be looking into appreciating that equality, diversity and inclusion play an important role in the spaces in which we live and work, and that these aspects need to be taken into account from the beginning of a project to ensure sustainable projects for sustainable communities.

So welcome Rikita. It's a pleasure having you on our podcast.

Ritika:

Thank you, Jeanette. It's an absolute pleasure being here, and I feel very honoured that you invited me to come to this podcast. Thank you.

Jeanette:

The pleasure is all ours. So just to kick off. I read this really interesting phrase from Marsha Ramroop, the head of diversity at RIBA and she basically says “architecture is responsible for our built environment and space influence our language, how we think, how we behave and the opportunity to behave inclusively.” So, there is an element of understanding equality and inclusion when it comes to the design of spaces, and design of outdoor spaces, how we behave within our cities... So, I wonder Ritika, would you perhaps like to start off with really defining what equality and inclusion mean?

Ritika:

Thank you, Jeanette, and that's a great quote, from Marsha. She's doing some great work in the DNI Space for, especially within the architecture community. So I'm going to go to the literal definitions to begin with, because I know we have a lot of time to go into the specifics as we go into the discussion further. So let me start off with defining diversity: Diversity is the variety of personal experiences, values, and worldviews that arise from differences of culture and circumstance. So, such differences such as race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, etc. Prioritizing diversity means ensuring that our collections, staff, board of trustees, anyone that's involved in the organization or community embody multiple perspectives and are accessible and welcoming to all.

So that really is the core definition of diversity. I'm going to now define equity: Equity is a commitment to fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement of everyone in the community or organization.

So, we define diversity and understand what does diversity comprise of an equity, then, is the commitment for fair treatment for all these people that are diverse and the different perspectives they bring. It's a commitment to equity which requires continually striving to identify and eliminate barriers that prevent the full participation of all people.

Going further into the definition of inclusion then, which is my favourite bit personally: is the act of creating environments - it’s what you do to create this environment - fair, equitable environment for the diverse people that you work with it. It makes the individual or groups feel welcome, respected, supported and valued. Inclusive organization and workplaces embrace differences and foster critical conversation, offer respect to all people who want to participate and contribute in it. It is made up of equitable environments where all staff members, the community, the organisations, diverse identities are valued and appreciated.

To me Jeanette, the most important part of all of this is that inclusion fosters a sense of belonging - a psychological safety - so that, in a nutshell, is how I define the EI, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Jeanette:

Yes, and definitely something to really think about, right ,because there are these different layers of how people feel, how they're perceived, and I think they are very important in all the strata of society. However, today we'll be focusing mainly about the design and what do we mean by this? We're looking into architecture. We're looking at engineering of a city. The visual communication that there is within a city and how people behave within a city and therefore we need to make sure as well to ensure that they feel comfortable within the space that they live, and they work.

So, sometimes we get a bit blind sighted so to speak, as designers, because we always look at or we just look at people with physical disability, for example. But inclusion is not just that, they've just defined, it's a much broader way of looking at it. So, in your opinion, how do these three words that we've just defined equity, diversity, and inclusion, how do they fit in a design context?

Ritika:

Excellent question Jeanette. So specifically in a design context I think from, you know from, and I'm in no means an expert on design, it would relate back to how, as you said, we include everybody and you're saying the focus is on disability, but in the UK we've got 9 protected characteristics. We then also include sexual orientation, gender, religion, etc. So, from a design perspective, it's including all of these protected characteristics when you think of your design element. Now for example, I'm going to use the example of when malls were being designed years and years ago when there wasn’t an inclusive representation at the top and decisions were being made in designing malls and when they went down to designing the restrooms in these malls you had mainly men at the top making the decisions on how that design would work. So, to be fair, so they said, ok, let's be equitable here. Let's divide that space into half. So, half would be used by women and half would be used by men, right? We're taking the box on being equitable. What did that mean actually? Women need more time in the bathroom than men. By having urinals in the men's toilets that means you come in and out much quicker than you would. Not having women at the table to help with the design elements means they didn't take into account the requirements that women; have so gender was missing from that design element and so this can be taken into space.

The way I see it, we don't know what we don't know, so it's never in any industry and specifically in design if you go back to that, if you don't know what is the requirement by different classes, so I'm using my example, I mean I, you know travelled by Metros, trains all over the world. All well and good, until I had a child and then suddenly, oh, the ramps are missing. The lifts are missing. I didn't know what I didn't know and now from a different perspective, it's and so from a design element it's very important that there's representation by the people that are making these decisions based on design and factors for the community at large to be able to understand what that community really needs or what that space really needs, and to be able to bring those different perspectives into consideration when decisions are being made from a design specific angle.

Jeanette:

Indeed, and perhaps communication and consultation are also key in this because you might not have a representation of all of these characteristics as you scored them, but if you start a conversation early in the project, early in whatever you're embarking on, then you'd have a conversation directly with the people who are being affected by these decisions.

So yes, representation, communication and consultation I think are very important. And not just within the built or let's call it unbuilt environment, because the spaces between buildings are also very important to provide safety and you know a sense of belonging and wonder that you were talking about earlier, but we also need to include branding and visual communication of products that will be plastered on billboards, on posters and already made that make up part of the fabric of our city. How inclusive are these brands, are they really what the end users want? Is it representative of what they need - different characteristics?

Ritika:

Uhm, yes, Jeanette you were completely right in summarizing that. I think for any element of design in any feature, whether that's architecture or graphic design: data, and dialogue, so you don't have to have every person on the board that represents the community you're talking to, but you need the data, and you need to continue those conversations right from the very start to make sure that the end product is talking to the community that's inclusive of the community you are catering to.

From a brand perspective I want to go back to the to, you know what a brand is really and what are consumers expecting from brands. So, consumer expect brands to serve as connectors, whether that means fostering connection with their own customers or bringing together people with different perspectives. And, you know, data is saying in fact, that there's nearly 2/3 at 64% of consumers want brands to connect with them, while just half expect brands to bring people together towards a common goal.

So, inclusion in branding the way I see it is representation. It's a visual representation. So, who do you see? I mean, you know we look at Mattel. Barbie dolls were always blonde and blue eyed and now they have changed that and included to have Barbie dolls that are from different backgrounds. Black, brown, different hair and so representation and visual representation from a very early age really matters. In terms of you know other things that branding are we. Are we considering video captioning? Are we looking at deeper audience profiles? Are we looking at image descriptions, text, accessibility? You know all of this stuff? Is it being considered? Uhm, when brands are looking at making sure that they're inclusive to a diverse audience.

Jeanette:

And so, how can we embed these steps into a culture of inclusivity? Because what you've mentioned is, I mean, I completely agree, but it's almost overwhelming, right? So, we have to start from somewhere. What would the key steps be in this culture?

Ritika:

Correct, you know it's all well and good to say that we need all of this, but how do you do it. So how do we embed a culture of diversity? How do we embed a culture that makes people feel included in whatever they are a part of? Whether that's a community or an organization. So, I think the first step, Jeanette in embedding a culture, is establishing a sense of belonging for everyone. That is the first step, and you have to work backwards from there. Really for each individual to bring their best step forward a sense of belonging must first be established. Having a connection to the organization or the group of people that makes them feel that they can bring their best self to work. Because what that does is fosters engagement and creativity. It's a psychological need of us as humans and to make this happen leadership is key.

You have to make sure leaders are equipped to make their own, make the story their own. They need to be empathetic. The, you know, the hierarchical top-down approach is almost not working anymore in a lot of environments because people you know, the people that work for leaders want to make, you know, want to feel that they care for them. That it matters how they feel and why it should matter to you. Know what is it that matters to the direct reports of these leaders. A top-down approach isn't enough anymore.

Top-down approaches drives compliance, but they don't drive commitment. From senior leaders to frontline employees, every individual must see and understand their role in a company culture. This means identifying differences in employee experience and values across organisations so that change can be made relevant to each person knowing that lasting change must activate different parts of the system.

Top down, bottom up, middle down. What you know. Middle out, whatever that means in different ways. It needs to be encompassed as this whole. And you know in terms of really embedding it inclusion is an ongoing, it's not a one-off training, which is why you know the government in the UK said “we are not going to do unconscious bias training anymore” because you come in to 1/2 an hour or one hour of training and that's not a tick in the box. Job done. That's not how it works. It isn't enough to teach employees what it means to be inclusive like any other form of behaviour change, inclusion requires individuals to identify key moments in which to build new habits or micro behaviours as you call it.

Micro behaviours are daily actions that can be practiced and measured, and when these habits are put into action in an environment that supports honest conversation and healthy change, real change becomes possible from that.

So those are, you know some of the key steps that can be taken by organisations in a design context or really in any context on embedding diversity and inclusion in their culture.

Jeanette:

You touched on something which is going to be my next question and this element of box ticking and tendencies for diversity and inclusion in architecture, the built environment and maybe further afield as well, becoming just a matter of haven't we done this? Yes, box ticked. We're fine, we should be, you know, good to go. And it is important, I think, for any designer to avoid from falling into this bad habit of box ticking and making sure things are, you know, the least effort possible basically cause that is what I think it boils down to and how do you think therefore that we can face these problems; these issues with race, gender, diversity, all the other characteristics you were mentioning.

Ritika:

Excellent. So, what you're describing in the world of EDI is called tokenism. You've got the one black person in your company that you've hired to tick the diversity box, so let's put that black person in front of, you know, photo opportunities, introducing them to clients. Of course, this isn't going to work in the long term.

So, what can organisations do to avoid tokenism? Firstly, they should treat diversity as a policy and not a tick box exercise or a check list. First things first. Stop thinking about numerical goals. We can't get rid of them in the business world. We will you know we need to measure by numbers, and we can't be stopped from doing that, but at the same time, no hiring or promoting manager should be thinking about diversity when making a decision, they should be thinking about performance and motivation. Instead, thinking of diversity as a policy transition. That's what they need to think about. How can you make your jobs more visible and appealing to a diverse candidate pool? How can you make the roles or employee policies more inclusive for people outside of your majority culture? If you make these changes, the numbers will take care of themselves. Don't approach diversity like a checklist in which you need X number of board members, or X engineers from minorities, instead find ways to change the policies so that employment is more inclusive overall.

The other thing that organisations can do to avoid tokenism is to measure impact over the percentage. Checklist diversity leads to a common failing in data analysis. Impact versus percentage. Perhaps 15% of your board are women but do they have a sway in discussions vote or do they lead projects. Perhaps you have 20% minority population, but are they influential? Excluding these observations can lead to on paper diversity without real inclusion.

The sole of tokenism is creating roles that essentially neutralize a diversity hire like a board member with no effective power or influence. If the employees that contribute to your diversity score are not involved in the company culture, then no real changes have been made in the company culture or in the opportunities being created for minority professionals. Take into account the impact that each minority employee is making and the impact of each new role you're hiring for. Diversity has more meaning and greater potential to create a diverse company culture when the team members have a say in what's going on in the company.

Jeanette:

And I think the same is true. The same parallels can be drawn with respect to projects. Say for example, we're designing an open space and we are designing for diversity and inclusivity. Then we might, for example, need to think of clever ideas in which we're going to be designing an accessibility ramp, for example, does not need to be at the back of somewhere where people have to look for it rather than it being such that it is really included in the design.

I think along the same topic of open spaces, safety is also important that people feel as though they can cross the space and open space in the evening on their own and safely that there is adequate lighting or perhaps there is a passive sort of surveillance that there are people close by that, you know, if something were to happen that you would be able to seek for help. So, I guess the element that you've talked about could be equally interpreted for an organizational structure as well as a project on how and how these elements can be included in there. And while we're on the topic of, you know, being sustainable. There is a very strong link, I believe, between what we're just talking about now about equality inclusion, and its link to well-being and then consequently to the Sustainability Development Goals as have been defined by the European Union. So, what do you think about them? I mean, how I? I think they're very important. But from your perspective, how would they link?

Ritika:

Yeah, definitely there is a very strong link between the SDG’s and the EDI. So obviously this is part of the UN agenda for 2030 and there's specific factors within the sustainability goals, which is 17 if I'm correct that directly linked to EDI, so for example: quality education, gender equality, reducing inequalities. Now, those are direct links between the EDI, but I, you know, innovation is a big goal as well and I look at that as a direct link because by having diverse perspectives; diverse perspectives that feel psychologically space to bring their best selves to projects and work; that's where innovation will happen.

Innovation comes from cognitive diversity. Cognitive diversity that has a voice. So that has a direct link to EDI, and you know, and well-being and inclusion are essential for a happy, high performing and productive workspace.

Organizations should create health and wellness as a core and foundation pillar and building strong, sustainable people-oriented organization. So, in terms of the SDGs as a direct link, but you know well-being and mental health. We all know the pain of not feeling like we do not belong and so when we don't belong, how does that, you know, how does that affect us mentally? And then when we come to work, what do we bring to work? Which part of ourselves, you know, do we feel that if we can't be ourselves, can we raise our voice and bring that innovation to the fore? No! So, you know well-being is an overall impact not only on the direct, probably the financial bottom line of organisations, but also the mental health of employees and how that impacts on the ground.

Jeanette:

Yes, it's amazing how this term sustainable development is far more reaching than maybe some of us have restricted it to be so. Thank you for that Rikita. My last question for today and I know that this is going to be a difficult one but: is there any silver bullet, any magic wand at any quick fix that's in your opinion designers could concentrate on while embarking on a project.

Ritika:

Well, if there was then I think half of us wouldn't have a job right. I mean it's no there can't be. It's such, you know it's such deep work that's required all around at every level of the organization that they're, you know I don't think there is a silver bullet. There are, you know, as we look to move the dial further beyond, you know, just the EDI front, It has become clear that board diversity is only one piece of the puzzle, so we say, well, if you've got representation as the top, then we've probably ticked all the boxes and we're good to go. No, for a truly inclusive future, companies need to think critically about employee experience. You know as designers as, you know, in projects. Who are you designing for and what's their experience at the end. You have to implement specific data driven recommendations which tackle the pain point for this diverse audience. So, it's a lot of things that would work in tangents for it to work.

Data, conversations that we referred to at the start of our discussion, which need to be ongoing, which need to be done from the start to have the basis right and leadership across the board needs to work together at all levels for this to work. So yeah, the short answer is there isn't a silver bullet, and a lot of factors need to work together in tangents, to me, the most important is data and dialogue that would really impact on the ground.

Jeanette:

Exactly so Ritika if I may, a few pearls of wisdom that we also be taking away with us today, maybe something small for each of the stakeholders that would usually encounter in a design project within a city. So maybe the public, designers or entrepreneurs, authorities,... what would your key points be?

Ritika:

Oh right, I mean, we've referred to a lot of stuff during the entire discussion, but I think you know the key points overall is that representation matters at every level. Whether you're you know who you're designing for? Who's making those decisions? What's the community looking like? And making all of that work in tangents and that would come from cognitive diversity. So, hiring people that are that are different and not having echo chambers that have the same ideas and thoughts at all levels. And I think for specifically for designers and entrepreneurs accepting and celebrating the individual as they are. I think that would be my top tip. Really, the cultural identity that comes from that inclusion and diversity need to be taken into consideration right from the start of the design process and embedded into the company culture and not be an afterthought.

We have gone through what it means to embed EDI within the company culture so that needs to be taken into consideration. I think for authorities and for the government planning system has a very important role to play. How open spaces are maintained and how people flow through spaces safely, as you mentioned Jeanette, spaces between buildings we need a system that needs the right questions to be asked and people within the system that are willing to be open to the answers that are given as part of that.

Jeanette:

Thank you so much Ritika. You have given us some interesting food for thought there.

This is Ritika Wadhwa and you are listening ‘The Human Agenda’. Thank you so much for joining us in this episode.

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October 13, 2021

Is civil engineering the root of all good or evil in society

Transcript: 14 - Is civil engineering the root of all good or evil in society — with José Francisco Sáez Rubio
Jeanette:

Our guest today is José Francisco Sáez Rubio. He is a Spanish licensed civil engineer with Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering, Occupational Health and Safety and Public Private Partnerships.

He is a Former Associate Professor in the Spanish Army Engineering Academy and he is currently the World Council of Civil Engineers’ appointed Executive Director since 2008 and Executive Board member of the European Council of Civil Engineers. He currently consults for Spanish Water Directorate on International and Cybersecurity issues.

He describes himself as relentlessly curious.

The purpose of this call is to show the high stakes the planet is paying for, so that all of us become conscious of how people depend on civil engineering to have their lives improved.

José, thank you so much for joining us today. I think I'd like to kick up this conversation first with describing what civil engineering is, so we know that it is dealing with something which is civil, something which is for the people. But perhaps you could give us some more information about it and maybe we can look into the various types of engineering to within civil engineering.

José:

That's not easy in the end, because civil engineering is within each and every aspect of ordinary life. When you get up in the morning and you switch on the light - there is engineering behind it. If this [energy] comes from renewable sources, like for example, hydraulic engineering, I mean there's an engineer, and there is a civil engineer behind it. I mean, I would call it civil engineering, whenever you look at it and it is somehow mesmeric. Talking about what is to be brought up in this podcast, I get back my memory lane and I went back to ‘The Fraggle Rock’. I don't know if you recall it, Jim Henson, the new Henson show. I mean there, there were some people - those miniature creatures - called the ‘Doozers’ that were always building one side or the other, just like lemons, and somehow that's civil engineering behind it.

I mean ordinary life as it is conceived in order to be able to have your normal problems is a consequence of civil engineering. I mean the possibility of having yourself discussing other topics regarding your life, which is not being able to fetch for water, being able to walk to get to work safely in public transport, being able to fly or address any logistic issue, calling back for Amazon whatsoever, I mean, there's lots of people behind it, but most of them within the backs of the logistics boards, the airports, the highways, the tunnels, the bridges, is civil engineering. The fact it's something, I mean, if you were able to become allergic to civil engineering, you will always be having an outbreak because it's very difficult not working with civil engineering behind you or within you.

Jeanette:

It is true that we are surrounded by civil engineering of different, you know, the various branches of civil engineering. But I think one of the most important things which we have to address, and different countries are addressing it in a slightly different way - maybe we can look into this a little bit further on - is that civil engineering and therefore civil engineers have a very important role in addressing the climate emergency. How do you think one should attack this? There is so much that needs to be done; where to start?

José:

As a former professor said to me: ‘That's a good question. Would you mind bringing me the next one?’ That said, in most of the problems whenever you have to address them, the fact is that you need to be able to become aware of the problem in itself. We're somehow aware of the problem, where we're in a situation in which civil engineering is fully aware of the symptoms, can work out some possible diagnosis, but somehow has not been able to earn the trust of society.

Trust of society, whose depository are the decision makers. I mean, I think the civil engineer is too silent that there's a joke; I think you heard about it: regarding the doctors’ errors are buried, the lawyers’ errors are objected or elevated to another court, but the errors of civil engineers have to be lived with them. There's one interesting element, I'm not sure if you were acquainted with that, is that when a Canadian license engineers earn their license they are given as a gift an iron ring. The iron ring was first made for the first licensed engineers from various outstanding bridge faults that happened at the beginning of the twentieth century, and that ring was supposed to be able to make people remember what is at stake. That means we are not fully aware of what is at stake, but what is true, and that is something that can be brought up is that I'm not sure if society is willing to address it. It does need to address it, but I’m not really sure what is our role expected to be. Unless civil engineers are able to wake up and be less silent about it and make their own proposals.

Jeanette:

So, José I recall you talking about civil engineering as being the society's silent steward, and I guess, by extension, civil engineers will be society silent stewards and I think there has to be a little bit of a step back in understanding what civil engineers, as you said really, are trying to do and how they should be doing it. But there also needs to be the other side of the coin, that people understand why things are so comfortable, maybe in some countries, why things are not as comfortable in others because of the lack of civil engineering and civil engineers. So I'm not sure whether the civil engineers are almost unwilling protagonists in this story. Again, I recall you saying something about Churchill that “never in the field of human struggle may be owed so many to so few”. I don't know whether you like to elaborate on that a little bit more.

José:

Basically that quote is from Churchill regarding the speech after the Battle of Britain. Everybody somehow was aware of that battle, because it was a bit noisy. In this case the situation is silent, because we are stewards we are rather the major-domos. Everybody knows that a good steward is someone who is able, somehow to predict or address what are to be the needs, and also make something to not embarrass its guest by somehow patronising its decisions. That is quite difficult, basically because whenever somebody is providing you regarding some topics or elements, and this is something which is a feeling, a feeling or a perception which somehow cannot be addressed in a metric - engineers have an issue with that because you are able to somehow bring a battery of metrics, performance indicators, elements, and big money issues that would bring that the decision that you've already come to, be is the best. I think that being become humble on the ground of the option and not making the tables of truth from Moses regarding less of our projects would be much wiser and interesting. I mean, people need to know why you are doing something, because when people are fully aware of what you are doing and for what, people get fully enthusiastic.

I mean the last time when in the Americas there was a huge uproar for engineers was in the twenties. Even then Hoover, who was an agricultural engineer, finally got elected because he was able to address some issue regarding a big draught, on the Dust Bowl. It’s like what is happening for example on the other side, I mean why are there were so many doctors - because of ER. I mean, there was somehow a skyrocketing regarding people who want to be doctor basically because there was a [TV] series. One time we were discussing in ECCE in some meeting we would need something like ER, or we will be able to make George Clooney a civil engineer because the stakes or the perceptions that are given is that our activity is quite dull and is full of hidden agendas, and that can only be addressed when you bring things out in the open. So that is quite important, I mean the society needs to be able, and is what one thing, what was important on a concept of what I was familiar to me, is there is no zero risk.

Jeanette:

In what way?

José:

Engineers are all fully aware that there's no zero risk. Zero risk management. I mean, let's if I may put it bluntly, but the point is that ‘sh** happens all the time and every day’, and management let’s call it situ management can only is going to be able only to adapt or mitigate its happening. But it is going to happen anyway. I mean it, that is one concept from [Nassim Nicholas] Taleb regarding antifragility etc, and if you go each and every day to the casino in the end you will lose. You cannot win eternally in a row. That's said, it is very important that people, decision makers, do not feel comfortable saying that there is no zero risk until there was something called terrorism and they were directly related to the fact that the words for that not to happen. And then it was impossible because there was no possibility of a zero-risk engagement of a lone wolf bringing up a terrorist attack. But nobody has said regarding the extreme events or some issues or blackouts, etc.

Everybody takes for granted that you have a mobile in any place or in any way. Everybody takes for granted that you have tap water. Everybody takes for granted traffic lights are going to work. Why? Because otherwise that brings anxiety to the society. We are just learning through Covid. I mean an anxious society is not fully comfortable with itself.

Jeanette:

It's not easier. It’s true. It's not easy how to address it, and I think civil engineers have sometimes a very weak voice.

José:

This is not easy how to address it.

Jeanette:

And so weak that the society becomes complacent to the role of civil engineers in the city which is a bit of a shame because if we really distil it civil engineering encompasses, at least seven, If we were to really break these down of the seventeen, sustainability development goals, that are identified by the United Nations. We are in many of these categories, education, obviously of civil engineering and if we extend this to architecture, gender equality, which is an become an issue sometimes in engineering, clean water and sanitation, what you mentioned, affordable energy, industry… there is a multitude of these of these design goals, and I wonder whether engineers really understand that their expertise within whatever they do is directly related to the economic, environmental and social conditions. They are calling it a triple bottom line, so this may seem like an impossible task, as we are saying to achieve by 2030, which is only, you know, a few years away. So, in the light of all of this where do you think the focus should? I mean, we have to start from somewhere.

José:

For society or for civil engineering as a profession.

Jeanette:

Let us start with, maybe civil engineers first, and we can go for society second?

José:

In the case of civil engineers we need to be able to keep on pounding, keep on proposing. I mean what is not understandable is that whenever you go to WMO, for example, there are quite few engineers. When you go to elements regarding infrastructure basically the elements are based on financing etc. For example, I’ll cut it short, you need to be able to much different perspectives. The engineer needs to become the adequate gearwork to be able to bring up those stakeholders because they are fully introduced within the enterprise, they are citizens themselves, the work basically for governments and they need to hear the public, and that is the basis for the gearwork. Because most of the perceptions that I do have is that work is misaligned. The fact is there is no one size fits all solution. Context is important, and that is what we are somehow lacking whenever addressing the issues. We need to be able to bring our context or provide our context in order to be able to show what our proposals are, which is not clear for the time being. Because in the end, let's say I mean most of the drafts of some big documents are written by somebody on a first draft with a short time as a commitment or a task that needs to be finished in a short time, rather than giving it the space to breathe and to be able to address it.

I mean, the obsession is, and it is one thing which is quite interesting, when you go to the conference party, for all these big new conferences you already know by the third day that there is going to be a declaration, either the good, the bad or the ugly, but is going to be a declaration. The good thing is if there has been background work. The bad thing is if there has not been background whatsoever. You may be a very talented person who makes a draft in a declaration. They are not fully aware of different contexts, and that is important of why each and every delegation makes their hints or their comments, or their addresses, in order to be able to somehow polish that potential element that do not fit in the reality. But that also brings the issue of the famous definition of what is a camel. I don't know if you are aware, they say ‘what is a camel?’. A camel is a horse that has been somehow agreed by a commission. I'm not sure what is the issue, but the clearer the groundwork is going to make the animal much more horse than a camel but if that is the case, we need to be able to present it. I mean people may discuss things, and every day you've suffered yourself, I suffered myself a lot of conferences addressing issues of engineering to society where they are only engineers.

It is a pity, but I want to know what does an actor think about civil engineering. It may seem a pity, but I need to know what does my neighbour thinks about civil engineering anyway. Because those are the ones who are going to be able to address or change some of their issues or have some views to be able to help us to change this world. Because we can only change this planet those who live on it, but it is any how is not easy. I mean the only thing I can tell for the civil engineers in that case is hard work and keep on working and not having a problem in discussing any topic with anyone, and I mean discussing not debating.

Getting back to my Churchilliana that's one of the best quotes I've heard of him. One day when they were discussing an act, he said, “I'm very happy to be able to be aware that we have some ground for agreement, although it seems that the space for the agreement is the size of a comma, but we should work on it and be aware of the context”. I mean, there is no winning solution in engineering. I mean, that is something that we have discussed in some other place, there is no willing discussion. For example, let's go to another how are you going to say is going to be put to an end in Mexico, when the biggest concrete maker of the world is Mexican and I bring in Mexico like some other topic. I mean, I don't want to somehow embarrass our Mexican counterparts, but it is understandable.

For example, the other day the discussion, I think it was somehow discussed, in another [forum]. Bamboo scaffoldings. Are they sustainable or not? They are fully sustainable. You know, but they're not cute, they're not hi-tech. They don't have the CE trademark. You know. Are you going to go to those other countries in order to be able to sell CE trademark scaffoldings? Are you going to be the one that is going to sell beds to the Japanese when they sleep on the floor? I mean, that's the issue. Once size fits all, from my point of view, and that is the basis of civil engineering is unacceptable. You cannot make whatever discussion, and I might earn some conflicting views, you cannot draw civil engineering. For me it is unacceptable or understandable even in a situation we are in because there are some other issues that come up and have to be addressed or whatsoever. You cannot be able to make. I cannot make engineering in Lesotho, without being in Lesotho. I can somehow have some hints that needs to be validated on the ground, social element. In the same way I make a stress test for the foundations, I have to make a stress test for the societies. For example, I was never aware in Costa Rica of their commitment to roads and highways. They have a real, let's call it good, obsession with highways and it's cultural because the element the family element that was brought up regarding the families in Costa Rica, which was a remote place, regarding the periods during the Spanish Empire, was the need to be able to travel through better rough terrain with their carts, and the most important thing, and an element of pride are the carts and all that has been evolving into the importance of those highways. I mean they have no interest in ports or railways whatsoever. Their need is highways because it cultural.

That element that may be seem extreme, is something that you need to be able to accept if you are to somehow plan any type of infrastructure, because in the end it is affecting the way of life of those people. I don't know if you concur with me, I may be a bit extreme, but you need to know what you're talking about.

Jeanette:

No, I completely agree with what you're saying. I mean… Yes, the context in which the engineering the work of engineering is going to take place needs to be considered from the very beginning. As you said, it's useless applying techniques which we are used in Europe maybe to some parts of Africa, or you know, Latin America; may be even parts… if I compare Malta with the UK or Spain, certain things are also different even within Europe itself. So, it's as you have said, the one size fits all methodology is very short sighted and imposing a project or a type of project on a people, or a type of material: cement, bamboo, concrete, whatever steal, it's very short-sighted because we have to see the context in which this is happening. But I wonder, therefore, we have these goals that the world is trying to get to net zero carbon emissions, and you know they are not impossible to achieve in some countries, but very impossible to achieve in others.

José:

I mean one of the issues that I recall, which is most difficult for the fact of the SDGs, is the SDGs themselves.

Jeanette:

Ok, and in what way?

José:

The issue in itself is that when you go regarding the fact of the SDGs, when you go into the innings you find that there are several elements that are difficult to address. On the fact is that first of all, there are some custodian agencies and each of the metrics have some of the metrics regarding the SCGs is that there is a problem in itself regarding that the fact that you have the goals, but it is not clear whatsoever how to be able to address the topic basically because each country needs to be able to address its own context. In the fact that the problems mean they are part of the solution, but people are not aware or not fully aware of how to even address the bureaucracy of those of those elements of the SDGs themselves. I mean you have seventeen sustainable development goals and a hundred and sixty-three performance indicators, and those performance indicators having a bigger issue, on the grounds that they need their own reports in order to be able to accomplish those elements. If we are considering that most of those countries have difficulties in achieving in achieving the agenda what should not be the difficulty is being to be able to address the bureaucracy to be able to communicate those performance indicators to the custodian agencies. I mean, it is like the same don't yell at me, I am not deaf. I'm just blind. So it is not easy on the ground. What I see is that they, that we are quite lost. Lost of touch. I mean, both a United Nations have lost touch on the ground with together with the goals themselves.

Jeanette:

Do you think that civil engineering could change through policy maybe? And having you know a more of a top-down approach, we are forced in a way to do certain things, certain policies that would guide the way that projects are done? Could we maybe have a policy driven sustainability rather than it coming from us? Or should it be that the engineers drive the sustainability rather than reacting to policies?

José:

I'm fully prone to being active. I mean being reactive is not basically it's not efficient, and one of the issues is that there is one saying that says that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, and I always recall one element that happened to them to formally a famous Spanish engineer who has recently passed away José Antonio Torroja. Whenever that major came by to studio and said, “I want you to design me a bridge” and the engineer call him back “until you're not asking me to design a bridge, you are telling me you want to be able to cross a river. If it is a bridge what you need or not that is my point”. That is the element. I mean, those are some of the elements and need to be addressed. Neither the engineer had to address the measure in such a way, saying that he had no stake on what is to be the solution, but also the mayor had no, shouldn't be so preposterous on the ground that he clearly knew what he needed.

We need to be able to be humble as civil engineers, but to be able to provide ideas and tools that can be used. I mean, I told you some time ago, I mean it, and is something of the quote that I find quite important regarding the Post-it. I mean Post-it was supposed basically only to be able to sign our pages, and the true designer of Post-it, as a place to be able to give notes was a secretary quite in the night had to leave a post to his boss in late in the night that he had nothing else to put it over the folder and he finally scribbled something on the supposed singular of places of posts.

So, the point in the end is that the user is the one which is validating any of our proposals and the fact is that the proposals were a final user is very far away. Society and citizens are very far away from the sustainable development goals. Even us who are supposed to be able to support or propose solutions that will have an impact in sustainable development goals are quite afar from United Nations.

That is one of the elements I find the most difficult, and that is one of the elements where we need to be able to propose and get near to those agencies because unless we know how they how they work, and they know our organizations. World Council of Civil Engineers, European Council of Civil Engineers,…. We won't be able to make any matches and we won't be able to evolve or run farther away like the African saying, but it's true that we need to be proactive.

But to be able to be proactive, you need to be able to invite those people who have to listen to you, and listen, listen, open your ears and listen to them. I mean it's no use whatsoever, and I don't know that somehow makes you uncomfortable. In my case does. When you go to a conference and you as to come for the minister, and the minister goes the opening ceremony, and five minutes later he is gone because he doesn't give a damn of what we are talking about, but the point is that we are somehow discussing between ourselves elements to be activated for the society to hear us, when the only ones which are hearing are the stumbling echoes of ourselves, of our own footsteps, so I think navel-gazing is not a good idea. A navel-gazing from a satellite is even worse, an even worse idea. So, we need to be able to know what's outside our comfort zone. Basically, because citizens and society live somewhere else than where civil engineers live.

Jeanette:

True, well I guess civil engineers can't do it all on their own as well, I mean there needs to be a system within which civil engineers work with other professionals that design cities, that design homes, that design infrastructure, and other engineers, not just civil engineers, but are you know the mechanical, the electric. There are so many types of engineering that need to be brought together, so this interdisciplinary collaboration is perhaps going to be key in understanding and getting closer to some of these goals in as far as we can get as close to them. So perhaps José if I may, sum up today's episode and maybe you can take give us some takeaways from this conversation. Maybe you know some tips for the general public, for designers what they should do, and maybe ultimately, how authorities could bring it all together.

José:

That seems quite an easy question. Why didn’t you ask before? If I had to make… I mean, some other discussions of what is a public... I mean, the public is fully aware that they are the final stakeholder and the final users.

To government I would say the same “remember you are not the user”. I mean you are only somebody who has been entitled or empowered to be able to address the needs of the citizens.

Regarding design I make it clear on the topic that first context is everything, second doing the right project and doing the project right.

But I would also say something, and that is important on the ground of financing projects, and that is one of the elements that was brought up as a lack from the World Bank in infrastructure area. And that is the issue of being called the World Bank. So, I mean it is not innocent what I am about to say. I mean the obsession in banks, and multinational and funding organizations is to be able to execute their budget. Not of the quality of the project, or the need of the project, or the discussion of the project. Basically, the discussion, or the final discussion, needs to be able if all the elements regarding the bureaucracy and the adequate funding being adequately directed and fully adequately comprehended - is addressed, not the need of a citizen. That is quite important. I mean we need to be able to keep in focus what is our final goal; and the final goal in the end is to be able to somehow respectfully live our life so that the rest of the life after us would be able to somehow not down us for what we have already done.

And that is the basically the point of civil engineering, having context, context, context. I mean there's one quote, which I found by interesting when Gaudi architect, who to be able to create the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona which is being still being built, it was begun in 1920s, somebody ed him, but why are you trying to bring up this project? Would you're not going to finish it while you're alive? I mean he died runover by a tram. But you know what he recalled was important to me and he said, “my final client is not in a hurry” and that is important. I mean our final client, which is our planet is not in a hurry and our personal agenda cannot go before the planet’s agenda.

Jeanette:

That was a sombre, a rude awakening, so to speak, that we need to really pull our socks up.

Thank you so much José for today. It is a very interesting conversation. I'm sure you had even more pearls of wisdom to share with us.

José:

Thank you for having me.

Jeanette:

Our guest today was José Francisco Sáez Rubio, and you are listening to the human agenda.

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September 20, 2021

Seismic engineering design for public safety

Transcript: 13 - Seismic engineering design for public safety — with Marc Bonello & Nicholas Kyriakides
Jeanette:

Joining us on this episode today is Professor Mark Bonello and Professor Nicholas Kyriakides.
Professor Mark Bonello, currently Head of Department of Civil and Structural engineering within the Faculty for the Built Environment at the University of Malta. He has been lecturing and carrying out research within the structural engineering field for the past 30 years. In the last decade, Professor Bonello directed his focus upon seismic vulnerability of unreinforced masonry structures within the Maltese islands, particularly those with an underlying soft-story basement carpark. Professor Bonello was also involved in the recent EU funded ERDF project, SIMIT, carried out jointly between Maltese and Italian academic institutions and civil protection departments

Professor Kyriakides is an assistant professor at the civil Engineering and Geomatics Department of the Cyprus University of Technology and member of the Eratosthenes Centre of Excellence for Earth Observation. He holds a PhD in the field of earthquake risk assessment of reinforced concrete buildings. His research interests include the vulnerability assessment of structures under seismic loading and the quantification of the earthquake hazard and risk in Cyprus. The purpose of this call today is to bring awareness about the importance of designing buildings to withstand earthquakes, so that the public, tenants, building owners, authorities, as well as insurers, appreciate the severe socio-economic impact of earthquakes on properties in terms of loss of life, cost, damage, down-time, and sustainability.

This is quite a mouthful, right? And not all of us know much about seismic engineering or earthquake engineering. Perhaps if I may, Professor Bonello, would you be able to give us an introduction of what earthquake engineering is and why it is so important?

Bonello:

It is a means of quantifying the effects of ground motion and also dealing with it in design. I think, you know, the media has on several occasions shown images of the buildings which have collapsed during earthquakes, especially in zones which are very prone to strong earthquakes like Iran and Turkey and Japan and these places. And, of course, these images are very striking. But like anything else in life, if they don't, let's say, affect you directly, you tend to kind of look the other way and move on with life. Now as structure engineers and earthquakes engineers, we have the response of ensuring that the buildings that are constructed do not pose a danger to the occupants of the building, or to passers-by in the street, or even to the emergency rescue services because following an earthquake, of course, you know, we hear about people being trapped in the building, people who are killed by falling debris and also firemen and let's say civil protection personnel who either cannot get into the building or are actually trapped themselves into the building as well. So, I think as responsible engineers, we need to be able to somehow model, quantify and design against these earthquakes. Now this is not something which is very easy, and you know in our work there are lot of uncertainties involved in the estimation of loads. Some loads are less uncertain than others, but I would classify earthquake loading, seismic loading, as one of the most uncertain loading that we can have

Reason being, first of all, we cannot really with any precision quantify the date and time of the next earthquake. We can't even quantify its magnitude or its nature. In other words, you know what percentage of the earthquake intensity will be translated into a horizontal component or a vertical component, or both. And therefore, I think there have been now over the years, and it's also with, I happen to be also the Maltese delegate on the Eurocode TC-250 SC 8, Eurocode 8, and as you may be some of the viewers and listeners are aware there will be a new, let's say, regime, of new codes coming out in the next few years; and a lot of the research that has gone into earthquake engineering will, let's say, be incorporated within this new issue of the codes that will replace the current codes that were issued in 2004.

I think the main problem and again just to give my colleagues here some more time to perhaps express their opinions, but certainly in Malta, I have to say that you know the local seismologists with whom we work, you know very closely, have estimated that the peak ground acceleration for the Maltese islands for a return period of around 475 years, percentage exceedance in 50 years of 10 percent is around 0.1g - 10% of g [acceleration of gravity g = 9.8 m/s2]. That's about 1 meter per second squared, which in comparison to, let's say other areas and locations in Europe is not that high. For example, Cyprus has a far higher peak ground acceleration, if I'm correct, of course it depends on the seismic zonation map, in other words, different parts of Cyprus might be subjected to different intensities, but certainly we're talking about three to four times the intensity of the Maltese islands.

And yet, because of this, let's say low to moderate intensity of earthquakes in Malta, there is a certain complacency that has crept in. This complacency is also due to the fact that the strong earthquakes in the Maltese islands are very few and far between. The last strong earthquake that damaged buildings in the Maltese islands occurred in 1693. Now that's almost 320 years ago. There were others that followed. Not as strong, but generally speaking, the tremors that happened regularly around the Maltese islands, have an intensity of around 2 to 3 on the Richter scale, which is, you know, really nothing. Sometimes we feel a tremor, other times not, and so there is this complacency which has crept in the local population. There is a kind of loss of memory, even though we have recorded in history, the potential, let's say damaging effects, and also, let's say serious effects strong earthquakes can have, but yet it’s as if we are immune.

And this also permeates into the authorities and the architects themselves. So very often you find you know architects taking a very lax attitude towards seismic loading. I have to say, however, that the design of structural steelwork and reinforced concrete buildings, composite buildings in the Maltese islands are generally designed, at least lately, to be earthquake resistant. The main problem lies with unreinforced masonry buildings, which are primarily load bearing buildings, very often with soft storey basements. In other words, basements where the roof is of the basement is a transfer slab that allows for a larger circulation for car parking in the basement, and where these load-bearing buildings are essentially designed for vertical loading. In other words, with very little lateral resistance. I have been carrying out research in this aspect now for many years, at least for the last decade, perhaps I'll have the occasion to say something about this later on in this discussion, but I have to say that the vulnerability, the seismic vulnerability of these buildings is very high and therefore you know to answer your question, Dr. Abela, the earthquake engineering is a means of, therefore mitigating the risks, that our buildings face during earthquakes, minimizing the seismic vulnerability by technique appropriate actions both in design, or perhaps even after design of existing buildings by means of retrofitting techniques.

Jeanette:

We have mentioned many points in that, you know, in the answer to the first question and I wonder whether Professor Kyriakides maybe you can let us know from your point of view, from a Cypriot aspect, you know, we know we have mentioned that in the Mediterranean basin, there are various parts or various parts of even the same country which have a different susceptibility to undergo earthquakes. From your experience, how do we go about or how did you go about so, in Cyprus, regarding the understanding of the vulnerability of some of these buildings? And by that, I mean both heritage and new buildings, because in Cyprus, similar to Malta, we have traditional buildings that have been built several 100 years ago, which obviously would be in danger, but maybe you can give us some background, to offer from your experience on that please.

Kyriakides:

Thank you Doctor Abela and thanks Professor Bonello for your introduction. Indeed, Professor Bonello managed to feed and discuss and outline most of the issues involved in earthquake engineering. Now just to add to his words, earthquake engineering is, has found, it has increased its visibility, let's say among civil engineers as one of the most significant design related sections of civil engineering in the 20th century, and obviously this was this was as a result of various events that created several problems, damages and fatalities and injuries around the world. Now in the last part of the 20th century, we have witnessed several of such distracting events happening in our region of the world as well, like Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Italy, and the eastern Mediterranean in general, and that is more or less when we have all started worrying more and trying to find ways of mitigating, let's say, the effects and the impacts of this event.

Now, as, Prof. Bonello said, as far as the design of new buildings in our part of the world in Europe, this has been, this is now being undertaken by new uniform codes that are being used in the whole in all European countries depending on how strong the earthquake hazard is at each country, so that is defined as a country-based parameter. Now this solves one of the problems that we had, which is how do we go on securing the new buildings. And this is something that at the moment we feel that we are doing quite well, but the problem is that the vast majority of the building stock in these countries, as was mentioned by Dr Abela were built before the enforcement of those codes, so we have a problem with what's happening with the existing buildings and how do we face that issue. Plus, we have another, well, we have another thing, we have another problem that we need to find ways to solve, as to how we deal with building categories that are not well documented in the codes. And this is something that Professor Bonello referred to when he mentioned about the URM [unreinforced masonry] buildings in Malta. So, the codes cover the design of new buildings for standard and categories of building classes and categories that are, let's say, are the most popular in Europe and very well documented, but cannot at the moment cover, at the same level, the design of all building classes.

So, this is something that we need to find ways to increase our, let's say the knowledge we have around the around this topic. The way we have acted in Cyprus, to answer your question, Cyprus is located close to Malta, we are in a moderately seismic hazard zone because we have, we have the effect from the Cyprian Arc, which is the boundary between, at least that's one of the theories, let's say that's the boundary between the African and Eurasian plates. It's moving, the African plate is moving north-eastern, north-western sorry, and it's creating some stresses in the tectonic plates in the vicinity of Cyprus, and those stresses at some, when they reach their maximum capacities, a thrusting occurs. And then we have earthquakes, more or less around 30 to 50 years, we have an earthquake that is felt and that creates damages, especially as I said to older buildings or buildings that were not built with the seismic codes. Now, similarly to Malta we haven't had any code provisions or guidelines related to the design of new buildings until mid 80s, and this happened because we had an earthquake that was felt around the island, created damages, in Pathos, so discussions started arising about how were securing buildings, and some guidelines, very short guidelines were prepared and used by the engineers, by the civil engineers for the design of new buildings, including a small proportion of horizontal load for the design.

So, we moved from using only vertical loads for our design, to estimate our design forces, we moved to accommodating horizontal forces as well, and that was the first move, that was the first step. This happened in ’86, 1986. Since then in between 1986 and 1992 we had, we were, we were working on preparing the first seismic code and that was finalized and enforced in 1994. So, from 1994 onwards we have used the code, we have a code that was used, which can, we can say that it was more or less at the same level of the codes used at other European countries, such as Italy & Greece. So, the checks, the concept of the code, the design, the methodology was more or less the same, following the same steps as what was happening in that moment in Italy and Greece, and also other countries outside Europe. Now obviously the seismic hazard was lower in Cyprus and that is something that was in our favour, but we had all the, all the construction that, all the building stock that were designed before the enforcement of this code, because obviously about approximately 70% of our building stock was designed and constructed before the enforcement of this code, so we had to deal with that.

The last development, let's say as far as the design of the building is concerned, is the enforcement of the European codes, the Eurocodes, which took place in 2011, and since then we are feeling confident, and with the code, a new seismic hazard map was included in the National Annex and with increased design reference peak ground accelerations, and at the moment we can say that from then onwards we have something solid that we can use that is uniform and follows the European countries with similar or higher seismic data than we have.

Now as far as the existing buildings is concerned, which is the major problem that we are facing, the concept was to start protecting public buildings. And the initial idea was that we should start from schools and in other public buildings that were designed prior to the enforcement of these codes. And I must say that a very large programme initiated in the beginning of 2000, for assessing the risk from earthquakes and proposing and enforcing retrofitting measures of schools, and at the moment we have approximately 97% of our schools retrofitted based on the knowledge of course that we had during that period - because this is the thing about earthquakes, you can never, you're always using the knowledge, then there are uncertainties, and you're trying to accommodate the uncertainties, given the data and the information that you have. And obviously these changes are based on many factors. So, at the moment we can say that we have secured our schools and we need to find ways of updating the retrofitting measures in a few years.

The way we tackled existing buildings is different than the way we tackle new buildings. Obviously, with new buildings you have refined methodologies, you have approaches depending on how they can sway, whether they can deform, and by how much you want them to deform. If you want them to deform and you follow that concept and you assure that you design something that will perform based on a predefined performance level. So, you accept, you select a performance level, and you follow a design procedure, and you meet the specific performance point. Now with the older buildings the approach was different. The approach was more related to a life-cycle assessment methodology. So, you assess the building and define the retrofit methodology based on an assessment of how obviously, you want to eliminate fatalities and injuries, how you want to eliminate large damages on the building, but you are aware that you cannot make an [existing] building that is at the same level as the new ones. So, you accept that you will have some sort of damage after the earthquake, but that damage will not be enough, will not reach the level leading to collapses, that lead to fatalities and injuries and so on and so forth.

So we have used a life-cycle cost analysis methodology to define retrofitting measures for existing buildings and this methodology is based on a different approach, rather than accepting a performance level, you accept a return period of the retrofitting, so you accept that you will retrofit the building and in 10 years I will come back and see what else I have to do or what else can I do to increase its capacity. It can be 10 years. It can be 20 years. It can be 30 years, so different return periods were well accepted. And this is more or less the concept behind the flow to assess and retrofit existing buildings. So you have to accept that we cannot have the same level of risk as we have in the new buildings, we can, but we don't, we may not need to reach the same level of risk as the new buildings, so we may have higher risk with existing buildings that we have to secure that we will eliminate collapses that lead to fatalities and injuries, and that the investment in retrofitting them will be sufficient, so as to ensure that the damage after the earthquake will be replaceable and it can, can be restored after the earthquake and be used quickly after the earthquake.

Now just to add very quickly to the new buildings. I mentioned that Eurocodes cover various building categories, but obviously they don't cover all building categories. There are building categories in Malta that we do not find in the Eurocodes, there are building categories in other Middle Eastern countries let's say, that we don't find in Eurocodes. So, for these specific building classes, we need to combine research, with legislation, with testing, with the new design guidelines so as to ensure that we have followed design guidelines. So, the Eurocode can provide us with what is needed for the specific categories that have been researched, but further revision is to be conducted for categories that have not been investigated yet and this can only be done through a combination of testing. So, testing of such buildings needs to take place either at full scale or at scale specimens in large laboratories, to see how they react during earthquakes, and this is what happened with the design guidelines that are now in the Eurocodes. So, we have to test them first to see how they react, get results from their test, from a number of these tests, and then try to simulate those results using mathematics, and then try to see how we can adjust our design methodologies. This is the route towards introducing new building classes and making sure that we have the same level of risk as we have in the building classes that are included in the Eurocode.

Jeanette:

Thank you, Professor Kyriakides. My concern was, while you were discussing this, is that this depends a lot on the perception of how safe things are, not just by engineers, but also by the general public. Because this is a two-sides-of-the-coin [issue], right? The engineers are designing for people; now, whereas we understand the mathematics and we can understand how things work, it's going to be very difficult for people maybe to understand - the general public to understand - safety and how this is achieved. Because let's say I am a person who just bought a house or an apartment, how am I going to be sure that my property is safe? So, I think that maybe we can, we can discuss, maybe Professor Bonello from your experience in the local industry, how can we ensure that people are made aware of this without necessarily unnecessary worry? Because engineers do their job properly. But maybe we can understand even Professor Kyriakides can tell us from a Cypriot point of view, how the public perception was of all of this, because as you said, we are complacent. We are not acting on it actively at the moment - at least the general public is not acting on it, but how would we start to understand that this is a requirement in the near future to start looking at retrofitting to make our structure strong again - strong for earthquakes.

Bonello:

You actually get a very important point. How do people ensure that their investment in purchasing a property, for example, is sensible and is safe? Now let me take the case of unreinforced masonry buildings in Malta. As I said before, this constitutes the largest, let's say chunk of Urban Development in the country. I would say about 75% of buildings are unreinforced masonry buildings. The older buildings do not usually have-soft story basements. Because the plan generally repeats down to the basement level. It is the buildings which have been constructed, let’s say from the 1960s onwards, which pose a problem. Now that's a long time, we're talking about almost 60 years of construction. Imagine how many buildings were built in the last sixty years. The reason being is that when the precast prestressed concrete floor planks, floor units were introduced in the Maltese islands, at the time they were hailed as the, you know, the structural engineers dream where, you know we could actually have open basements and then build load-bearing masonry apartments from the transfer slab, in other words, the roof over the basement upwards.

And at the time, of course, it seemed sensible, and I have to say that there was nothing that prohibited unreinforced masonry construction from being constructed the way it was. However, I have to say that when Malta eventually became an EU Member State in 2004, and therefore took upon itself, let's say, the obligation to respect the norms of European principles and values, with it came along, the lets say, I won't say obligation because if one had to look at the legal requirements of using Eurocodes – Eurocodes are in Malta required only in public projects, so in other words, structure engineers in the Maltese islands can use any code of their choice, provided that they can demonstrate that their design, according to whatever code they choose, satisfies the requirements, the safety and serviceability requirements.

So going back to the issue, of is this a safe building or not; well, I think structural engineers and architects in Malta have known for at least the past 20-25 years that ignoring horizontal loading in unreinforced masonry construction is foolish. It's irresponsible. And yet, this persists, and I have to say it also persists because of pressures that are put upon them by developers. You see, developers have traditionally been constructing buildings in this way for many many years, and so when architects come up and say listen, “We require sway resisting systems within the unreinforced masonry buildings. We require shear walls, shear cores, tie beams,…”. Of course, the developers look at the bottom line and say, well, you know, “I mean, we never had these requirements before. All this is going to remove, is going to lower my bottom, my bottom-line profit, and so if you're not going to do it, I'll go to some other architect who will avoid me, you know, getting into this expense of additional anti-seismic, let's say design”.

And unfortunately, I have to say the profession actually is to blame because there are architects who comply. Now let me say that when it comes to the Eurocodes, as Professor Kyriakides said just a while ago, the Eurocodes are actually very specific with respect to modern building design, employing reinforced concrete, precast concrete structures, steelwork composite buildings, etc. However, when it comes to masonry buildings, there is a bit of a problem and the reason is because, as one will appreciate when we talk about masonry, the material itself varies from country to country. It varies in density, in porosity, in consistency, and so, different countries have developed different, let's say unreinforced masonry construction methodologies that suit their particular, let's say, material. And so you will find certain unreinforced masonry construction systems in some countries which you don't find in others. And so, what the, what the Eurocode has tried to provide is, let's say, a general framework that can be applied to all the Member States irrespective of the construction systems. But there will be, and I have to say, there will be country specific measures that will need to be taken up by the corresponding authorities responsible for building regulations in that particular country.

I also touch upon the point that Professor Kyriakides, actually mentioned just a while ago, and this has to do with retrofitting. Given that we have a lot of buildings that have been built in the past 60 years that do not satisfy modern seismic engineering codes, what do we do about them? And, of course, quite rightly there are the public buildings and there are the private buildings.

Public buildings, like schools, hospitals, theatres, townhalls, cinemas, etc. These can be intervened upon, and very often it's not a problem to intervene upon them because usually the owner is either a public authority or it is, let's say, a corporation in whose interest it makes sense to retrofit these buildings. So far so good.

The problem starts when we go into the private sector regime. So unreinforced masonry construction owned by the private sector. So, imagine you have bought an apartment on the second floor or the third floor of an apartment block; an assessment is carried out by the Town Council engineer or by the let's say, a structural engineer engaged by the administrators of the block, and it is found that this building needs to be retrofitted. First of all, who is going to allow structural members, additional structural members, such as steel cross-bracing elements, vertical posts, etc, to be introduced within their apartment? Secondly, what about the cost? Who is going to bear the cost? If I bought an apartment which should have been structurally sound, I didn't buy an apartment that was only adequate for vertical loading. I mean, who am I to know, I'm just an ordinary citizen. I bought an apartment. I paid good money for the apartment and now I'm told that the apartment is unsafe in the case of earthquake loading. So, there are these practical problems. And also, legal problems which I think are a major stumbling block and, and I don't know, perhaps Professor Kyriakides can shed some light on this. If in Cyprus they've started to tackle the issue with private sector ownership, but I can see huge problems in Malta. I mean think about it this way, if I buy an apartment, and I see a crack in the ceiling because of shrinkage, very often, you know there's a whole dispute with the contractor and the architect for a shrinkage crack in the slab. Imagine if an owner is told that his apartment is unsafe for earthquake loading and I have to say this, that whilst we discuss all this, okay and I'm sure that, this podcast will be broadcast and there will be viewers from Malta who will see this and they will be shocked to hear that there are many, many buildings in the Maltese islands that will not be able to withstand the 1693 type earthquake.

As professor Kyriakides said earlier, you know, we base our designs upon reference peak ground accelerations that have been determined from past data. But who is to say that the next earthquake won't be even stronger than the 1693 earthquake? So you know, I mean, in fact research has shown us that at least in as far as the unreinforced masonry buildings are concerned, okay, whilst it might be possible with retrofitting, to prevent collapse you know, we talk about existing buildings so very often the limit states we refer to, are the significant damage and the near collapse limit states, so it might be possible if retrofitting takes place to prevent collapse from occurring, but it might not be sufficient to prevent damage, that of course is repairable. So here we're talking about the damage limitation limit state. So this means, might mean, that after a strong earthquake, the building finishes will need to be replaced or repaired. The facades, for example, the windows, the doors, the floor tiling, etc. But at least the risk life is averted. So there are these huge problems which I think, I mean, certainly I think what's important, this is just like a patient that's entered the emergency and accident department in hospital: the first thing you do is you stop the loss of blood, you try and stabilize the patient. And this is what we should do.

So, I have been now for quite some time, been insisting with the local authorities, the Building Industry Consultative Council and the Building Construction Agency to enforce building regulations with respect to the type of designs that should or should not be permitted with, with respect to unreinforced masonry construction. That at least will take place, we will take care of the problems from now onwards.

We still have to deal with past problems, and as I said, the main issue here is private unreinforced masonry construction property. I have to say as well that we have been carrying out research at the University of Malta to look at the seismic vulnerability, to evaluate the seismic vulnerability of unreinforced masonry buildings in isolation, so if they're just buildings on their own or within a building aggregate that is bounded by streets, and there has been some interesting results, we’ve had so far. Of course, this is ongoing research. The building aggregate effect is usually beneficial, but up to a certain extent. So just to give an example, if a building, an unreinforced masonry building with a soft-story on rock for example, can be built, and can withstand a seismic event, a strong design seismic event in the Maltese islands, if it doesn't exceed, say, three floors, in a building aggregate, the limit is about five floors. But what do we see? We actually see in Malta, I have a few, I have actually 2 photographs, I'm not sure if it's possible to share these in this podcast, maybe not, but there are cases where we have unreinforced masonry buildings going up well, 15 floors height-width ratios of about 10 or 11. It's madness, of course, from a vertical point of view they are sufficient, because of course, the materials that have been used for you know, to prevent crushing of the concrete crushing of the block work, and the masonry is sufficient, but from a lateral resistance point of view clearly these buildings are very deficient and very susceptible to seismic events.

So, to conclude, in a nutshell, therefore, coming back to your question, Dr Abela, with respect to you know, what people expect. People expect their buildings to be safe and people expect structural engineers to do their work properly, and this includes therefore taking account of all the risks involved from the loading, so not only gravity loads, but I’m also talking about the vertical dead load and imposed load coming from: the dead load of course, is the self-weight of the building, the imposed load is of course the vertical loading imposed by the use of the building. It could be a residential building. It could be a store. It could be a a place of congregation, but the horizontal loading, and when we talk about horizontal loading, generally we're looking at wind. But very often wind is certainly not as strong as earthquake, and therefore earthquake loading, which so far has, at least in unreinforced masonry construction, been ignored, and the reason why this has happened in my view is because, as I said before, complacency, loss of past memory of how serious, stronger threats could be but also the fact that since traditionally unreinforced masonry buildings are heavy and therefore the wind check - the horizontal wind loading check, is usually not required, this has been also somehow translated into seismic loading, so if we don't need to check for wind, we don't need to check for seismic loading. Wrong. Seismic loading can be and is very often much stronger than horizontal wind loading.

So there's a lot to be done, and I you know, I mean the purpose of this podcast is not to create a sense of alarm within the viewers, especially those from the Maltese Islands, but certainly I think that as consumers, you know property owners, or the future property owners should demand that their properties are safe and this means that they should also be certified as being designed seismically according to the Eurocodes. Now you know, as we discussed earlier, if we're talking about earlier buildings, this might not be possible, or certainly we would have to expect a certain amount of risk. But certainly with respect to new buildings, you know, we have the means today to mitigate these risks. I shan’t say eliminate. There's no guarantee that if you use your codes, a building will not suffer damage, hopefully it won't suffer collapse, but certainly new designs equip architects with the possibility of resisting earthquakes in a far more efficient manner than there has been, so far.

Jeanette:

Yes. Some food for thought there, Prof. Bonello, I don't know whether Professor Kyriakides could give us the Cypriot version of this. I appreciate that when you mentioned earlier you have a methodology that you have adopted in Cyprus and that there are levels of assessment of safety. So, linking this to the investment that one should do when you retrofit a structure, what is your opinion about you know, the level of retrofitting that needs to be achieved? Is there an optimum level? Is there a minimum? How did you go about this in Cyprus?

Kyriakides:

Now before I answer your question, I would like to add to your previous question about the awareness of the public, and indeed that is a big issue. And it's a big issue because earthquakes have low frequency and in most cases they’re not destructive, and this was the case in Cyprus as well for many years. So, before the 90s, let's say, and the earthquakes that happened in Cyprus, but also in the vicinity, in Greece and Turkey - the public awareness was minimal. And given the other hazards that we have to face as an island, which is, let's say, fires and floods, the earthquakes were not the, let's say, a priority for the state as well. Now, we have witnessed a few earthquakes in the 90s and in the early 2000s, that increased the awareness and that means what? It means that the state moved towards ensuring that specific measures are being taken to protect the existing building stock, and that means, first of all, as the assessing and retrofitting the public buildings, secondly, forcing the Eurocodes for all new construction, and this is something that it's imperative, I mean, it has to happen, at the moment given the complexity and the sophistication that is included in the Eurocodes. And obviously finding ways of accommodating any new construction that is being included by Eurocodes, as the ones that have been mentioned by Professor Bonello.

Now in that case, the local authorities, both governmental and municipal authorities at the moment, they require proof of the strength of the materials that will be used, and they require thorough methodology that has been accepted internationally for the design of those specific categories, that are not included in the Eurocode. So, it's more it's more well structured, let's say, the way we deal with these categories in Cyprus, then, well, the one what happens in Malta given what Professor Bonello mentioned before. So, it's, indeed the public needs to be aware, but the state needs to enforce the measures, legislation, and guidelines that should be taken under consideration. So, we shouldn't just accept the fact that the public is not aware and that they cannot find ways or instruments to check what they are buying and that is enough. I mean that is just, that is just an additional parameter. The state needs to be aware. The state needs to take the measures, needs to enforce the legislation. The professional bodies that are part of this, like the civil engineering professional bodies or college and professional bodies, I don't know what professional bodies are in Malta, but they need to push the parliament and the government towards accepting and introducing guidelines for construction, that is not included in Eurocodes, but also for methodologies, for the assessment.

Now, in our case, what we've done, because as was mentioned in the case of private buildings, it’s always a problem, it's a big problem. I mean, public buildings is much easier to assess and retrofit because, maybe because you have one owner that you need to deal with. Now in the case of private buildings, we started gradually, so we started enforcing legislation about… so when, when you are increasing, when you upgrade, your building for energy efficiency, you are obliged to assess it for seismic design. Now this is a measure that has been proven to work, because a lot of financial support has been provided for energy upgrading of existing buildings, and in most cases this energy upgrading, is complemented by an assessment of the seismic capacity, and in some cases by the retrofitting of this building, given, if they have low seismic capacity. So this is one thing that we've tried to enforce through legislation.

The second is in case that you're adding additional floors, let's say to an existing building, so you are obliged to assess the building and retrofit it, in case it is needed. So, we are moving gradually towards, because these two cases, the energy upgrading and the adding of floors, they are very common cases in Cyprus at the moment, with existing buildings. So, we are using these, these factors let's say, to increase the information in the assessment of the existing buildings.

Third measure, let's say that we're trying to enforce, and we're at the final stages, is the certificate for each building. So, introducing a certificate for each building, which will provide information about this seismic capacity. It may not require an upgrading of the building, but at least it will provide information on the current state of the building as far as its seismic capacity is concerned. So in this case, if this starts to get enforced, if this gets enforced and we have information about the, the current state of the building stock, we will be able to find ways and concentrate on the most problematic cases and promote financial incentive for those cases, because at the moment there are a lot of private buildings, obviously, but maybe not most of them, do not really require significant upgrading, because they are low rise, because they are one floor, because they are two floors, because, for many reasons, so we are trying to enforce this certification. And through this certification we will get the opportunity to isolate and focus on specific building categories or even, on other areas in the island that need more attention. And they promote financial instruments, national financial instruments from the state to provide them with the opportunity to upgrade them.

Now all three of the measures that I have mentioned require that you have established methodologies for the assessment. So, if you are, what I've mentioned in my first, the, the first time we discussed this life-cycle cost analysis approach is favourable for such assessment, because you cannot ask an owner to upgrade its building to the full capacity of a new building. That could be one option, but it cannot be the only option, because you know, in all cases the question here is to minimize the risk and minimize the collapses. That is the question here, minimize the collapses and minimize the significant damages.

So, if we can bring our existing building stock to a level where we accept some sort of some damage levels after the earthquake, but we will not have collapse and significant damage, that is acceptable by the society. At least that is our understanding in Cyprus. I'm referring to how we deal with this here. So, we've, we have established methodologies, with various levels, so a first level methodology, a second level and third level. So the first level could be just, just to get an idea, an optical assessment, let's say, a visual assessment of the building stock and then identify which are the most vulnerable ones and move to the second stage of the assessment and then to the third stage of the assessment, that so, that is one of the instruments that we have provided, which is important, because in order to assess you need to have the appropriate instruments.

And the second instrument we have provided is the different levels of earthquakes that these buildings can be assessed. So, the owner, with the engineer can decide, given information about the earthquakes that may happen in the area and given information about the reduced hazard that can be accepted so as to prevent collapses and severe damage, they can decide which level of earthquake they want to assess their buildings for. So, they have learned ways of assessing it. They have various levels of earthquakes to decide, so an owner may decide that I will assess my building to have, let's say, the severity or the magnitude let say of a modern building and I will do that for 20 years and then I will come back and either find ways to retrofit again or I will throw it down and build a new one. I don't know, it's, it's a decision, that...

So we are providing this opportunity, and this is important because if you don't give them the opportunity to choose the level of seismic hazard that they should accommodate, and if you don't provide the engineers with various levels of assessment, instruments of assessment tools, the assessment of private buildings is very hard to take place, and I think that is, it will find many obstacles in the society. So, in, just to, just to conclude, yes, the professional bodies have a very crucial part to play in this process. They have very crucial parts to, in obtaining these methodologies and also in providing them with the acceptable hazard levels. And given that these are provided, I think that the state, the Parliament, and the other authorities will find it easier to adopt them and enforce them to the general public.

Bonello:

I actually just wanted to add a point on what, Professor Kyriakides was saying with respect to certification. I think it is actually an excellent opportunity to encourage and stimulate property owners to retrofit or to demolish and rebuild. Why am I saying this? Take our experience, for example, with respect to energy certification in buildings in Malta. As you know there is a European directive where at the sale of a property, on the contract the owner has to submit what is known as an energy performance certificate, an EPC. Now this EPC is usually prepared by an engineer who has been trained in the estimation of the thermal, the insulation properties of the materials used in the building and the walls, the roofs, the window and door apertures, etc. And eventually this certificate comes up with a certain value which is then recorded in a certificate. Now so far in the Maltese islands, there is no minimum requirement for energy performance. In the sense that when a property is sold, there is a performance certificate that is attached to the contract and that's it.

If you have a discerning owner, in other words, an owner who says I want value for money. So not only do I like the building as it is, but I also want to be sure that the certificate the energy performance certificate, is adequate so that I will obviously, avoid having considerable or significant heating costs or cooling costs during the use of the building, and therefore there could be owners and hopefully there will be owners who will give importance to this certificate. There could also be the case where, for example, at some point in time the Maltese authorities, say for buildings that have been, that are being built from 2021, for example, onwards, the minimum energy performance requirement shall be such, and therefore buildings not conforming to this standard will be, for example, certified as unusable, not habitable, which would be a huge, let's say, impact upon the developer.

For previous buildings, of course, one has to take the view of what the market forces will dictate. In other words, if a property is on the market, let's say two properties are on the market, same gross floor area, same, let's say, locality, but one which has a better energy performance certificate than the other, then one would expect that this is also reflected in the market price. Because the discerning owner will pay more for a well-designed building than for one which is not weld designed.

Where am I getting to this? What I'm trying to say, is, if this, reasoning is applied to seismic, certification, so if, let's say, the authorities say from now on, we shall require seismic certification, we should not put a minimum as yet for the older buildings, from this point onwards the minimum shall be satisfying the Eurocodes, for example. With respect to past buildings, there should be a certificate which will say whether or not the building is resistant to the design earthquake of the Maltese islands. So, a simple yes or no. So, imagine now the properties on the market, 2 buildings were the same or say, two properties with the same gross floor area, one which has a seismic resistant certificate and the one which does not, I would believe that the market forces will dictate that an owner should pay more for a well-designed building, OK? So, what does this mean?

If you have property owners who are lumped with a property that cannot sell because they do not have the required seismic certification, especially if the local society, the population becomes more aware of the need to have seismic resistant buildings, what is the developer going to do? One of two things. The developer is either going to retrofit the building, to upgrade the certification for seismic resistance or the developer is going to demolish the building and rebuild. When I say developer, this could also be an association of owners. Imagine that you have an association of owners of apartments in a block, that realize that their investment is hampered, is handicapped by the fact that their building is not seismic resistant? What do you think they will do? Well, if they are sensible, they will come together, agree amongst themselves. They will try and retrofit the building. In the extreme they will demolish the building, redevelop it and re-occupy the building.

Now of course who pays for those costs is another matter. They might decide to sue the previous architect and the previous owners or the previous developer for not constructing a building, which was seismic resistant. But my point is, the government has to be very careful, not to legislate and make seismic resistance, at least for the older buildings prescriptive. Because by doing so it will take upon itself also, the obligation to let's say assist or carry out those works itself, and that becomes tricky. So, I think the market forces can be a solution. So, I think I agree very much with Professor Kyriakides that certification can play a major role in encouraging property owners, at least of existing buildings, to retrofit, or to demolish and rebuild so that at least takes care of the big headache we have with private buildings of the past that need to be retrofitted and as far as new buildings are concerned, they have to and they must, and again, this is something that I'm working with the Building Construction Agency Authority in Malta, to issue guidelines in this respect, new buildings must satisfy the Eurocodes, end of story. We cannot have any derogations, OK? Because that that will spell disaster. So that's really what I, what I had to say about the, the way forward, at least on the Maltese islands.

Kyriakides:

And just to add very quickly to what Professor Bonello said, it's very, that's exactly, as I started thinking a bit behind our decision with for the certification, the classification in effect, it also provides the opportunity to the state, to the government, to identify the higher vulnerabilities, let's say. And that is crucial because you may have the financial instruments to promote a program for upgrading, but you need to spend them where it's needed, you need to spend them strategically. It doesn't… so you need to spend them given, based on risk-based analysis, on risk-based assessment, which is what we are discussing here. So, first of all, through this certification, these assessments will be conducted so, it will be identified. Plus, it would also provide the government, the authorities with an opportunity to modify their development plans for certain areas. Even there, their, our contingency plans. So it's crucial, as information both to the public obviously, and the construction industry, but also to the authorities and the government.

Jeanette:

That’s right. I think this conversation has brought to light many takeaways. Many bits of information for many stakeholders within the built environment because we've talked about, you know the effect of the public buying property. We've talked about the role of designers and how they should be approaching the design. We've also talked about risk, and therefore, you know, insurance and that other world, or another part of the built environment, and not least, the authorities. How the authorities can have a positive effect on this and how we can bring forward these certifications, these other ways of ensuring safety to our building stock, our existing and future building stock.

I would like to thank both of you for this podcast. It was very interesting, understanding the similarities yet differences between two very relatively close Mediterranean countries. So, thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you very much.

Our guests today were Professor Mark Bonello and Professor Nicholas Kyriakides, and you were listening to the human agenda. Thank you so much for joining us in this episode.

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September 10, 2021

Cities for sustainable and resilient communities

Transcript: 12 - Cities for sustainable and resilient communities — with Gemma John & Rachael Scicluna
Jeanette:

In today's episode we are joined by Gemma John and Rachael Scicluna. As an applied anthropologist, Gemma is passionate about helping businesses find ways to innovate whilst delivering social value. By starting with the question ‘What does it mean to be human?’, she researches how the real estate industry should respond to shifting consumer priorities and create new places and experiences that address urgent social, economic, and environmental challenges. As Founder and Director at Human City, she leads an interdisciplinary team that deploys human insight and business intelligence to help clients craft a sustainable and inclusive value proposition, capture new market opportunities, and deliver social benefits through the design and management of their property assets.

She recently worked with Alterx Asset Management to redesign Vicar Lane shopping centre and improve its positive impact on the people of Chesterfield, UK. She was commissioned by Bell Phillips Architects to provide input into a new form of metropolitan habitat at Meridian Water, and explore how the social benefits of the scheme could be evaluated to inform its viability. Prior to this, she was seconded to Lambeth Borough Council to redraft its inclusive growth strategy, and create a comprehensive and robust framework for monitoring sustainable growth throughout the borough.

She is a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts, Winston Churchill Fellow, and Honorary Research Fellow at University College London.

Rachael is an applied urban anthropologist and has conducted extensive research on the interrelationship between home, housing, and urban policy in relation to changing family patterns, modern home space, gender, sexuality and economy in England and Malta. She is currently based at the Ministry for Social Accommodation and Housing Authority as a Housing Policy and Strategy Development Consultant.

Rachael is also an active member of the Committee Bureau on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management within the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). She is also a Visiting Lecturer in the Faculty for the Built Environment, University of Malta, Malta.

Today's call will be focused on understanding what makes the community happy in the neighbourhood so that interdisciplinary design may aim its efforts towards sustainable and resilient communities.

So welcome, thank you so much for being here.

I would like to kick off this podcast today by discussing the city and what makes a city happy, but what makes people happy to live in a city? How is it related to a state of being? And how can we make a city more accessible to people?

Gemma maybe some initial thoughts on this please.

Gemma:

Absolutely yes. So uh, my answer to your question around how to redesign accessible places and spaces really was about thinking more broadly about who’s voice counts in decision making process. So how do we as decision makers ensure that we're not just thinking and listening to the leading-edge consumer, but actually broadening our understanding through speaking to those who aren't always included in decision making process and hearing voices that often are silent. So, think broadening our awareness of the publics and communities that should be involved in decision making and actually ensuring that there are they are part of the process.

Jeanette:

Yes, it's interesting that you say that, because there are these words tossing, being tossed around rather, sustainable and resilient, and they're being applied to communities.
And while maybe these are very familiar terms in anthropology, perhaps Rachael, would you be able to give us a background as to what classifies a community to be sustainable and resilient?

Rachael:

First of all, thank you for having me and inviting me and I would like to go back a little bit to what you started off with Jeanette, which is happiness, right? What makes and contributes to happiness? You know when it comes to any form of community, and I think it's a very politically- and culturally-loaded term which can't quite be explained, you know, in terms of the intangible. However, what I often like to do is to unpack such terms as, which, as you said, they're quite loaded. So, what does it mean to be happy, sustainable, and resilient when it comes to a community? I believe that this requires a clutch of different forces which come together. So, first and foremost, I believe that one way of going about it would be to have, for example, compassionate and proactive leadership when it comes to community and the community building. What are the needs, desires and wants of that community? So, we require that, for example, we have affordable housing policy which is both inclusive and accessible. But how do we get to that? How do we translate those needs and wants? So that to me is detrimental on the quality and type of leadership that is employed.

And another aspect which I am very much for, would be engagement. So, what does it mean? How does engagement look like or how does it feel? We tend to often look at GDP however we tend to side-line all the sentiments that come, you know, with engagement and which truly make a society or a community happy. So, the collaborative aspect needs to be an interdisciplinary and it needs to be also ethical when it comes to research, and we need to put accountability, you know, into the process itself. So, listening and planning and translation then go hand-in-hand with leadership and engagement. On the other hand, you mentioned resilience, so resilience is also dependable on other, you know, sectors, for example health, we have inclusive infrastructural design, good standards, the social value. There's a whole list that we can take, that we can incorporate. However that list needs to be then incorporated into a long-term strategic vision. So that is to me how you reach through a clutch of different forces and approaches towards what we like to refer to in anthropology perhaps as a culturally sensitive approach.

Jeanette:

Brilliant and I don't know Gemma would you have anything that you'd like to add to these definitions of sustainable and resilient, when it comes to communities?

Gemma:

I think I would take it further again, which is actually ‘what do we mean by community?’. I'm sorry to be annoying, but I think anthropologists are really good at unpacking the familiar, and I think that's kind of part of this conversation really is, is what do we take as familiar concepts that actually need to be unpacked a little bit in order to ensure that what we're doing is meaningful, you know, for a broader range of broader number of people in a broader audience.

So, community is what makes a community. What holds a community together? There are communities and so how do we understand and appreciate what and how communities come together? What keeps them together? What's the stickiness that that holds them in place? And I think that really needs to be understood in the context of sustainability and resilience actually. So, you know, understanding communities and how they get formed and forged and reformed is part of the ambition to ensure there is sustainability and resilience, and then that can be achieved through understanding the makeup of communities.

And of course, now we have an online presence as well as offline, so it's not just physical communities - we’re thinking about that sleeping how people interact online and public and private dynamics across different spaces to really articulate how there are communities and subcommunities and various layers and kind of strata that exist in the context of any place.

Jeanette:

Indeed, and these communities are within their environment. We've talked about the physical as well as the online environment. If I were to just hone in a bit more about the physical environment and how people are, you know, behaving within their homes, within their neighbourhood, within their town, maybe city. There are various stakeholders at play that you know or various people that are involved in making a community and then ensuring that the Community is a healthy one. There are when the people themselves, to start off with, without which we wouldn't have a community. There are the designers that design homes, design places where people can work and enjoy themselves. We have real estate developers who are going to be the people who are going to be investing in these projects. We've got governments. There is a lot of people involved in making a community happy and healthy, so to speak. So, if we were to focus on most of these roles, what do you think would provide better housing, better commercial spaces, better public areas?

Gemma your thoughts.

Gemma:

I think in many respects there has to be a meeting of minds around these issues, and I think at the moment more often than not there are separate conversations taking place around some of these issues. So not to say that very quite simply take the private and public sector right, not to say that the private and public sectors disagree on what needs to happen; it's just there isn't really a common language, and we talked about Jeanette language earlier in one of our conversations, you know, there are multiple experts involved in these debates, and actually each expert has a very different kind of language that they bring to these problems. And so, quite simply across the private and public sector, you know, we could be talking about social infrastructure but mean very different things when we talk about that.

So, there are particular moments when communities and sorry experts have to get come together to explore and explain what local need looks like, but that's in very specific ways, for very specific parts of the decision-making process, so in context of planning, for example and planning decisions. But I think that conversation could be happening earlier on and more regularly so that there's more of a road map, certainly on the part of the public sector to kind of to illuminate what they mean by social infrastructure, what they mean by local need because local government tends to hold huge amounts of data and have very great clarity on what local need is and how to meet it. Uhm, that's quite often that data is not available in a translatable format for the private sector to kind of work with that. So I think there needs to be a way of coming together and much more seamlessly and regularly to explore and expand on what we mean by some of these things we've been exploring, such as sustainable communities and resilient communities, and so forth.

Jeanette:

This brought to mind some of our conversations that I had with Rachael that depending on what we mean by interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary design and how we can get different people from different walks of life, different professionals come together at an early stage. Rachael from your experience locally, where are we at with this? Are we still in infancy stage? Are we already understanding the benefits of having such an open conversation right from the beginning of a project?

Rachael:

This is a very very good question, and locally I think we're starting to recognize the beauty that there is in, you know, taking a more of a holistic approach and an interdisciplinary approach. I think what we require locally because we are a young nation, right? We're shifting from a very informal type of society towards a more policy-based, human rights-based, type of society and that requires some training at, you know, the collective level so what does it mean to have you know these rights? And how you implement them. But it's also needs to come from above, so the below and the top you know approaches need to come together and you often require a cultural what I like to call mediator in order to address these similarities and differences between different types of governance because ultimately, we are dealing with an issue of good governance and how does it look like, but how it can be then implemented.

So, in the local context, I believe that it's the implementation phase that we need to really, really push forward and find ways of doing it alongside not only alongside, but hand in hand with our diverse communities. We have always been diverse locally, but nowadays you know the we haven't as yet somehow come to terms with the fact that we have a different kind of ethnic minorities now so how do we deal with that at a governance level in order to keep harmony with you know, between different communities. And that requires an implementation which to me finds - it should find - its roots in for example uhm, a regulated housing system, right? Because if you don't have maybe a light touch, you know, regulated system. If you don't have good standards, if you don't have, you know, and I don't know good amenities and then you're going to have a failure you know when it comes in the housing industry, because it all depends on accessing on accessibility of the rights to housing and how that would look like.

So in my opinion, and this is what Malta right now and requires – it’s this exchange between different disciplines but not to assimilate, you know, so not to collapse and lose sight of where you're coming from as a discipline, but to have that exchange and respect the differences in methodologies as well, because ultimately it is about trying to find a methodology that works for our current situation.

Jeanette:

Indeed, and you've touched on well, you both touched on something, which is, I think is very important. This matter of language: language, meaning communication is not just speaking English without speaking within the same frequency, the same thought processes and how these can come together. And I've seen that certain areas of our cities are being transformed in ways that perhaps are not really tailor-made for we are calling sustainable and resilient communities, and one of the buzzwords that is going around as well is another buzzword, gentrification, when the low income households are forced out of their communities and you know we get these boutique places and everything that is quite shiny and new. And I have to say that I was very worried and I'm a bit dismayed at a comment by a local entrepreneur when I mean local - Maltese entrepreneur - talking about a real estate development and he said ‘you can only make money with people that have the money’. And this really worried me from a personal point of view, from a designer point of view that you know, I would like to do something for my community and pushing them out as something that I wouldn't want to do, but from an anthropological point of view, if I may ask this - should cities become boutique and inaccessible for people? Because in my opinion I think we should you know, try and consider everyone and design for everyone and pull these people out of their low-income background perhaps, but what would the result of that be? Are we going to break up communities? What are your thoughts Gemma on this?

Gemma:

Yeah, it's always a catch 22, isn't it? Because it doesn't matter what your starting point is that if there is success, it's bound to attract wealth, right? And so therefore you know, your the consequences of success is that quite often you've got rising prices and you know kind of consequences are that people end up if you started living in place or working in the place can't live there anymore.

So take an example here and where I'm based currently in South Africa and there's an example in Johannesburg of a developer bringing forward a retail development and providing space for local communities, particularly core creatives and entrepreneurs, to really develop their business skills and create new businesses in the context of this retail space that ultimately then would become occupiers. So you know, thinking about your I guess your grass roots businesses that then ultimately then become occupiers in a kind of now a commercial retail outlet. And that's been very successful, because of course it's been a way of, you know, providing opportunity to those who maybe furthest from the job market in a specific local context and also it's been a win-win for both the developer and the community, because the developer still gets longer term, you know good, you gets great tenants who are connected to the community and actually, you know, over the long term, get some you know pretty decent return and predictable return because you know the offering is very much, all the assets very much embedded in local community need.

And so that's kind of success story of how development can be a way of supporting economic growth in a specific local area and the challenges that, of course, is attracted, this specific development has attracted other developers to come forward, and they're being adjacent buildings now attracting, increase footfall and prices start going up of not only of price of rent, but housing prices and so forth end up going up because the area is overall becoming a better place to be, and a better and nicer place to to live in.

And so, what are the consequences of that? Well, the existing tenants potentially have to move on because they can't afford the rent anymore and you know, you can see the scenario kind of spiralling. So, I think it's trying to contain regeneration so that it benefits those that need to be benefitted. It doesn't mean that others are penalized I think it's a really difficult thing to do, but I think it can be done if you ensure that rents are capped and that there is some kind of agreement around what areas and where there is possibility for increase and I guess how to ensure that there's still affordability and these spaces are still affordable for those who most need them to be affordable, whilst where there is growth, that the growth happens and that developers can benefit from that. But I think that has to be very, there has to be clear on the part of the developer what they are prepared to do and might require some kind of public sector intervention to ensure that rents are capped for those that are most needy of affordable opportunities. So, I think it's a really, really difficult one, but I think it has to be a mix of policy and a mix of private sector. I guess impacts and business models.

Jeanette:

Rachael, what are your thoughts on that?

Rachael:

Yeah, I mean gentrification often has you know a negative connotation to it. However, I believe I go back to what I said earlier, you know, it's how things are done, how things are implemented.
If gentrification had to take seriously both the social and physical side of infrastructure then I believe it could reach a harmonized, a relationship between the different stakeholders of the public, the private and the non-governmental stakeholders as well, including the government. Because to me ultimately infrastructure… What is infrastructure right? What we're dealing with this aspect, as I mentioned earlier, it's both social and physical, however, we must, and I think this is my call, in general, that we must see infrastructure as part of a complex web of relations, you know of why their society, whether it's you know, coming from different cultural backgrounds, different diverse communities as we mentioned earlier, so it can really be the glue of society. To me infrastructure is the enabler of social cohesion, but it requires a well-regulated system, and it also requires compassionate governance. I move away from the term of participatory governance because like resilience and sustainability, become a buzzword, to me it must be compassionate and meaningful, so it must be true and accountable to the needs of society, because ultimately, we're dealing with issues that are related to the government and of course, the state the government is there to serve the people.

So, in my opinion, and we need to again bring these aspects together where we start it off from the beginning of having this cross-sectoral, and interdisciplinary approach, in order to have more community engagement, which ultimately would lead to human flourishing. So, infrastructure could be a connector, like it could promote this type of community engagement, it would promote human flourishing and it could also connect green infrastructure, our ecosystem, because we tend to side-line the fact that infrastructure needs to be part of the ecology, of the ecosystem.

Jeanette:

So, we were talking about the gentrification - how part of the community sections of the community, the low income, the high income, how we can design for both, and as Gemma was saying, it is a very difficult thing to do because you're trying to reconcile almost two different parts of the society together. But if we were to add into the mix cultural diversity, social inclusion, cohesion within the city. It's very difficult to understand how this is going to come about. And I was wondering whether you could perhaps shed some light to as designers as to what we should be taking into consideration when designing spaces to cater for social inclusion and cultural diversity.

Gemma:

Yeah, it's a great question, and we're increasingly necessary to ask ourselves that question as part that you know, aspects of cities are becoming increasingly diverse, but also desperate at the same time.

So, I'm thinking of a project I'm working on in London at the moment and a part of London that is undergoing change because it's attracting a lot of wealth to the area, but of course it's also creating this disconnection between those that are wealthy and those that maybe our existing residents and haven't really benefited from wealth creation. And so, at the same time you've got increased diversity where you've got parts of cities now becoming increasingly mixed not only in terms of age, but also in terms of ethnic background and heritage, and they're not being spaces necessarily for people to spend time together in kind of very much mixed and inclusive ways. And many of the developments being brought forward are quite often more mostly commercially-led, which means there's an emphasis on there being a retail and leisure and recreation opportunities or facility amenities such as cinemas and and you know, so forth.

So, the emphasis being on, you know, acquiring a higher cost of living to use some of these places being brought forward, and that are very much supposed to be about, uh, providing leisure and cultural opportunities and cohesion. So, I think there needs to be a consideration of what really brings people together. How do you ensure that there are places that people can use that are encouraging and supportive with mixed use and inclusive development and diversity?

And some of these don't require much design, you know there are literally about just providing space for people to spend time together. If you look at the data and I think the data here is really useful. If you look at the data and I'm just talking about some of the data routinely collected in the UK and it will be also collected in elsewhere. If you look at the data in terms of how people spend leisure time, actually a lot of most people, certainly under the age of 35 spend their leisure time hanging out with friends, right? You know they don't spend the time going to the cinema or you know, shopping. They actually just hang out with friends and family. So how do we provide what kind of spaces do we need to provide so that people can spend time with family and friends. In the context of cities where there's decreased amount of free public space and homes are getting smaller, right? So what does that kind of communal space look like? That maybe there is an in between space, neither not in your home nor really kind of in the public realm, but it's something in between that enables people to spend time together across age groups and across ethnic backgrounds and to really support that diversity that's emerging in cities.

Jeanette:

Speaking about social and sociable spaces, these areas that we're talking about having people from different walks of life, the different backgrounds to be able to use these areas, which are neither in the public realm and neither private. But all of this is complementary to retail and commercial spaces, which are now revitalizing town centres and I wonder Rachael if you can give us some insight on how we can make social spaces more affordable, maybe even looking into affordable and accessible housing? And what does the data say people need? Do they need informal spaces, domestic spaces? How can spaces be equitable? There are many questions that come out of this, but maybe some initial thoughts.

Rachael:

Yeah, sure, it's a very very important question, especially as you know communities or the population demographics of cities is going to increase, so migration is shifting more towards urban zones, so we definitely need to ensure that these spaces are speaking to the people that are dwelling in such spaces in the 21st century. So, one way of going about it, and which is often which has proven to be successful, goes back again to what type of methodology one is using in order to understand these diverse needs. So, for example let's take into consideration teenagers. What do teenagers need in a society, especially one like Malta and many other European cities, is quite car-centric? Or children as well - where do they find space to create their own sense of belonging, identity, and community? And one way is to actually hang out or immerse yourself with these different sub communities and listen carefully to what they require.

For example, a recent study has shown that young teenage girls would love to have swings and playing fields. So, how can you create a space that is accessible and safe so that young teenage girls are feeling, do feel comfortable to hang out in a city which is often quite androcentric, and male dominated. So how can we move away from you know the obvious, or that we take for granted, and this goes back to how we started off to question the familiar. And I think one way is to actually design smaller, small-scale, spaces that are interconnected so they create a sense of inquisitiveness. They create a sense of belonging and safety. Because let’s face it, if you have a football match going on an open space, you're obviously side-lining people who are, for example, visually impaired, older people, perhaps families with children. So how can we ensure that these spaces are supportive and embracing and nurturing of our diverse communities?

And I think the mistake that we have made in the 20th century is that we thought that social mix is the way forward. Indeed, it is, but it should not erase the needs of specific communities and so to me it's about integration and not assimilation. So, having say an open space, which is perhaps too, I don't know, broad and open might not solve the issue, but I believe that we need to have spaces where each group could feel familiar, could recognize a little bit of themselves. And that is where equity comes in, because you're taking into consideration accessibility, needs, so you often put what I like to refer to as the periphery as your yardstick. So, your periphery should be your measuring stick and not for example, the able-bodied or the white privileged person at the centre of your vision or of places. So you know this is one way of, in my opinion, of how we can bring communities together, but at the same time remain true to their desires and aspirations.

Jeanette:

Yes, and in fact this ties in with the conversation we had on the intersectional approach. I remember we talked about this space, which is influenced by, you know, different relations of power, so to speak.

Gemma following on what Rachael just says. Do you have any further thoughts?

Gemma:

Yeah, I mean this is some relationship of power is a really, it's a really interesting one and it's being explored increasingly in cities. So, decision making is taken quite seriously and I'm talking about the London mayor because I'm familiar with the UK context. Taking quite seriously what power looks, what power dynamics look like, particularly between decision makers, you know, developers or other decision makers and communities.

And actually who - and get back to what we were saying at the beginning - which is who’s voice counts and who really gets to be part of that decision making process and so, ensuring that power dynamics are understood and transparent. So, where there is power that, that there is that dynamic is made transparent, but also there is some increased autonomy are possible if at all possible. But through increased participation, through increased transparency, through increased accountability that actually come that there are processes and structures in place for development to happen in much more of a public forum, in the much as part of a public discussion. And that in the context of the UK has been taking place through discussions like statement of community participation or community involvement, which are clear statements being proposed that the lobby, that are being lobbied for, that the mayor has and stands by and then is used as a kind of best practice tool of best practice in the context development and there are others beginning to campaign on this basis to certainly get certain kinds of voices into the room. So particularly youth and young people who've been being perceived to be most marginalized by COVID and the impact on the economy will affect them probably the greatest, uhm, arguably, and so actually, how do you ensure that when developments are being brought forward, the voices of young people are very much part of that conversation around, you know what's in their interests and what would be beneficial to them not just now, but moving into the future.

So, I think we were talking about intersectionality I think in an earlier call, so it's not just young people, it's obviously LGBTIQ people, it's about, it's going back to their different diversity and inclusion question of ‘what are the intersections between different groups’ and ‘how do we cater for those people at the intersection’ as well as obviously for very specific categories that in a sense are in many respects, uhm, false categories. They're convenient truths. They're not actually reality, so I think Rachael could probably talk to that intersectionality a little bit more.

Jeanette:

Yes, I was reading a case study in Glasgow where they're using the Place Principal – a principal, uhm, in which everybody works with the assets and managers, communities and spaces and they work together rather than in the isolation and the community needed to get used to these certain principles so that they can really benefit from it.

May be Gemma, from a UK point of view, it's something that even the UK will be trying to implement.

Gemma:

I think so yeah, you have to forgive me. I haven't. I would have to look up the Place Principle. I think I've come across it many years ago many months ago, but I think it's a framework, isn't it?
For participation, yeah. So, I've seen that and actually I've used that as a model for advocating how decision making happens in the context of architectural design, so actually, how do you ensure? Or how does one support as practitioners and Rachael and I are practitioners in this space? How do we support others, other experts?

I guess, kind of build in certain considerations into their decision making, so in the context of architecture and planning, it's actually how do you help architects and planners appraise options according to locals and and/or social need. As well as according to other considerations like technical and financial needs. So, I think the Place Principle really helps with that, because it really identifies what human need looks like in a generic sense and then you know provides practices with the tool for consideration or certainly for discussion around how to incorporate or address some of those needs in a very much a practical way as part of design development and options appraisal.

I mean, I work near a social value and it's similar in that respect which is you want creates that social value framework that also helps create enable decision making at an early stages of design development to ensure that social value is considered as part of and during the exploration process and phase and as part of the evaluation of various options as well as financial considerations and other much more technical considerations. So you know these frameworks and policies really help with supporting a discussion that is not a science it's very much an art. Is about balancing of multiple interests, and I think particular when it comes to social value or community need because they are going back to what we're saying about communities there are multiple and sometimes conflicting interests in the context of the same sites, so actually whose interests do you prioritize? You know which group and whose interests hold more value than others? And I think that's a really difficult dynamic. But I think these frameworks that are being brought forward help architects and developers, planners to tread that line more carefully.

Jeanette:

Yes, and one of the most important aspects is that I believe is that the society in which we'll be applying this in needs to be open-minded enough to be able to participate.

Rachael, perhaps, could you shed light on this aspect of how willing would the Maltese community be to partake in such an initiative?

Rachael:

Yeah, this is a very valuable and important question and I think we need to again differentiate between the type of societies that we are referring to. For example, we referring to the United Kingdom or other Nordic countries. They are imperial societies, so they have, you know, had a different kind of expertise even of participation-wise. In Malta we're at a very different stage, remember our past history for the past 5000 years has been that we have been colonised. So only now we're finding our feet that were actually leading, so we've become leaders as well of our own nation, and that needs to be taken very much, taken into consideration and appreciated that we are still finding to some extent our feet. So how does participation look like? You know, in a country in a nation state that is, you know, a young nation as opposed to a nation which has been there before. So in in my opinion it's like from whose perspective are we implementing this Place Principle and participation.

So that is why in the beginning I go back to what I said earlier and what we require is how to implement because this is something that as a country, we still need more experience of. We need more training even at, you know at the higher, the state level. So, my call would be to have more social scientists, you know who have the right kind of expertise to implement such methodologies, and again to have this as you said earlier Jeanette, you know to be open to this form of debate instead of, you know, taking it perhaps from a different perspective of negative criticism. So, in my opinion, we need to move towards more of a balanced, harmonious and form of governance but what I think is important across, I think across the globe, and I think this is we're starting to move away from this linear and masculinist form of leadership. And I think we need to shift more towards the politics of nurturance in order to sustain and enhance diverse communities but also ultimately, uh, I believe that it's all about human flourishing, so we must take that into consideration in our framework.

Jeanette:

Yes, so I would ask the very difficult question now. I was wondering whether you know of a single great idea, so to speak, a silver bullet, that would make our cities better, and if so, how would we go about implementing it?

Gemma:

Goodness, that's a massive question. Uhm, I think I think, Uhm, I hate this phrase, but I can't think of another one the moment which is ‘joined-up thinking’. We have to think. I think what Rachael and I've been saying all along, is that there's a tendency to simplify, and decompartmentalize in order to resolve problems, and I think actually, you know there is value in the messiness, there's value in and seeing that there are connections where we don't want to see connections, and there's value in seeing issues as being entangled and in a way that can't be separated, and then the question is how do we address that entanglement?

So, I think this goes back to and another phrase I don't like, but it kind of it resonates a lot at the moment with the industry, which is ‘systems thinking’ or ‘systemic approach to problem-solving’ which is seeing not categories of person or even kind of sectors in the context of the built environment not seeing separation but actually connection where we need to see connection to resolve problems. And that goes back to, which also thinking about the experts that need to be in the room and I think there's a real value in having social scientists in the room and seeing that there is expertise attached to the social that requires some scientists in the conversation around change and change making in the built environment.

Jeanette:

Rachael, if I may ask you the same question, your silver bullet.

Rachael:

It is not an easy question to answer, so I would take it: First of all that it should be always contextual. This question should actually be asked every so often as we progress in our history, and I think what, how I would go about it is by the phrase of ‘small is beautiful’ and what do I mean by that? I believe that perhaps what we, what the world requires is going to have to move away from grand, you know, shiny projects and instead it should move away, it should move towards smaller projects that are tangible and that they put the person at the centre of its framework. So again, I would say and repeat myself that needs, desires, and wants should be at the core of such projects, but I would go for long-term and cross-sectoral projects that are holistic and that they are achievable and doable and that they could have, you know, a meaning both for this state but also for the people that are involved that they can see themselves in that project. It also becomes their own projects, and instead of, you know, waiting, you know for the state to do it for them. So I think this is how I would go about it. Small is beautiful.

Jeanette:

Joining us today was Gemma Jones and Rachael Scicluna, and you were listening to ‘The Human Agenda’. Thank you so much for joining us in this episode.

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September 3, 2021

The importance of graphic design in today’s society

Transcript: 11 - The Importance of graphic design in today's society — with Joseph Scerri
Luis:

Our guest today is Joseph Scerri. Joseph Scerri is a Maltese award-winning graphic designer and illustrator. He emigrated to Toronto (Canada) in 1982 where he worked with the design house – Rous Mann & Brigdens. He returned to Malta in 1987 and worked in different design studios until 2011. He established his graphic design atelier in 2014. He describes himself as a resourceful and passionate. The purpose of this call is to bring awareness about the importance of graphic design today and how the industry has changed over the years, so that brands and people have a much greater understanding of the importance of our profession and our role in society.

So, Joseph, thank you for joining us today.

Joseph:

You are welcome.

Luis:

I would like to start today's conversation with your story. Your first steps in the industry.

Joseph:

Ok, yeah. I left my secondary education in 1971. Before that I already had some knowledge of graphic design. My dad was a graphic designer himself. He's been, I’ve heard this from different people who have been in the same [industry] that my dad was, actually one, if not the first, one of the first graphic designers in Malta, as we know them today. You know using different methods and using different tools, etc. So, I was still in my nappy when I was going around his drawing board and see his Indian ink and his ball pen and his ‘Letraset’.

So, by the time I left school I had this knowledge of graphic design. Besides that, I used to as, you know, Malta is a football-mad country. I used to do all these club badges in gouache and sell them for extra pocket money. So, I already was like honed into design. But when I left school in 1971 immediately, in those days my dad was employed with Malta Crown Corp, which was the only tin printer in Malta. And, because I was still young, you know, and for me not to stay loitering, running after girls, my dad said ‘You have to come and work where I'm working’. He was like the chief designer there, so I went there, and I learned a lot because they had tin printing thing and I was doing design because they had a little shop for screen printing and I was managing this shop going to the designs and learning etcetera, etcetera. After that, immediately I left and I went to a local printer, which was, I think in Dormax. I think he's still around or his children, and after that immediately I went to Giovanni Muscat who was a reknowned printer in Valletta doing design again and some lithography. Things like ‘Rapido’ graphs and film making, things like that, so I learned hands-on these things.

In 1980 there was a major breakthrough for me because I that was the year… It was actually 1979-1980. Yeah, that was the year where I joined ‘Perfecta’. They're still around and that was the first time as I joined the studio as a graphic designer. And actually, in those days what it wasn't even called graphic design, it was called graphic artists. Because the designer had to be an artist, you know. I can come back [to that] later.

In 1982-83 I took a risk and I immigrated to Canada. I still had my daughter was like one year or two-year-old I think, and I said, let's I had all the I papers in place because I had a trade. I had a place that I saw then I had money, so the Canadians said ‘OK, you can come we don't need anything’, but again, this was a lucky break because I believe in these things, and I met a great creative director there. Immediately, it was ‘boom’, that's it. That's the Rous Mann & Brigdens. Today he's near the big designers up there was they popped off, I think 15 years ago, but he loved my work. In, those days, my portfolio was a bit of haphazardly made up, I wasn't like, you know, over there all the designers were running with these big bags, you know.

Luis:

Hehe, yes!

Joseph:

So, yeah, and he told me ‘Joe one thing I will tell you fix your portfolio because you have great work, but you won't have time to explain to clients if they're not put in proper’ and I said ‘OK, Jim’, but anyway. In Toronto I had four - five years, which were very well. I had my work exhibited at the Toronto Directors Club. I had the awards from the printing industries of America, so it was very good.

In ’87 I decided to come back to Malta and obviously with a portfolio of Canadian work, coming to Malta, I mean, I was in request in those days and immediately I was employed with ‘Promotion Services’.

In those days ‘Promotion Services’ (I'm saying ‘Promotion Services’, then it turned out to be ‘Miranda publications’). They are the guys who do all these beautiful big coffee table books. But I spent there 13 years and obviously in 13 years we did a lot of work, you know, book design, a lot of promotional material, a lot of corporate design. And by the way in Toronto, my main work was in annual report design because basically the job I did at Rous Mann & Brigdens - corporate design was their line.

When I came here, I then continued where I left with ‘Perfecta’ and I was doing advertising too because over here was, you know, as you all know the designer has to be a corporate designer, has to be an illustrator, he has to be a copywriter, you know, an ad-man and he has to write copy. I know I'm seeing you smiling because you know.

I left ‘Promotion Services’ in 2000. And it was a bit of a risky move. Actually, ‘Promotion Services’ were toning down their work. They were like going more into publication. And at that time Marc Spiteri of MAS, I don't know if you know him, he is still a very good friend of mine. He was a young entrepreneur who had established MAS.

MAS was quite a big advertising agency and had some big clients, some big accounts, mainly HSBC which in those days in 2000 was acquired in Malta, they had bought of Mid Med Bank and I went to MAS and this was quite a shock for me because I was already about, I think 45 [years old] and I joined this studio with a lot of young designers, you know, a lot of new coming out of school. So, for me, but Marc wanted, Marc had an idea, he said ’I want your experience to influence these young designers‘ And unfortunately, I'm not a slave driver, I mean my character is quiet and amicable and I told Marc listen…Anyway there were four fruitful years. We did some really good advertising, really good, and I have to say it in this thing, in this podcast, Marc always had respect for the designer in the way that the designer his idea was obsolete. If the idea is good and it works the client should buy it if not, no. You know. And that that was his philosophy, and it was quite rare in those days, and it's very rare today as you well know.

In 2004 I left MAS and I joined BPC, which are now still operating. Again BPC, the HSBC accounts moved onto BPC. BPC knew I was working on that account and a post came up and I applied, and they took me like, yeah. Always I was paid always extremely well in those days. The salaries were fantastic. I mean, I was earning 30+K. Basically I mean. But anyway in 2011 that's seven years after there was a small crisis in Malta where there was that upheaval in Libya, you know and the company wasn't doing that well and I was made redundant, that was because I was, 58 [years old]. I only had three years left to get my pension. So, you can imagine. I tried to fit in. I actually had jobs here and there, but I couldn't fit in in another studio. It was too much for me to take and I had problems even health-wise. It affected me a lot. But anyway, that's life and you have to just take it on the chin.

You know, and in 2014, I said, well, [let me] start doing some stuff on my own, you know, trying to do some illustrations but now I'm more of a painting-illustrator rather than designer. Sometimes I get some old guys, listen Joe, I need a good Iogo I want I know that you're great creating logos but believe you me, I mean, there's so much competition out there and so many cut-throats and everybody cutting prices and I don't want to be a prostitute after all. I mean, you know I just want to do a good job and that's the way I want to leave it.

Well, that is my now I'm just doing painting Chinese painting. Have wanted to as I'm doing sketching everyday so I hone in my skills. You know to keep me aware and to keep me well, so I won't get the dementia in my old age.

Luis:

What a story! Many times, we have to make decisions that allow us to keep growing in the profession. And this is not easy. It's not just about learning how to use the tool, you also have to observe, listen and learn from other professionals in order to really gain experience. I have often been asked how much time I have to invest to get to a good level, the reality is that it takes a few years. It is not something that will happen overnight and not everything applies in the same way for everyone.

You mentioned the experience you had at MAS and how the voice of the designer was taken into consideration. This is something I've been talking about for a while now. The designer has a lot to contribute, not only the creation, but also ideas and opinions.

You also touched on how important it is for you to keep moving, whether it's learning new techniques or creating illustrations to keep your mind healthy. There is no better therapy than one that not only helps you but also fulfils you and makes you happy.

Also, you mentioned that many of your colleagues while you were in Canada always had a suitcase with all their work in it as a portfolio. Nowadays it's a simple pdf. How have things changed in Malta from the graphic design perspective?

Joseph:

Ok, yes. Definitely, it has changed. The tools have changed since. I am lucky enough that I've started like even the ‘Rapido’ graphs were not invented when I started. Letraset was in it is infancy. You know, so I had to do lettering by hand. I was lucky then that I things started to come in line, and ‘Rapido’ graph and things like that. In the meantime, in 2000 when the Mac came, and it was a revolution, and the revolution was because you were in control of everything. Before that you had to check your copy, make your calculations where the computer “paper computer” it was like, you know, what you have to tell the typographer “I want this 10 on 13 Helvetica light” You know a tight but not touching kerning and you calculate and you actually get the actual copy, the copy then you get the copy you do put cow gum or wax and you build up your layout and prepare it for printing. Today, that is you know. I mean, today is easy. I mean today I mean designers can't grumble at all. But the advent of the computer especially, I mean the Mac, has a revolutionized everything, but it has made designers lazy, and I will tell you why… Besides making designers lazy, it made clients more arrogant. Sorry to all clients.

So, you had to be skilled. You had to be an artist. Besides, when I was in Toronto, I had a good, another good, art director who was an excellent marker render. I've never seen marker renderings like this guy. A friend of mine, Myron Lasko. He was phenomenal. So, I learned to do a rendering like this for clients. Ok. Marker render, hand lettering etc before the computer. So, the change has been phenomenal and for us old designers it was a godsend because you don't, before you had to go to the typographer and see that he does, it doesn't swap your type. Now you come in. Now what's happening, people have all the types, you know there are many, their type menu in Quarks hits the floor probably. You know it's so big. They are stretching, pulling. The atrocities I see in type. Especially over here in this country [Malta] it is abominable. It is immense.

You know, before you knew how to you know you had six seven different fonts and you know how to design with them. You learned how to, if you have a family and you knew that this whole family, you have 10 fonts and you had a beautiful design with them. So anyway, so it's had the advantages, but it has its disadvantages too. As I'm saying I mean, clients now pretend, one client once said “even my kid could do that” not the computer. I said, ’that's it, give it to your kid‘. You know, because clients tend to be patronisers a bit, you know.

Luis:

So, this is basically the fault of the client or is the fault of the graphic designer per se?

Joseph:

It depends. If you're working in a studio and I worked in a studio where the client has the last say, even if he's throwing it up, excuse my English, and I'm seeing this even today on some ads. I'm seeing ads and I said I say, ‘oh, this is really nice’. I'm seeing ad right now I'm not mentioning any names, OK? of an insurance company going on. It's very very nice. Very nice and very well produced. And the idea, the concept, because advertising is a concept. No matter how many flashes and how many dancers you get at holding… If it doesn't have a concept, it's not good. A concept that you remember. In 30 years’ time I still remember a Budweiser ad. You know? Anyway, I'm seeing ads from local pop, local companies I don’t want to... Their adverts are horrible – horrible – and I'm sure probably the client wants that, and you can't say ‘no’ because you're employed. I can't tell the guy ‘go to hell’. But I'll get fired, obviously. But I mean sometimes then if you have your own atelier, then it's up to you and say, ‘hey stop look, is this worth it?’ You explained to him you give him a rationale why you did this, how did you it. What was the process? How have you come to this? Show me your sketches. I tell them ‘listen, that's how we came up with this’ and your client will say ‘this guy knows his s***’ and I'm saying this through experience.

Luis:

I agree with what you have just said, however, I believe it is the responsibility of all 3 parties: the agency, the designer, and the client. The agency should have a process that allows the client to be involved from start to finish. The designer should be able to communicate the reasons that led to that solution, or as you put it ‘concept’. As you mentioned a moment ago, "if it doesn't have a concept, a reason for existence, then that solution is not good", no matter how pretty it looks. In the case of the client, they must understand that their role is to provide information, to participate in the entire process, take decisions and to be open to ideas.

It is disappointing to hear from a client "that his son can do the same job". What they are not understanding, let's take the creation of a logo as an example, is that in order to come up with that solution (logo) it takes more than just drawing. It requires research, it requires knowing the industry, your customers, the reason why your company exists.

Much of the responsibility for the profession being in the state it is in at the moment lies with us. We don't value what we do, and we often see the profession as something banal or just something to make money. There is no love, no passion.

On this basis I would like to ask what is the role of a graphic designer in a society? The reason I ask this is because in the end what we create, be it posters, billboards, packaging, has an impact on society.

Joseph:

Ok, yeah today more than any other time the designer is almost an educator. And we're seeing this with the environment today. If the designer doesn't think in that sense for example, my big question to young designers is this: If you have a client that he's selling a soft drink that you know it's harming people, will you design for him? Or that you know that he's hurting the environment big time, will you design for him? I think today more than ever… I have to mention this.

Luis:

Please do.

Joseph:

Have you seen the Ronaldo ad?

Luis:

I saw the Ronaldo ad.

Joseph:

I loved it. He's got 80 million subscribers on his channel, ok, on Instagram. I mean and it was so powerful that that company lost 20 or millions or how much on the stock exchange. That's how powerful it is. No, he didn't do anything this guy, he didn't design a poster, but he did what he felt is right for humanity. Now the designer and we've seen posters I mean if you go to the famous Polish posters, their exhibitions are phenomenal, you know. The Latin American posters I always mention. They've made the revolutions with them. So now it's even more. We can't keep on saying, you know, ‘uh, nice, pretty, good’ - it has to have a voice. It has to be an agent of change. If the designer today is not an agent of change, he will be failing his mission.

Personally, I can't start restart my career. You know. If I restart my career, that would be my mission.

Luis:

Should that be the mission of every graphic designer?

Joseph:

Exactly.

Luis:

I mean, I understand that we need a salary. But I think that the communities, that people also deserve someone that can help them with their voice. We should do that part. Right, to communicate visually all these issues that are happening in society.

Joseph:

Exactly. We're seeing this taking the knee in football. Come on, these are players getting millions. Why do certain teams do it, and certain teams they don't? Or in teams you have half of them, they do it. And this is things that that have happened, that there's life problems.

Luis:

I completely agree, but if we change this from the community side and we start looking it from the brand side, are brands nowadays reacting to this sort of social responsibility that we are talking about?

Joseph:

I'm just trying to think ut they've I think they've marred their... Today I'm reading France are taking them to court. It's something I've seen today. I think the profits for the brand is number one obviously that is there main, or they won't exist. But I think some of them are doing everything to compete, especially a brand the same, the same kind of genre of the other brand and they will go that extra mile, and that extra mile sometimes it will put them in a bad position. Like what happened, with Apple. We've seen what how they treated their people in China. But I think as you said, the challenges are more. They are not one fold, they are tenfold today and I can understand their position. But again with the Ronaldo thing, did these people need this? Do you need to do it, like that in your face? I asked them because these people, they've been having this brand since the ‘40s and the ‘50s. I mean it that had damaged their brand. So that was a challenge, and they knocked it off. We see a lot of branding on films. For example, I don't mind that, but again Apple is phenomenal for it.

Luis:

I think that they forget sometimes that is not only about profit it is also about the people that they are supposed to care about. The conversation goes like this “I love you; I am here with you; I will be with you the entire journey and at the end is just taking money from you. That is where they fail. They are not true. Now going back to the responsibility of the graphic designers, how important is to design for the people and not just for the client?

Joseph:

If you're employed with a company, you can't really, you know you have a certain amount of control because I mean, you're not generally you don't meet the client, it will be the accounts executive, and you know how they work.

Luis:

Now for all those young graphic designers out there what advice would you give them?

Joseph:

I think the first thing I would say is passion. No matter what you do - if you're doing a two column ad or a business card, or you are you doing annual reports, or you are doing an exhibition and exhibition design or doing a great website for a client - the passion has to be the same. That is the number one.

And perseverance because we get, you get dips here and there. I have them a lot. As I told you in my life, but I've always put passion in it. And I question myself and I'll ask myself is this going to work? This is not going to work, you know. You find designers today they do everything on a tablet. They don't even, you know, they've lost this [pencil], this is lost. When I was in Canada, I had a couple of young designers with me. I used to tell them I want to see your sketches. I want to see where you're coming from with this. I would understand, and even in over in Malta, especially when I was with Marc, with MAS and even with BPC. I encourage them to sketch, even if you don't know because I know that not all the designers are artists and I understand because today the designer is a thinker more than an artist. You know, but even if you're thinking, you can scribble your idea, you can write it down, you know, and you know, listen now, this is where I'm getting this idea from. Or this is where I am getting this thing from.

But I encourage them. Ok, if you don't want to sketch, you know I want to see you reading, listen to music, to good music not rubbish, because there's a lot of rubbish you know. There’s a lot of good music, but there is a lot of rubbish too. If you to Tick Tock, you see the rubbish there. But again, if you don't have a culture behind you, you won't be able to design it properly. It's very important that you read books. Reading is very important. And you start with classics, with the Russian classics - Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, you know these are the basics of culture. You know. Look at Italian art. Look at South American art. Look, you know, at European art. Inform yourself. You just got sticking to into Instagram. To show yourself with selfies. People are lost then and then, you know. Where is the Eiffel Tower? Yeah, I don't know. That means you design from what you have, from your baggage. If you don't have that baggage, what are you going to put then? What are you going feed your crowd, your followers? If you have garbage, you are going to feed them garbage? But if you have culture, you're going to come up with a great ad with a lot of thinking in it. You know there's a lot of psychology in it. That you make them think. This is what this guy wants to say. Listen, this is there, you know. But as I'm saying, you know it's even today, even if you if you have 20 and 30 [years old] there are so many things and things that we didn't have [in my day]. And this is I really cry when I see these things, we didn't have these things and we had to dig deep to get these things and then today there's there for you on the web, use them. If you go and see a magazine which is one of the best magazines in the world for design, you'd want all these papers that you can read from California, from Los Angeles, and you see how these designers think you know, and you see that's what I'm saying it's there. But you don't have to, you know, read a book. I mean, OK, it's it is not happy. But you can search and find.

Luis:

I totally agree. It is important for the designer not only to know about the tool he uses, but also to know about the history of art, the culture of different countries, about great designers whether they are architects, engineers, painters, sculptors, and their contributions. I always try to advise new colleagues to read, to learn new things and not only about design there are many other subjects like theatre, poetry, psychology, science fiction, our planet. All this enriches us as people, but also as designers.

So, Joseph, as a graphic designer what do you want to leave as a legacy?

Joseph:

I think. First of all you want to leave, your work. The work that you did that you think “this work came out of my soul” I did everything to do a good job with it. And hopefully you leave a bit of this world a better place with maybe a good poster you did. That you steered a bit of controversy, that people stopped and thought about it and said yes, I mean no, I never thought about that thing. I mean again, coming into the question before this, because this you pull a punch below the belt with this Luis. You're a naughty man. But before this for young designers, one other thing I would suggest ‘be humble’. Be humble. It's very important. Humbleness in design and you know when you're humble you will be elevated, without even knowing. But again, if you do crap, you leave crap. If you do good things, you leave good things, you know. As I told you last time, he told me what are your best things? I told you that local within DC and a book I designed I can show it to you. This was a landmark and landmark thing. It was a, it should have been a brochure, yes, but it ended up as a book.

So, I it this was for Fort Chambray, now they're building this high-class project. They wanted something up-market so they go to banks and get people to invest. So, I said this needs to be, this was my last job I did with ‘Promotion Services’ and I said this “I want to give my best about this” so I put in some of my modelling there of the Fort and the cover and everything is designed as it should be on the inside, with the illustrations and everything. And the photography is great too. But this is what you leave after all, and after I die, which is going to happen for sure and that's one thing that is, it is a fact of life. But at least you'll be remembered for some good pieces you've done, you know, and of not being arrogant. That means that you've been humble all your life. That is very important.

Luis:

Ego will not take you far.

Joseph:

It won't. I've seen people going down very, very easily. Very easily.

Luis:

So just finishing this podcast and can you please give us some takeaways for the general public and your last words for designers.

Joseph:

My father had this thing. The three P’s he used to call them: Perseverance, patience, and passion. If you if you have those three, those three you will do it. And for the public. The public has to understand designers. And have to help designers, in what way? In many ways. First of all, by getting what brands [are]. Because obviously the public and the and branding is synonymous with their buying this product, not this product. But for the public to be aware of what they buy. Of their products, of what they get, of what is right for them. You know, sometimes as you said, brands try to put you in a position to buy this not that, but you know. You have to be very careful. And be choosy. And discerning. I find that sometimes have people just go for the for all that glitters. But as we say all that glitters is not gold. And as I said that again before, I've followed some brands and some brands that I really believed in, today I think the public, the brands you believe in, be careful. Make your own decisions.

Luis:

Yes, I will close with that. Thank you very much.

Joseph:

I hope I was of help, and I'll wish you every success with this podcast because I think it's a great thing.

Jeanette:

This was Joseph Scerri, and you are listening to the Human Agenda. Thank you so much for joining us in this episode.

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August 27, 2021

How are risk and sustainability linked?

Transcript: 10 - How are risk and sustainability linked? — with Dominic Cortis
Jeanette:

Our guest today is Dominic Cortis. Dominic is an actuary by training and an economist by trade. He deals mostly with probabilities and insurance; both are intertwined, as insurance is intended to cover unlikely events. Recent technology is changing the way risk is measured and mitigated, so his interest has turned into Insurtech as of late as well. He describes himself as a probability and risk taker. The purpose of this call today is to inform how risk fits into the sustainability framework, so that it may be taken into account both from the beginning and throughout a project. So, Dominic, thank you for joining us today.

I would like to kick off today's conversation by understanding what risk is. Maybe you can tell us, you know, how would you define risk?

Dominic:

So, the risk is, I would say the definition is unexpected, unexpected results or deviation from results. So, let's start by using a simple example of purchasing a car. If you know that you can get a car, and if you pay one hundred euros per month for servicing, you will never have any trouble. There's no risk. If, on the other hand, there is a second option and the second option is, ‘Ah! you might need to pay you two hundred per year, or you might need to pay five thousand euros per year in damages’. Then there's a risk over there. Now, if you notice in this case the risk can be both sides, could be better off or worse off, so risk is deviation from the average from what is expected.

Jeanette:

Very good. So, how can we therefore take into consideration risk within a project. I am calling project, anything which could be either an actual project or a business or an entrepreneurship. How can we best consider it within this framework?

Dominic:

Ideally when you look at risk is you know, whenever there is a project, you have some estimates of what you should expect: revenue wise, cost wise, whatever. Now you look at those particular numbers, or you look at the outcome, and you start saying ‘What scenarios, or how could these change? How could these numbers? How could these estimates change overall?’ And the best way to deal with it is to think about likelihood and effect.

So, you can either look at it from each item's perspective. How can it change? How can it fluctuate? Because some items can fluctuate naturally, some items can fluctuate due to extreme events. And then you can look at it from the other side? What scenarios could occur? So, for example, if you are, let's say you want to create a new company that leases only electric cars. For example, what scenarios would increase your profitability or sustainability, or lower your costs? And how likely are they, and what's the probability of them occurring? if we take another project for example that we are selling at a takeaway shop, in this case what could happen that affects our business? I mean, for example, one thing is that we have wrong orders. Now, the likelihood is possibly high. The effect is probably low. Another effect could be someone at the car crashes into our building. The likelihood is small, but the effect is big. So, you sort of picture them in this in the sort of two-dimensional space. There is no need to be exact. It's not about probability. So, the like likelihood could be very unlikely and likely, quite likely, daily occurrence, whatever. And the effect could be big, small, massive, it could be in any case.

Jeanette:

Going back to what you were talking about if you were to set up an electric car company, for example, and this conversation about likelihood and effect. I believe that the timing at which a risk is going to be taken is also very important. Can you put timing as part of the scenario of the risk parameters?

Dominic:

Yes, timing has a big effect, and one of the major effects that it has is you could be right, but at the wrong time as well. So, for example, and if we take financial sectors anyone who in 2006 was saying, ‘Oh! The property bubble will collapse’, They would have been right, but if they went in the market at that stage or may be 2005, they would have lost their money unless they had enough to withstand two to three years when in 2007 it collapsed. So yes, timing is an issue. Know, it depends on the philosophy you believe in, and some agree that timing is a matter of luck, and I tend to be mostly from that background. But also, there is an element of skill, and that's where someone needs to understand their business.

If you're operating in a new business whatever it is, you need to understand, ‘Is the timing correct?’ And risks change over time, and the same risk could have a small effect now, but a bigger effect later, for example. So yes, timing is a huge effect to include it in a project. It's quite challenging. You need to understand the project per se. Every project is different.

Jeanette:

Agreed. I mean, yes, you would never be able to know if you're not really inside the actual [project], you know, [that] you've saturated yourself with information from that field. But I guess there are ways of dealing with risk as well. Mitigating it perhaps is the word that comes to my mind, but how other ways are there to deal with this sort of risk.

Dominic:

So, let's take, we have our ideas of types of risks that can occur, type of, I would say, rather than just type of risks outcomes that have affect our risk. In that case, we have sort of some risks that we are going to ignore or retain in a way; ‘We're okay with this, it doesn't really affect us’.

In some other risks, some other scenarios we might want to diminish that, and, while some other risk we might want to transfer them to someone one else, while some of others say ‘Okay, we really don't want to even touch this’. I mean, let's go back to the takeaways example, a risk is that you have a wrong order, for example, and therefore have to redo the order and the likelihood probably high; the effect is low. But if you have many of these, the effect, the combined effect become large. So, what can we really do about it? Well, maybe can invest in more training, maybe we can see which cases in which there are you know the wrong order, maybe there's a miscommunication between the different staff and we try to simplify the method. In that case we are diminishing the risk. We are diminishing the probability.

But we mention another risk is someone crashing in our front door. Or in that case, can we diminish the risk? Well, maybe we can put fluorescent signs? But most of the case would be ideally to transfer the risk purchase insurance. So, every risk needs to be dealt with in one of these four cases or may even a combination of the four cases.

Now, when we're talking about risks, per se, and events that can affect us, there are different elements that we need to look at. One main element is, some of the risks we just think of, risk of negative things, but you may think of a scenario that might provide positive aspects. So, if we can think of a scenario that provides positive aspects, place yourself in a position which you can only take the upside of the risk rather than the downside. So going back to a rental company of only electric vehicles, what are the potential upsides, which scenario would lead to an upside risk, and how can I then plan myself accordingly.

One particular case would be that no cars with combustion engine can enter a particular touristic area. It’s a possible scenario that might occur. So how I can place myself for upside risk to take advantage of it. Well, I make sure that now, I have at least some locations in that area before any possible regulation comes in. So, you need to think of scenarios that both give you the upside and the downside and when we're thinking of different events, we need to be aware that not everything that we can think of is within that list. There are black swans, events that are impossible to think of. They weren't even fathomed. For example, a pandemic is not a black swan because we know pandemic exists anyway, but and insurers, for example, have been catering for them for years now explicitly. But for example, the attack on 9/11 was clearly a black swan. Except for the people organising it. No one ever thought this was possible, or doable.

Jeanette:

Quite right. And another thing that you have mentioned, which is interesting is that you have to understand where the laws and where the policy is going to be leading to, so, for example, in Europe at the moment, and globally there is a huge push towards doing something about climate change, something about sustainability. Whoever is thinking that you know, pre-empting that his company where it needs to be, should I be doing something rather than another. Maybe looking at the way policy is developing could also help show the direction in which one can take or otherwise a risk. But this item that you mentioned, at the end, the events know something may happen may not happen. It is a black swan? Is not a black swan? Maybe could give us some information of you know. Yes, is true, I can't ask for something which I don't know exists. So how would I go about it?

Dominic:

I wish I knew to be fair, and it it's actually thinking almost from a Sci-Fi reality in some cases. I mean any project, especially at a young stage, they tend to evolve and evolve and change, and that's the advantage that they have over you know, traditional industries, tradition companies. But one of the main issues that you need to be aware of, is if you've thought of a similar scenario, how can you take the upside of it? How can you take advantage of it? Limit the downside and take the upside like a free bet, in a way, or free lunch? If you want to create a stable project or a stable company or whatever it is, sustainable, and it's not really about making it more resilient, it's not about adding pro, it's not just about adding process to make it more resilient. The main aim in this another terminology is to make it anti-fragile, to make it flexible enough to be able to take new opportunities that we were not even able to think of. Now, what destroys projects or companies or what have you? Traditionally we've seen many, I know one-off risks, but there's also the strategic risk and when you look at major companies, I mean, the traditional would have been Kodak that they had the technology for digital cameras, I believe, but they said ‘Ah! Who cares?’ Or are the same with Olivetti that used to do the old typewriters and they had the market. When keyboards came along, they said, ‘Ah! We won't care’ and possibly Toyota is doing the same with Tesla. But in those scenarios, it was really a strategic decision rather than you know, an operations point of view, something external that affected. So, as we were saying, you need to look on the long run, and I mean when a black swan occurs it affects everyone.

Now, sometimes (it affects) people on a positive note sometimes on a negative note. Know, but that's why you need to be flexible enough to be able to take out the positive risks.

Jeanette:

Interesting. And if we were to distinguish between known events and unknown events, I recall, we had you know some conversations regarding events which are known, the unknown, the known-unknown, the unknown-known. So, there are various combinations of what's known and what's unknown, and I guess this links into what you were talking about the black swan. I don't know whether you'd like to elaborate more on the combination of what's known and what's unknown and how it links to risk.

Dominic:

So, the thing is we're thinking about scenarios or thinking about changes in numbers, in outcomes that we might have. Some of them, as you said, they would be known something that we experienced, and we experience you know daily, monthly, or what have you. Some of them would be the known-unknown. So, we know about them, but not enough or unknown-known.

So, let's say, for example, pandemics. Pandemics are in a way known-unknowns for the uninitiated, so up to four or three years ago company would have had a business contingency plan, you know, if this happens, but you know they don't really know how government will react or the policies will be, so we know about it, but we know we don't know enough. Then there are some cases in which we know we don't know anything about. I'm trying to think of a real case, what if a real meteorite falls. I guess I'm thinking really extreme events here. Then there are things that we really are black swans. We really can't even think about in a way. As you mentioned earlier as well, you need to be aware of how the market is changing. I mean, this talk sounds almost a bit aloof sadly, in a way, because, and the reason is because every industry is different, every market, not just saying catering industry, you need to understand your market per se. I mean, let's say again, I am using the takeaway shop example. If you have a takeaway shop, and one of the risks that you don't have control of it is a road been closed. If road is closed, no one's passing in front of you and no one's going to stop. But that it's in a way you know, it's not known, you don't know it will occur or how it will occur but linking it to the previous example, previous discussion, it could be an upside. It could be that you're on a side street. The main street has been closed. Everyone, one's passing through the side street. Everyone one knows about your shop now, so you never really know how these things change. So, you need to put yourself at different stages, so one of them would be ‘If the road closes, I'm ready to you know, put a few adverts on the other side’, or ‘make my online presence stronger’. The other way round. I mean you, and that way you're taking just the upside risk.

Jeanette:

Indeed, there are many things that we need to consider when embarking on a project. If I were now to link what we have said to financial risk. What are the risks from a purely financial perspective? Do you have any examples to share with us?

Dominic:

I come from an insurance background and one of the cases that we are looking from – climate change – there are three forms of effect. One effect is obviously climate change will increase hurricanes and what not, so that’s ok. One of them is that we may be accused in future of not doing enough. And one of them is we might have what is called stranded asset. A stranded asset, for example in this case is, we just heard the news that in 15 years (is it?) you cannot have motor vehicles? If I'm investing in a petrol station, in a way, that's a stranded asset.

Jeanette:

‘Assets’ is an interesting topic, and I am understanding correctly is a property, or something that you have invested in, shares perhaps. So, if a company is investing in sustainable packaging, for example, so all of the plastics that he has been using which will no longer be used, does that make them stranded assets?

Dominic:

It would be applied from one perspective, because it’s not an asset that lasts years, is it? I mean you are going to use it. But if they already have a contract with the supplier and now let’s say in five years’ time, the rules change, and now you need to not have plastics, he already has the contract with the supplier. So, in a way, the others are rushing in, and he has the advantage of already having that in place.

So, for example, you work in the construction industry. From the few projects that I’ve seen in construction is, that almost every construction company has a contract with a cement supplier for the next, I don’t know how many decades. And the reason is that if the cement supplier tell him ‘No, I cannot supply you, I’m over booked’, they could be the best builder in the world, and all the projects in the world, how are they going to build?

So with respect to sustainable packaging, I would not call it an asset per se, I would say that you are looking at the risk, may be your timing is a bit too early, but the thing is that if you already have a contract with the supplier for the next ‘x’ years, and once the rule comes in, everyone is rushing in, they might not be able to find but you are.

If you use the same example as to what happened with COVID-19, if you had a small online presence as a supermarket, I am talking about a local supermarket, no PAMA [a large supermarket in Malta] or anything. If you had a very rudimentary website and an email where someone can book you in, and you had deliveries for the elderly, once COVID-19 hit you were ready.

But I would not call an asset per se, I would call it purely strategic.

Jeanette:

It’s a strategic risk that you have taken at the time. Pre-empting that a shift could be required. And I guess even seeing what people are doing in other countries, because, for example, when I lived in the UK, mentioning your supermarket example, I almost never went to a big supermarket I got all my shopping delivered to me. When I came to Malta, it is a bit of a shock that I had to go and get my own foodstuffs. So, call me whatever you wish, but you know it was a rather different way of having to deal with it. So yes, having a look at what other countries are doing where they're going to in, terms of business, with would help you maybe look into the future.

I quite enjoyed what you were talking about the three, three points of insurance, just now.

Dominic:

So there's three issues that might affect you. I mean they are classified in three. And this is based on what the Governor of the Bank of England had said in a speech. Insurance has always been on the forefront of climate change because it affects us first. It really does - increased hurricanes, increased droughts – everything, you know, we deal with natural forces.

Lloyds of London has been talking about this for decades - not years, decades - and generally speaking we have classified the risks in three categories. And one of them has actually been the direct risks: if there are more heatwaves you have more costs in air conditioning. I mean, that's obvious costs. If you have more heatwaves there's more possible landslides so insurers can affected; the number of tornadoes has increased and there is a theory that it will increase over the years. So, there's a lot of those kinds of things going on. And that is one area.

The other one is almost legal risk, and it affects even small firms. You might be operating in a way that seems OK but in in 2-3 years’ time it's illegal. And it would have been back-dated as illegal. Or maybe, if you're a public company or shareholders, deem it as illegal and because you didn't take enough decisions, enough correct decisions. So, CSR doesn't just become, you know, we just do it for the nice things, you do it for legal reasons as well.

And finally is you might have stranded assets. I mean if we're talking about the lifetime of a car usually, from an accounting perspective, is 20 years. But let’s say that we are thinking of buying some car, okay okay – a hearse – should probably lost more than 10 years. So let's say the lifetime is 30 years, given the move to electric, is there the potential of this being a stranded asset in 15 years’ time. Not one that you cannot use, but one for which there is no demand for example. And it could be even applied on shares you might own, on investments that you might currently have, including a property investment. And maybe you're building a property which reaches the current standard. In Malta we don't really look at EPC [Environmental Performance Certificate] for example but meanwhile abroad, especially in the UK, it was one of the first things you’d look at because heating costs are quite high. So maybe you should start building projects, as an individual, with a higher EPC if you want to rent them out, because you have a longer tend to look at.

Jeanette:

Indeed, yes, the EPCs are an important way to start to classify different kinds of properties according to their energy performance.

So just to wrap up today Dominic, what take-aways can we take from this conversation? What is the essence of risk, and how should we make sure that you appreciate it right from the beginning of a project, but as you have said as well, throughout the project.

Dominic:

So, I would say, whether small projects, long-term projects, or what have you, you have your main estimate. This could be numerical, this could be non-numerical. You have your estimates for what you expect - think of what can deviate from those aspects; there could be natural deviation or deviation due to other outcomes, due to, how can I say, due to different scenarios. So one for each scenario, for each outcome, think whether you want how likely this and what is its effect. Next is, should you ignore it, is meaningless, and should we try to diminish? And to diminish either the effect or the likelihood of it. Should you think about transferring or is it too big that you say ‘I really don’t want to touch this’? So essentially that’s the whole aspect of it and you need to understand your business per se. It's really about understanding the industry you are in and because these could get applied much more differently. And one final thing is the truth is not absolute. So, what you might consider as low likelihood someone else could consider it as high likelihood. So, it's very important to see what others are doing as well, not to follow their mentality but to learn and to adapt

Jeanette:

And I guess there's always the possibility, as well, to see the upside of risk, as you have mentioned before right to see how we can harness the capacity or the possibility; the potential of this risk for an advantage.

Thank you so much Dominic for this conversation. It was enlightening and I hope our listeners have also taken some notes of how to strategically pace their risk aspects. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Dominic:

Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.

Jeanette:

This was Dominic Cortis, and you are listening to ‘The Human Agenda’. Thank you so much for joining us in this episode.

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August 13, 2021

Sustainable solutions in waste and water management

Transcript: 09 - Sustainable solutions in waste and water management — with Kevin Gatt
Jeanette:

With us today is Kevin Gatt. Kevin heads the Department of Spatial Planning and Infrastructure at the University of Malta. He specializes in resource governance, in particular water and waste management.

He has extensive experience in water, waste, environment, and sustainable development policy having worked for many years in the public administration, he describes himself as unassuming yet dependable.

In today's podcast, we aim at bringing awareness about water and waste management, both public and private, so that we may be more conscious of our impact and ensure proper use of our resources.

So Kevin, it is lovely to have you here with us today. Thank you so much.

Kevin:

My pleasure.

Jeanette:

The first thing that comes to mind really is the importance of water, the resource and its management. In all countries of the world really, but especially in a country which is so dry, so arid, such as Malta. How important is water to a country like ours which is classified as being so arid?

Kevin:

I think if we had to start with the cliche that water is life, I think it sets a suitable backdrop to understand the importance of water to each and every one of us to our communities to different countries. In Malta, as you rightly say, we are in arid country with an annual rainfall of around about 550 ml. Throughout the years we have seen an increased dependency on desalinization technology in order to provide our freshwater resources to meet the ever-increasing demands that have arisen due to quality of life, our economic progress, our increasing population and the like.

But this also shows us that had technology not been available, Malta as a country would not have had sufficient water resources in order to satisfy its demands, and therefore this would have a curtailing effect on economic growth, on the population we can support, and therefore this signifies the importance of water to each and every person. I think if we had to look at the different economic sectors, I can safely say that there is probably not one economic sector which does not have some form of nexus on water, whether it is dependent on that water for its production, or whether it uses water in order to support its employees. So I doubt whether any person in any country can dismiss the importance of water or as a matter of speaking to say that he does not need water.

Jeanette:

Wow, and this really brings to heart the issue of how sustainable we are with this resource. In some countries a little bit more lacking than in others and possibly even beyond sustainability, because we need to have a vision for resilience of how a society, how a country is resilient and how dependent, or they are on this on this resource. So, in this aspect, how can we start rethinking water and wastewater systems so that we can keep this sort of resilience in mind?

Kevin:

Ok, let me as a preamble say that what Malta and its engineers, particularly the engineers of the Water Services Corporation, has achieved with the salination is not just best in class, but I think they are European, Mediterranean and international experts in desalinization. They have truly saved Malta from problems related to water scarcity and have ensured that Malta can meet its demand. We've done it so well that to a certain extent we have been led into a false sense of security, because European directives place upon us the obligation not to look at freshwater in terms of the water we produce through desalination - which I like to call manufactured water - but freshwater resources. In particularly groundwater resources.

It is important to say that the mix of potable water today is in the region of, and I'm rounding numbers for the benefit of our audience, 60% is desalinated water and 40% is groundwater. That is sort of the makeup of the water which we receive through our mains from the water services corporation, but there is a lot of use of direct groundwater, whether it is for agricultural purposes, whether it is for secondary, or what I like to call non-potable use which has over the years created a significant drawdown in the volumes of groundwater to the extent that at this rate we are in particularly our mean sea level aquifers, that means our largest two aquifers in Malta and in Gozo which float on seawater, have been depleted to compromise to a certain extent, their quality and quantity.

We are abstracting far more water than we are putting back in, and as a consequence of that, we are introducing seawater into this aquifer and increasing its salinity, and therefore we are compromising its quality.

Now where should we be going from here? The model of perfection is in nature itself. Anthropogenic effects, that means that effects which are attributed to human beings, are the cause of this disturbance in the balance that exists in these freshwater bodies which we call aquifers. The fact that I develop a piece of land means that I am converting that land from a permeable surface into an impermeable surface. This means that rainfall falling onto that parcel of land rather than soaking into the ground and eventually beginning a very long journey, 15 to 40 years, to go back to the aquifer is being discharged as stormwater and often lost.

So far, we have exploited conventional sources of water. By conventional sources of water, I mean desalination and groundwater. We now need to move towards exploiting more non-conventional sources of water. That means that we have to make better use of stormwater, we have to mimic nature when we develop portions of land so that we can re-engineer the balance that occurs in nature and we also need to exploit the non-conventional resource of sewage, which once again the Water Services Corporation has shown us, that it can treat to potable water quality albeit that today it’s still not used because there is an adjustment period for potable supplies. And therefore my message is that in the design of any form of physical development, we have to mimic nature. We have to learn how nature behaves and replicate those principles in our design. This is why from the time of the Knights, there was a legal obligation to have a cistern, a well which collected an annual volume of the rain discharged from roofs. Of course, at the time we used to draw or they used to draw a water from the well by hand. Today we have technology like pumps and therefore we can optimize the size of wells in order to enable us to save on the construction cost in the first place of work, because we don't need a well which is 0.6 times the impermeable area of a development and at the same time connect that to sources which depend on second class water supplies: toilet flushing, like draw off taps which are used for cleaning purposes, be it floors, be it the car or whatever and to satisfy any irrigation demand.

Jeanette:

That is inspiring. I hope more people start looking at water not as just something, you know, like a commodity, that is there: We just open the tap and basically forget the tap open sometimes, while you're doing other stuff. So we really need to start looking at really, using this resource much more efficiently, both on a private and on a society level.

But I appreciate that water is not only the issue here, the management systems that we need to bring about on a public and private scale are both water and waste. And if I were to shift the conversation to waste, nowm most people just treat waste as waste. We throw it away. And in a society and in a world where you know resources are being more scarce, how can we? When I mean we, as in society, governments, whomever, treat waste differently, it can be treated as a resource rather than a just pure waste.

Kevin:

When President Gorbachev took over the former USSR, the Oxford Dictionary updated its compendium to include two critical words, ‘Perestroika’ and ‘Glasnost’. I wish that society today could influence the Oxford Dictionary to strike away the word waste from the dictionary. Precisely because it is a resource, and therefore whether it is the organic fraction, that means what is leftover as food remains, what we don't eat, what we, which food we discard in the preparation of our meals, whether it is the cuttings from the pruning of any plants we have all that is organic waste. And that organic waste, believe it or not, can be converted into both energy as well as a compost which can be used in agriculture and the new waste management plan foresees the construction of an organic processing plant which will pasteurise the ensuing digestate in order to produce the safe compost which can be used to improve the condition of our soils.

Sometimes if you look particularly towards northwest of our island, you see a sort of grey clumpy soil and that shows you that there is the presence of clay. This has problems in retaining water and therefore crops could suffer. By adding compost, we are adding an organic material, we are improving the condition of the soil, and we are at the same time improving the cultivation practice and the yields on our crops. The energy it produces is green energy, which contributes to our renewable energy targets. So the minute we shift from not disposing of our waste in the white bag which we have, and which is collected three times a week, and which is small because three times a week you don't really fill up a big black bag as we used to do.

When we fail to do our bit and to put the organic waste in the right bag, we are depriving ourselves, we are depriving future generations from the embedded energy from the potential of having this compost, as well, not only that, but we are taking away land which needs to be dedicated for land filling. And so, as you say, out of sight out of mind for waste should be something that we do not consider any longer. Because we have a role to play; it is our responsibility. After all, it is we who purchase the goods. It is we who consume the goods and therefore we are responsible for that waste. But it's not a question of just responsibility, it's a question of public good. If we truly believe we want a better society, a better country, a better land, whatever. The only thing we have to do is be responsible for how we manage our waste.

The same is with recyclables. We have a grey bag where we can put in metal, we can put in plastic, we can put in paper, we hope to be separating paper from the metal and under plastic so that the quality will improve and therefore it's right recyclability will be enhanced and all these materials are regenerated into new products rather than having to mine all the time natural resources causing depletion.

And for anyone who is familiar with, for example, the financial markets, the prices of commodities can fluctuate a lot. If there is a fear that they have become diminished in their supply. This is the law of supply and demand, so we can keep plundering nature. These are non-renewable resources unlike for example the sun and the rain which come every year. And therefore we need to manage our non-renewable resources by minimizing first and foremost the amount of waste we generate and that waste which generate we need to manage at source into their proper fractions so that we can enhance our recycling rate and convert them into new products and therefore transform waste into resource.

Jeanette:

Yes, and in actual fact as you have just mentioned, this resource then becomes a product in itself, becomes something that we can use and therefore has a value. In terms of the valorisation of waste, are we looking at simply the entrepreneurs who will benefit from this? Or will also the individual? Can we give the individual some of this, so to say profit out of the value of this resource, of this waste resource?

Kevin:

I believe it is a win-win situation. I mean, if you look into the amount of land that was taken up to accommodate dump and landfill sites, you will see that, particularly in a country of 316 square kilometres, we have sacrificed a lot of this area - considerable amount of this area - simply to dispose of waste. So, we have taken away. There is an opportunity cost in that land which could have been put, perhaps to better use for society. It could have been a park. It could have been a leisure facility could have been nature itself, embellished and enhanced. So, the fact that we are consuming land means we are depriving ourselves from land as a resource.

There is also the issue of emissions which results from waste. I'm not saying that we can go to a situation where we do not generate any waste, but yes we can go to a situation where we can enhance and boost our recycling rates so that the waste which is generated we fully absorb its resource value and transform it into a product which has commercial value and therefore we see that entrepreneurs militating in the waste management sector have plenty of opportunities to manage facilities related to waste management.

Let us also not forget and it is important to mention that our largest waste stream is that from the construction sector. And I'm referring to construction and demolition waste. And the University of Malta has been a leader in demonstrating how certain fractions of construction demolition waste can be transformed into reconstituted stone elements. I mean, this is a business opportunity. This is what the circular economy is all about, in that we achieve industrial symbiosis whereby the waste of a particular sector becomes the resource of that same sector or a different sector.

We have exploited most of the commercial and traditional opportunities that we have available. It is now time to enhance our competitiveness by exploiting the potential which environmental design gives us -which eco design gives us - and transforming construction and demolition waste into the constituted stone elements has a lot of potential for us to reduce our extraction of limestone, safeguarding future generations to have access to that resource. But at the same time safeguarding the needs of the construction industry's demand for stone in a very circular manner. Of course, we also have to level the playing field and I refer to the economic playing field here, because unfortunately many a time we have still not had a perfect mechanism whereby we reflect the two cost of pollution in the various products and services so that recycled green circular products can compete on the same level as perhaps virgin products, but which virgin products need also to be factored in terms of the value of that virgin material as well as the cost of pollution that they create in transforming them from their raw stage into their products stage.

Jeanette:

That is so interesting and if I may extend this argument in terms of the economy and looking at the various parts of the economy, such as tourism, hospitality, maybe I don't know other industries or the fashion industry. The electronic industry.

They too have a large impact on the quantity of waste and the type of waste that they produce. How can these companies, these brands, change the way of dealing with sustainability, from a brand perspective? How can they understand that or not or just understand, but how can they treat their resources in a different way? They waste resources in a different way. Such that they can actually benefit through that, so not just the construction industry, but the other areas of the economy.

Kevin:

Absolutely, and I've seen already some of the main and the leading designers already having some of their lines which they term as organic or sustainable and which contain a certain amount of recycled material. Be it fibre, be it rubber, it all depends on the product, so I think they are already being trendsetters by labelling a certain component of their range as sustainable, as recyclable. Different designers are giving different names.

Again, we need a regulatory framework that widens what today we call the producer responsibility principle, where a producer is responsible for recycling the products or a percentage of the amount of material in products that they place on the market. So far, we have producer responsibility in Malta on packaging waste, on electronic and electrical equipment, and we also have it on batteries. We need to understand and promote feasible producer responsibilities for example tyres, for textiles, for oil, whereby by imposing this producer responsibility regulatory framework, we drive those who place these products on the market to have to collect them and transform them into something a recycled version.

That means to deviate them from becoming waste, and although you might say, but that's going to cost money. Yes, it will cost money, but it will also make our choices more responsible. If I go to a restaurant and everything on the menu is free, I'm sure that most of us will pile up their plates beyond what they can eat. The same can apply for waste if there is no mechanism which forces you to, for example, recycle waste, then it is waste. It is not a resource. And therefore, throwing it away is the natural logic. But when you impose and I use a very, very strong word ‘impose’ a regulatory framework for producer responsibility, you create a business opportunity because there is a business opportunity in transforming that product with that it is retiring to playing material or into oil. Whether it is oil into new forms of oil, whether it is textiles into new forms of threads which can be re-woven into new products. This is a business opportunity, and that business opportunity will create employment.

And therefore this is where the beauty of sustainability is. We are maximizing economic, social, and environmental objectives. Sustainability is about promoting the economy of the world, growing the economy, but taking into account, the socio- ecological dimension, providing employment, providing well-being, providing a better quality of life whilst at the same time not impinging on the environment. So yes indeed. Indeed, there could be a cost, initially, but it is a one-time cost and it responsibilises everyone across the value chain. To make conscious choices to make green choices and eventually to make the right choices for society and for future generations.

Jeanette:

Indeed, what you've just mentioned really hits on the majority of the sustainable goals, even the ones that the UN have, put forward for our attention because doing one little thing in one area of the society will have a repercussive effect on the various other parts of how society works.

And in this sense, I think we need to understand the importance of all of this, the sustainable, the nature based, the decarbonized solution and how these are important on our environment, right?

Kevin:

That's correct. I'm extremely pleased that you've touched upon the Sustainable Development Goals because unfortunately till this very day, there are many who think that sustainable development is some form of green movement. Sustainable development is not an environmental issue. Sustainable development should be a forma mentis, a mentality which we subscribe to. And although there is the classic Brundtland definition, it relates to how we can ‘satisfy our needs without compromising that of future generations’, the one catch phrase I like to use is this: that sustainable development, in any decision whatsoever, it is not a development issue. It's not a physical development issue. It is a developmental: the economy is a development, social well-being is a development, OK? We try to maximize economic, social, and environmental goals and if we look at the 17 SDG's, it is clear but some of them are of an economic nature, some of them are of a social nature and some of them are of an environmental nature.

The message here is sustainable development is a way of life. It is not something which is environmental. It is not a drag on the economy. On the contrary, sustainable development is about optimizing our decisions, so that the decisions we take can flourish. As opposed to having some form of boom-and-bust cycles of the economy.

Jeanette:

Yes, definitely, food for thought. From today, I guess there are some very important takeaways that we need to highlight not only for the general public, but also for people in the design world and people in authority. If you were to highlight some of these main takeaways, some of these main points. What would they be? What would be these words of wisdom?

Kevin:

Individual effort can never be underestimated. It is through the summation of individual behaviours that we achieve a collective success. If everyone of us had to separate waste, we will achieve higher recycling targets. If every development had to have a second-class water supply system which draws on the stormwater which is collected from that same building, our draw down on groundwater and our dependency on desalinated water would improve. It would be less critical. And sustainability: sustainable development is not about physical development. It is about our way of life.

And that in any decision we take, whether it is primarily economically focused, socially focused, or environmental focused, we cannot ignore the optimization of the other two pillars. So, whether I am trying to promote Malta’s competitiveness abroad, OK, then I have to look at the socio ecological. If I'm trying to improve the wellbeing, I have to look at the economic and ecological impacts. And if I'm looking at the environmental, I cannot forget the social economic dimension. I mean it takes 2 to tango, but it takes 3 to sustainability.

Jeanette:

That is a catch phrase that I hope will catch on. Thank you so much Kevin for this intervention. It was - yes, truly inspiring and I hope that people will be able to come understand that a little goes a long way. And if one person decides to recycle their resources, let us say – now we don't want to call them waste anymore - but if people start recycling their own resources and they start inspiring other people to do the same thing, then together we might be able to create a wave that will, eventually turn into the into the tsunami of sustainability and resilience that we are aiming for. Thank you so much for your input.

Kevin:

And if I may add as a concluding note, if we inspire ourselves by nature, if we imitate nature, we are on the road to the correct design of our principles. Whatever they are, nature in its perfection should inspire us to do the same thing, time and time again.

Jeanette:

Thank you, Kevin.

Kevin:

My pleasure.

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August 6, 2021

La importancia de un análisis previo antes de cualquier inversión

Transcript: 08 - La importancia de un análisis previo antes de cualquier inversión — con Tatiana Muñoz Jean Baptiste
Luis:

Hoy, nos acompaña Tatiana Muñoz Jean Baptiste. Tatiana es una Ingeniera Comercial y tiene una maestría en Gestión de Proyectos con especialización en Administración. Hoy día es una feliz emprendedora que busca impulsar a otros. Ella se describe como una mujer aguerrida y soñadora.

El propósito de este episodio es la de informar a nuevos emprendedores y dueños de negocio sobre la importancia de un análisis previo antes de cualquier inversión. Como primer punto, estaremos hablando sobre las decisiones y el riesgo que estas traerían por haberlas tomado incorrectamente. A ver Tatiana que nos podrías ampliar sobre este tema.

Tatiana:

Cuando tomamos decisiones en nuestras vidas, siempre vamos a tener consecuencias. Hay consecuencias positivas y consecuencias negativas y sobre todo cuando tomamos la decisión de invertir caemos en el tema de que tenemos que evaluar que esa decisión que hemos tomado de invertir no se vea en riesgo.

Es decir, que no se pierdan los esfuerzos que hemos hecho en el proceso de lograr los objetivos que deseamos. Es por eso que es tan importante al momento de emprender o invertir que tenemos que saber evaluar todo a nuestro alrededor de la idea de negocio que tenemos.

Por muy pequeña o grande que sea, siempre debemos saber que nuestras decisiones van a impactar positiva o negativamente en lo que estamos haciendo y sobre todo en las finanzas, porque al final, cuando tomamos la decisión de emprender o invertir lo que buscamos es un beneficio económico. Entonces este beneficio económico se puede ver en riesgo si no tomamos buenas decisiones.

Siempre que vamos a emprender o invertir, tenemos que empezar por hacer un análisis que se le conoce normalmente como análisis de mercado. Esto nos permite identificar que hay una necesidad en el mercado, la cual nosotros queremos cubrir.

Allí es donde vamos a hacernos cuatro preguntas básicas. Estas preguntas son: la primera ¿qué? y es que quiero ofrecer un o un servicio y siempre que nos preguntemos el ¿qué? tiene que ser algo con lo cual nosotros estemos relacionados. Segundo, tenemos que preguntarnos ¿a quién se lo voy a ofrecer? es ahí donde evaluamos quién va a ser nuestro cliente, ¿cuál va a ser nuestro mercado objetivo? o nuestro nicho como se le conoce realmente. Tercero, tenemos que preguntarnos ¿cómo lo vamos a hacer? ¿cómo vamos a ofrecer ese producto? ¿cómo vamos a ofrecer este servicio? ¿qué implica? Y es más que todo cuando evaluamos una relación calidad precio.

Y, por último tenemos que evaluar ¿dónde? El dónde es cuando analizamos en qué espacio lo voy a ofrecer, ¿en qué lugar?, en qué punto de la geografía de mi país o de una región yo lo voy a ofrecer y esto es muy importante. También evaluar cuál va a ser nuestro canal de venta, porque bueno, hoy en día todo ha cambiado tanto que inicialmente por lo menos un emprendedor, no inicia invirtiendo per se en un local o en un lugar formal, sino que lo hace a través de plataformas muy conocidas hoy en día y es por esto es que tenemos que saber cuál va a ser nuestra mejor plataforma y ya hoy en día hay muchas herramientas que nos permiten evaluar de acuerdo a la segunda pregunta que es el ¿a quién?, hay herramientas que nos permiten evaluar según el rango de edad cual es nuestro mejor canal de venta en el caso de que sea digital.

Luis:

Has tocado unos puntos muy importantes que son clave para cualquier persona que quiera iniciar una empresa. Preguntas como ¿qué? ¿quién? ¿cómo? y ¿dónde? son esenciales para cualquier emprendedor. Y esto lo digo porque estas preguntas te ayudarán a conocer más tu público meta y saber más sobre tus debilidades y fortalezas como empresa.

Sin embargo, yo agregaría otra pregunta que es el ¿por qué? ¿Por qué existes? ¿Por qué a la gente debería importarle que tú abras esta empresa? y te daré un ejemplo, imagínate una fábrica de anillos y le preguntamos a esa fábrica de anillos ¿por qué existe? ¿No? Lo más seguro que te diga es porque somos la mejor fábrica de anillos. El público lo que quiere es que claro, todo el mundo dice eso o tal vez esta fábrica de anillos puede decir que tendrá o tiene la mayor selección de anillos. El público lo que dirá, es cierto, pero yo solamente necesito uno y el resto se lo compro a la competencia. También puedo decirte que tendrá tiene el mejor servicio al cliente y para eso tendrá que comprobarlo.

Para muchas empresas responder el ¿por qué? es muy difícil, pero saber el ¿por qué? te hará entender que te hace diferente al resto y la razón de tu existencia. Yo pienso que ese ¿por qué? También tiene que conectar con tu pasión y tu amor por lo que haces.

Ahora mi pregunta es ¿qué opinas tú sobre iniciar en algo que te guste, algo que te apasione, la razón de tu existencia? ¿Qué opinas de esto Tatiana?

Tatiana:

En el primer punto, cuando les comenté sobre el ¿qué? básicamente cuando yo decido ofrecer ya sea un producto o un servicio, les comentaba o te comentaba Luis, que hay que conocerlo y ¿por qué hay que conocerlo? porque si nos vamos a aventurar sobre una rama desconocida totalmente para nosotros, el riesgo de pérdida o el riesgo de que tengamos consecuencias negativas va a ser mayor.

Es por esto que yo siempre digo que uno cuando decide invertir o emprender, uno tiene que amar lo que hace. Tienes que tener pasión por lo que estás haciendo. Tienes que saber que vas a necesitar muchos conocimientos, que cuando involucras lo que tienes en tu cabecita, tus conocimientos y lo que tienes en tu corazón te van a ayudar a salir adelante. ¿Por qué? porque si yo hago algo que no me gusta, que no me apasiona, no voy a ser determinante en mis objetivos. No voy a luchar por lo que quiero conseguir, entonces es ahí donde se involucra en parte los sentimientos porque si yo soy buena en algo y a mí me gusta ese algo, entonces yo voy a dar lo mejor de mí hacia mis clientes.

No solamente se trata de la primera necesidad que es cubrirla, sino también que tu entorno, tus clientes, al final sepan que lo estás haciendo con tanto amor y tanto empeño, que eres bueno y te destacas por eso, además de que generas una conexión entre tu empresa o tu emprendimiento y el cliente.

Luis:

Excelente. ¿Qué otras cosas deberían tomar en consideración estos nuevos emprendedores?

Tatiana:

Adicional a un análisis de mercado, también tenemos que hacer un análisis de nuestras ventajas y desventajas. Esto en economía, en administración se le conoce como un análisis FODA. El análisis FODA nos permite conocer como sus siglas lo indican nuestras fortalezas, o sea, ¿qué tengo yo? ¿en qué soy buena? o ¿qué ventajas? tiene mi empresa que me van a ayudar a hacerlo mejor, a salir adelante, a lograr esos objetivos. Segundo, están las oportunidades que vienen siendo una relación con lo que tengo en mi exterior, o sea, lo que no está ligado per se a mi empresa, a mi operativa y las oportunidades son del mercado. Uno toma las oportunidades del mercado.

Hay situaciones que se dan a lo externo de lo que nosotros hacemos o de nuestra empresa que nos lleva a aprovecharlas. El aprovechamiento de esas ventajas nos va a permitir tener y salir adelante, lograr objetivos en un menor tiempo y alcanzar lo que nos hemos estado proponiendo. Adicional a eso, también parte del análisis incluye conocer mis debilidades. Yo debo conocer en qué soy fuerte, pero también debo conocer en qué soy débil, ¿qué desventajas yo tengo? ¿en qué parte del engranaje de lo que emprendí o decidí invertir? ¿en qué partecita no la tengo completa? no lo hice al 100 por ciento y sé que ahí puedo tener fallas y también debo conocerlas.

Por último, el análisis también implica conocer nuestras amenazas. Igualmente, que las oportunidades, las amenazas vienen un poco relacionadas con nuestro entorno. Es decir, cuando tengo nuevos competidores, cuando el mercado se está llenando de personas que quieren competir en el mismo rubro, por un mismo nicho, la cosa se empieza a poner un poquito más apretada y eso tenemos que saberlo.

Tenemos que saber ¿qué espacio tiene nuestro mercado? Tenemos que saber que si hay alguna legislación que se relaciona con nuestro rubro, vamos a tener un poquito de amenazas entonces todo eso es muy importante que lo conozcamos, que lo tengamos claro, porque cuando uno tiene el mapa claro, uno puede anticiparse a cualquier cosa que pueda pasar o saberlo manejar de una mejor forma y salir adelante y que tu emprendimiento o tu inversión no se vea afectada.

Luis:

Ciertamente, muchos emprendedores hoy en día, bueno, al inicio siempre toman en consideración esta parte del análisis, sin embargo, se enfocan mucho en las fortalezas que tienen, en las oportunidades que ven y puede que en el nicho la amenaza que existan pero es muy difícil para ellos poner en papel las debilidades que ellos tienen como emprendedor y las debilidades que esa empresa tendrá en un futuro cercano; pero eso es donde vamos que donde hablaremos de los riesgos que uno puede tener si uno evita o no discute o no trata de ponerle el debido tiempo a todos los pasos pertinentes antes de tomar una decisión.

Hablemos del riesgo. Este es un tema que realmente me interesa. A ver Tatiana, cuéntanos.

Tatiana:

Como dije al inicio, todas nuestras decisiones tienen consecuencias positivas y negativas. Normalmente nosotros asumimos o nuestro cerebro por todas nuestras enseñanzas, nos dice que el riesgo es negativo y no siempre es así. Como les dije, si nosotros sabemos anticiparnos y tenemos un mapa completo de todo lo que puede pasar alrededor de nuestra organización, llámese empresa o emprendimiento, vamos a poder tomar esos riesgos y traducirlos en algo positivo. Si bien es cierto, tenemos que saber que el riesgo está asociado a la actividad que nosotros estamos.

Un riesgo representa para un emprendedor o para un inversionista una situación, una circunstancia que debe estar asociada a lo que nosotros nos dedicamos. A nuestra operativa. Adicional a eso, el riesgo implica que no hay una solución inmediata. Si bien yo puedo conocer cuáles son mis alternativas para sobrellevarlo, para aminorarlo; yo tengo que saber, que un riesgo para mí es algo que yo no puedo solucionar inmediatamente.

También es cuando eso genera un impacto significativo en lo que yo hago y adicional a eso puede entorpecer, obstaculizar, dificultar o postergar cualquiera de mis procesos. Es por esto que cuando yo conozco mis riesgos, yo identifico mis riesgos, yo tengo mayor capacidad para minimizarlos. Yo puedo saber en qué momento, a lo largo de mi operación, voy a tener cierto riesgo, como enfrentarlo y porque puede darse ese riesgo. Es muy importante que nos hagamos esas preguntas cuando, como por ejemplo la pandemia. Creo que a todos nos enseñó cuando se da una situación de éstas la operativa a nivel de suministro se ha visto afectada por un tema de logística. Entonces, quizás anteriormente nadie consideraba que pudiéramos tener una pandemia porque no era algo que se había dado anteriormente a la magnitud como se dio ahora.

Entonces, si ya conocemos que esta situación se puede dar, sabremos que ahora yo tengo que saber identificar todo, las complejidades que se puedan presentar o todos los temas se pueden presentar a partir de un tema como lo es la pandemia, todos los riesgos sociales, económicos que eso conlleva y que repercuten en toda empresa, ya sea pequeña, grande o sea un emprendimiento. Cuando nosotros logramos identificar esos riesgos, muchas veces podremos minimizarlos, podremos contenerlos y quizás otras veces vamos a tener que sobrellevarlos o traspasarlos, pero el identificarlos nos va a permitir tener una reacción rápida y eficiente sobre ellos.

Cuando vamos a identificar nuestros riesgos, tenemos que saber primeramente que los riesgos vienen de dos lados: a nivel interno y a nivel externo. A nivel interno están muy relacionadas con nuestra operativa, con todo lo que nosotros hacemos día a día y a nivel externo, con cosas que no están relacionadas a nuestra operativa, pero que sí impactan en ella, así como lo fue por lo menos en este caso la pandemia.

Adicional a eso, tenemos que saber que hay muchísimos riesgos normalmente conocidos y ya estudiados, pero hay cuatro riesgos que para mí son básicos que un emprendedor y un inversionista conozcan. El primero de ellos es el riesgo estratégico y ese es el que está mucho más relacionado con lo que dijimos al principio, la toma de decisiones. Entonces, lo que yo vaya decidiendo en el camino es mi estrategia, es mi plan estratégico, es por eso por lo que es tan importante que nosotros plasmemos nuestras ideas, plasmemos ¿a dónde quiero llegar?, ¿qué quiero hacer? porque eso nos va a permitir contener estrategias para alivianar o para solventar cualquier situación que se nos dé en el camino. Y cuando yo no logro ser prudente en términos de tiempo, al tomar una decisión o al aplicar una estrategia, yo puedo caer en lo que se llaman las fallas de respuesta. Es decir, surgió el riesgo, pero yo no supe atenuarlo a tiempo, no supe tomarlo a tiempo y contenerlo o aminorarlo.

Luis:

Es muy interesante lo que dices. Mencionaste la palabra “asumir” haciendo referencia a como los seres humanos acostumbramos a suponer cosas sin tener la información correcta. También utilizaste la actual pandemia, como ejemplo, con el fin de puntualizar que muchos no habían tomado en consideración una situación como esta y por ende nunca estuvieron preparados.

He tenido algunas conversaciones con colegas de la industria y hemos hablado por lo menos en el caso de la industria del turismo, enfocándonos en las tiendas de souvenirs, por ejemplo, siempre esperaban que los turistas pasaran por sus tiendas y compraran sus productos, pero nunca pensaron o se preguntaron ¿qué pasaría si esos mismos clientes, esos mismos turistas no aparecerían?

También mencionaste, el riesgo estratégico y la relación que este tiene con la toma de decisiones. También comentabas que la estrategia es básicamente lo que se vaya decidiendo en el camino. Por lo menos preguntas como ¿a dónde quieres llegar? ¿qué quieres hacer? Y el como ser prudente en términos de tiempo.

Si lo vemos de un punto de vista de marcas que es a lo que me dedico, muchos emprendedores y dueños de negocio acostumbran a tomar decisiones sin tener ningún tipo de estrategia, que es lo que mencionaba anteriormente con referencia as las tiendas de souvenirs. Muchas veces las decisiones son basadas en suposiciones.

Pero ¿a dónde quiero llegar con esto?, muchas veces me piden un logo. Recuerda que esto lo estoy hablando desde el punto de vista de marca, ¡sí!

Muchas veces me piden un logo porque creen que necesitan uno para abrir una empresa o una página web basado en el mismo pensamiento, pero como pueden saber si necesitan un logo o una página web si aún no conocen sus clientes, si no saben ¿dónde están, no saben que les gusta, qué voz tiene la empresa, qué tono tiene la empresa, que tipo de imágenes deberían utilizar?

Primero debe haber un pensamiento, como lo mencionabas anteriormente. Debe haber un plan, un plan de acción. ¿Cómo vas a hacer esto? ¿en qué momento lo vas a hacer? ¿qué decisiones debes tomar cuando llegues a ese punto o cuando llegue ese momento?

¿Qué más puedes agregar sobre el riesgo estratégico y las decisiones que debemos tomar?

Tatiana:

Sí, es por eso, es súper importante que nosotros tengamos como un plan de acción. Yo sé que hay situaciones en la vida que son súper diferentes, súper adversas y que quizás no nos podamos ni imaginar que pudiéramos pasar, pero siempre debemos tener un plan de acción. Siempre, cuando se trata del tema de dinero, de poner el dinero en algo, hay que estar súper claro. Como te dije al inicio que, si tomamos una decisión incorrecta, si no actuamos en tiempo, esa inversión se va a perder. Esa inversión se va a ver afectada.

Entonces, por lo menos en el caso de un emprendedor, es ese tipo de riesgos los que hacen que la gente diga, sabes que, esto no es lo mío y quizás no es que no es lo suyo, es que no supiste darle respuesta a algo que sucedió en el momento y que lo que hiciste fue decir, esto no es conmigo, esto no va conmigo, yo no puedo con esto y no, o sea en la vida todo se trata de ir hacia adelante y cuando lo combinas, por eso yo decía, hay que tener amor por lo que hacemos, hay que tener pasión, porque por eso yo me describo como aguerrida, porque yo he tenido miles de situaciones adversas que sí al inicio y tal cual como emprendedora, a pesar de que lo hablé, al inicio no evalué, no contemplé y cuando me llegó el momento pero dije, sabes que no, o sea, yo no voy a echar a la borda todo lo que he hecho, todo mis esfuerzos, ¿por qué? porque yo amo esto y si yo lo amo, yo sigo adelante.

Luis:

Claro, pero esto también cae en lo que tú comentabas anteriormente sobre la parte de la debilidad. No saber tomar una decisión en su momento, porque no se habló anteriormente es una debilidad que yo como persona no quise hablar de ello o ponerlo sobre la mesa. Es muy cierto que lo que tú dices, si no seguimos en sus puntos correctamente, pues simplemente estamos arriesgando que nuestra inversión se pierda o no sea utilizada de la forma correcta.

Tatiana:

Si el riesgo es mayoría y es como bien tú dijiste, si yo no sé tomar la decisión en su momento porque no lo contemplé. ¿Por qué? porque normalmente el ser humano siempre trata de nada más ver en qué soy bueno, en qué tengo fortalezas. O sea, en esto, en esto no, pero también tenemos que reconocer cuáles son nuestras debilidades. Y es allí donde si yo logro reconocer qué debilidades tengo yo como empresario, como emprendedor y qué debilidades tiene mi empresa, yo iba a poder accionar con tiempo.

Otro de los riesgos que es súper importante evaluar hoy en día es el riesgo reputacional. Como bien lo dice la palabra, tiene que ver con nuestra reputación como personas, como marca y como empresa. Entonces eso está relacionado con el ¿cómo me ven?, ¿cómo los clientes me ven?, ¿cómo las personas que están en el nicho me ven? ¿cómo me hago reflejar? Tiene mucho que ver con un tema, por lo menos de atención al cliente. De qué le aporto yo si vendo un producto, ¿qué le aporto yo? No es solamente cubrir esa necesidad, sino también ¿qué es lo que yo te aporto más allá? ¿cuál es mi milla extra en lo que yo te ofrezco? ¿por qué de verdad yo soy bueno? ¿por qué me tienen que elegir a mí sobre cualquier otro que te venda exactamente lo mismo que yo?

El evaluar y siempre tener claro que yo tengo que defender mi nombre y mi marca, es muy importante, la imagen que yo le doy a los demás, porque eso es lo que va a hacer que el cliente llegue a ti, que el cliente te elija.

Luis:

Si me permites agregar alguito, han sido muchas las veces que he escuchado que mi producto, mi servicio me llevará al éxito porque brindo la mejor calidad. La realidad es que este pensamiento de creer que el producto o servicio por si solo puede crear una marca fuerte es cosa del pasado. Hoy en día las marcas son exitosas porque contribuyen con la sociedad, llámese mejorando la vida de las personas en comunidades, mejorando la forma en que los empleados interactúan dentro de esa empresa o ayudando con el medio ambiente y el cambio climático.

La idea de que yo como empresa contribuyo con la sociedad porque soy exitoso es obsoleta y este tipo de pensamiento perjudica enormemente la reputación de cualquier marca. Como mencionaste tu anteriormente ¿cuál es la milla extra?

Una marca debe ser más que un beneficio o un buen producto. De hecho, la confianza es más valiosa que el mismo producto. Estas tocando unos puntos muy importantes, pero por favor continua, que quiero escuchar más. ¿Qué otro tipo de riesgo tenemos que tomar en consideración?

Tatiana:

Si. También tenemos lo que es el riesgo operativo. Esto se relaciona más no tanto como un emprendedor, pero sí es bueno que conozca el término, pero sí más con cuando uno invierte en una empresa, en algo ya un poco más grande y está relacionada con la parte productiva, con la parte de los sistemas, de los procesos y del recurso humano que yo tengo, que en combinación son como un engranaje que hacen que la operativa de la empresa funcione.

Yo tengo que conocer y saber que los sistemas pueden fallar, que el ser humano puede fallar y que los procesos en algún momento, por más que los plasme, por más que haga toda una ruta del proceso en sí, tengo que saber que en cualquier momento uno de estos tres engranajes puede fallar. Y si yo me anticipo a este riesgo, si yo conozco en ¿qué puedo fallar, en qué puedo caer? Sí, ejemplo una manufacturera se dañó la máquina que hace las camisas y la persona o el técnico que la regla me dice que en dos días puedes venir.

Entonces, ¿qué hago yo para la producción? ¡No! entonces esas son las cosas que yo tengo que anticiparme. Por eso tengo que conocer cuál es el riesgo de mi operación, porque el riesgo operacional nos lleva a pérdidas económicas. Todo riesgo operacional se traduce en una pérdida económica, no como otros riesgos que, si llevan un tema de pérdida económica pero que si sabemos manejarlo prontamente, quizás la parte de la pérdida económica no sea tanto o no sea de tanto impacto como lo es un riesgo operativo.

Por último, el riesgo financiero, como les dije, estos son para mí como los cuatro principales que siempre debemos tener presentes. El riesgo financiero es aquel que tiene un poquito más de relación con algo externo, algo que, si bien la empresa debe considerar, porque a nivel de un emprendedor no se relaciona tanto porque es un poco más pequeño, pero en la parte por lo menos, la inversión. La inversión lleva un riesgo Financiero altísimo y que tenemos que cuidarla.

Factores externos como, por ejemplo: si yo pedí un préstamo para hacer esa inversión y las tasas de interés suben por realidad socioeconómica del país, sea la razón que sea, esa inversión se va a ver afectada. Una subida, una tasa de interés. Claro, en mi plan o mi mapa financiero que yo plasmé en un inicio sobre esa inversión ya no va a ser igual. Van a haber cambios, por muy pequeñitos que sean, van a haber cambios y tengo que saberlo. Tengo que dejar ese espacio para jugar con los números. Los números, si bien es cierto, la matemática es exacta, pero nosotros tenemos que saber jugar con ellos. Dejar ese espacio que nos permita maniobrar cuando alguna situación se presente.

El riesgo financiero puede jugar a favor o en contra de la empresa. Pero si yo maniobro los números y me dejo un espacio para hacerlo vamos a salir bien de eso, pero hay que tenerlo en cuenta cuando se hace sobre todo una inversión grande. Cuando hay un capital que se ha pedido a banco, cuando yo he invertido en algo, que yo dejé algún bien, vendí algún bien y dije bueno, voy a, ejemplo voy a rehipotecar mi casa y con esa rehipoteca, con ese dinero, voy a empezar una empresa. Entonces ahí tenemos que tener cuidado porque ahí se ponen en riesgo nuestros bienes en los activos que tenemos como empresa.

Luis:

Sí, te haré una pregunta ¿cuántas veces hemos escuchado decir de un emprendedor o de un dueño de empresa me he quedado sin dinero? Ya no sé cómo seguir adelante porque no estaba consciente de los costos y gastos que esta empresa, me explico, lo que realmente la empresa necesita. ¿Cuántas veces hemos escuchado eso?, yo no sé si tu has tenido esa oportunidad.

Tatiana:

infinidades de veces. Infinidades de veces es porque nosotros empezamos esta conversación diciendo tengo que hacer un análisis de mercado, pero previo a eso, yo tengo que hacer un análisis de mi inversión. Yo tengo que estar clara. Esto es lo que tengo para invertir. Esto es lo que me cuesta. Siempre, siempre vamos a tener costos y gastos. Entonces yo tengo que saber qué necesito para que el proceso de lo que yo quiero hacer se dé y eso me traiga un resultado. Y sobre ese resultado, entonces yo voy a obtener beneficios, pero yo tengo que hacerle un análisis a mi inversión. Yo tengo que decir esto es lo que tengo para invertir, estos son mis gastos y esto es lo que me puede dar y en cuánto tiempo me va a dar lo que quiero.

Porque de nada sirve que nosotros digamos bueno, yo voy a invertir en esto y a lo que salga a la suerte. ¡No! tenemos que estar claros con lo que el resultado que esa inversión nos va a dar, que implicaciones puede tener. A evaluar cómo yo puedo ser mejor en un tema de costos y gastos. Todo ese mapa hay que conocerlo, hay que conocerlo, porque si no, cuando algo se me desajuste en el proceso voy a querer desistir y no es la idea.

Luis:

Excelente. Bueno Tatiana nosotros siempre en nuestros episodios pedimos que los invitados les den a nuestros oyentes ciertos tips por lo menos para el público en general ¿qué podrías decirles a ellos?

Tatiana:

Para todas las personas, primero creo que abordar el tema de los sentimientos. Tenemos que ser empáticos, tenemos que ser empáticos en el sentido de saber que cuando alguien emprende o invierte está haciendo un esfuerzo por hacer algo que él/ella cree que puede llenar una necesidad.

Entonces, hay que ser un poquito empáticos. Quizás al principio no todo sea de maravilla y la empresa va a ir ajustando o el emprendedor irá ajustando en el proceso para ser mejor. Pero tenemos que saber que hay un esfuerzo detrás de lo que hace.

Segundo, yo soy muy de apoyar lo nacional, lo que es de tu país, apóyalo. Apóyalo porque eso es lo único que va a hacer que la economía se mueva y más después de todo lo que ha pasado con la pandemia. Cuando nosotros inyectamos en nuestra economía en algún momento eso tiene un retorno hacia nosotros y eso va a traer un impacto positivo sobre toda la sociedad. Y por último, saber que yo soy muy fanática de las compras con propósito. ¿Esto qué quiere decir? que yo compro con un propósito. Si bien es cierto, está bien que todos compremos, pero hay que comprar sabiendo que eso me va a retribuir algo, que eso me va a llenar algo, que eso va a cumplir una necesidad y no comprar por comprar, porque entonces en el camino podemos desilusionarnos y es porque no hacemos una evaluación de que realmente necesito.

Luis:

A ver, y ¿qué le dirías a los nuevos emprendedores y dueños de empresa?

Tatiana:

¿Qué les diría? Para adelante. Hay que esforzarse tanto, hay que hay que siempre hacer las cosas, yo fiel allí, hay que hacer las cosas con amor, darlo todo. En el camino se va a presentar dificultades, pero si le ponemos el corazón va a salir adelante.

Siempre saber que nuestra inversión va a generar una ganancia. Pero no solamente tenemos que enfocarnos en el tema económico, ¿en qué voy yo a recibir? sino que esa inversión se traduzca en crear una comunidad, en crear una familia, en hacer un lazo con el cliente. Yo siempre he dicho que cuando uno crea ese lazo con el cliente, el cliente sólo, él solo te va a ir refiriendo hacia otros más y vas a tener lo que yo le llamo ingreso pasivo.

Te fuiste de boca en boca, te fuiste por referencia y no hay mejor venta que la que se hace por referencia de otro cliente. Esa es la mejor. ¿Por qué? Porque tú sabes que ese cliente cuando llega a ti te va a decir “hola, vengo recomendado por tal persona” y eso siempre hay que agradecérselo a nuestros clients, por eso es que yo creo en que uno tiene que ir más allá de la venta, crear una comunidad, una familia.

Adicional a eso siempre tenemos que invertir en nosotros, en nuestros conocimientos, estar día a día en las cosas que están cambiando. Hace mucho tiempo pasamos a hablar de la globalización, pues la globalización ya está aquí y las cosas cambian al segundo. Siempre hay que estar en continuo aprendizaje, porque al final el conocimiento es una inversión para nosotros, una inversión en tí y que vale la pena al final.

Luis:

Como final, ¿qué le dirías a nuestro querido gobierno?

Tatiana:

Bueno, el daño que ha causado la Pandemia en todos nosotros de alguna manera ha sido fuerte. Fuerte porque cambiaron nuestros pensamientos, cambiamos como sociedad, todo ha cambiado. Entonces yo siento que ahí es la parte donde los gobernantes, que al final el gobierno es una empresa, es una empresa pública que trabaja para una nación, para un país. Hay que gobernar desde lo desde el corazón, haciendo las cosas, tratando de reparar todo el daño que sea que se ha plasmado con esto de la pandemia. Hacer leyes que generen inversión, que apoyen al emprendedor, que den ventajas que realmente sean significativas para que todo esto en conjunto mueva la economía.

Hacer leyes que ayuden a la protección del empleo por lo menos aquí en Panamá la tasa de desempleo pasó de un 7- 8% a un 14-17% es mucho. Entonces, esas son cosas que yo creo que han pasado a nivel mundial, porque muchas empresas han tenido que cerrar. No aguantaron estos cierres, estos bloqueos que han sido el arma de los gobiernos para para disminuir un poco los contagios y todo lo demás pero eso ha hecho que las personas tengan que cerrar sus negocios y muchas otras personas se han quedado sin empleo.

Hay que trabajar un poquito en la protección del empleo, en el apoyo a la inversión y en disminuir todos estos temas que conlleva un riesgo social que se han visto reflejado en muchos países. Los números de casos de cómo la sociedad ha empeorado en temas de corrupción, en temas homicidios, violencia familiar, o sea, hay muchas cosas que tenemos que tratar de que los gobernantes en sí tienen que tratar de proteger a la sociedad, proteger a su país.

Luis:

¡Sí!, excelente. Estoy totalmente de acuerdo con lo que acabo de decir. Esta conversación ha sido rica y llena de información. Espero que les hay gustado.

Gracias Tatiana por compartir tu tiempo con nosotros y esperemos tener otra charla prontamente.

Tatiana:

Claro que sí. Gracias a ti Luis y espero que les haya gustado el tema, que sea de conocimiento, de enriquecimiento para ustedes y pues cuando quieras a la orden.

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July 30, 2021

Project Management: How would clients start a construction project

Transcript: 07 - Project Management: How would clients start a construction project — with Dr Rebecca Dalli Gonzi
Jeanette:

Hi, today we're here again with Dr Rebecca Dalli Gonzi. She is an architect and civil engineer, and her specialisation is project management.

So, further to what we were talking about last time, where we talked about the four construction phases of a project. Today we'll be tackling the basic steps of how one would go about this, right?

So, a client would generally be, “oh okay, I want to build my house, or I want to set up my office, whatever. So let me go speak to the architect” But is that really what they want to do? Is that really what they should be doing? I mean, how does one start?

Rebecca:

So, thank you, Jeanette. We can say that there are at least five basics steps that an interested client can take if he's looking towards, you know, a construction project. The first step would be sort of what I like to call in a very serious term would be analysis, but it can be something much simpler.

Jeanette:

Don't give me these terms, Rebecca, please.

Rebecca:

So it is the time when the client, assuming that we would have had some discussions at home, on tissue papers, you know, during a meal, and he's got this left-over bit of design that he's really happy to show you and it does happen. That's really exciting!

There is an important step, and this is discussion and communication, and discussion and communication can happen obviously with all the interested people in your project. Ideally, with the choice of an architect, but I'm going to speak about the choice of architects a bit further on, later on.

The second thing that the client can look into is defining what he or she wants and what we call again; a more serious term the objectives. Now, what is an objective and what is a right objective and a wrong objective? I'll start off by saying that an objective needs to be what we call SMART.

SMART stands for something. So, SMART stands for S being smart, as in being specific. That takes us to M, which is measurable. Then that's A, which is actionable. Right? Then R, which is realistic, not Rebecca. Realistic and T, which is timely.

Jeanette:

Timely? Okay, so that's a lot of information.

Rebecca:

Yes, I'm going to give you an example. So, what would be a wrong objective? So you could meet someone, a client comes up to tell you I want to build a house in Balzan (a village in Malta).

Jeanette:

Okay, that's a bit vague, is it?

Rebecca:

That's a bit vague, that's it! You know? Okay, but if the client comes up to you and tells you, I want to build a two-storey house in Balzan over a timeframe of two years, say up to a certain date, with a budget of so and so. That is obviously helping the receiver, in this case, the architect, to understand a bit better the direction that the client wants to take.

Jeanette:

I see. So possibly clients would not always know all of these details. They would know their budget because obviously, that is something that first comes to mind and possibly the location where they want to have their development, no? Their house or their business, but wouldn't they need help?

I mean, I guess the choice of an architect would, how can I say? Lead them to know whether a project is doable within two years or two months, for example, right? So that is what we're talking about, the more information, the more SMART objectives.

Rebecca:

That's why we're here today. To help clients that might be watching this and not be so convinced or sure where they want to go with their design, and this takes us to sort of step two. So assuming that you're not quite sure about where you want to take this. You might wish to look at, at least four areas. Again, it might be a bit boring to say, but nevertheless, it's information. So you got cost, quality, time, and scope.

So cost, as you said before, clients would generally know how much they want to spend. Time, it's important that you have a timeframe when you present yourself to your architect. It's very important. That takes us to quality. So, what quality of building are you looking for? Are you looking for possibly high-quality finishes? Or is it something that you're taking into consideration your budget because that is also another aspect and your scope. Now scope again is a very broad term.

Jeanette:

In fact, I was going to ask you. What is scope exactly?

Rebecca:

Yes, scope can take us down the route, down the never-ending route. But scope very simply basically ties me back to what I said earlier, which is objective. What is my objective?

Project scope is a very sort of large domain; we can spend, you know, another hour talking about project scope but very briefly - to keep it simple - it's all about being direct with your objectives. So what is the objective? So if it's residential if you are building a complex. Is the complex for use that is going to be rented out? Is it going to be personal use? Cause even those decisions will affect how much you want to spend on your finishes.

Jeanette:

And perhaps even the return of investment, right?

Rebecca:

Exactly! That will take me to the other steps. Which would be step three.

Jeanette:

This is Rebecca Dalli Gonzi, and you are listening to the human agenda. Thank you so much for joining us on this episode.

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