While the buildings in which organised entities are located are quite visible, institutions themselves are usually invisible.
Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Prize-winning political economist
Institutional capacity can be defined as the capability of an institution to set and achieve social and economic goals through knowledge, skills, and systems. Efforts to build institutional capacity to improve child health and mobility should consider not only strengthening skills within individual departments, but also how the organization engages with the public. Programs must start from a deep assessment of local conditions and capacities and look at what can realistically be achieved in a given institutional setting and to match ambitions accordingly.
5 KEY LESSONS
1. Assess institutional performance
Assess the ability of institutions to address challenges facing children and develop effective solutions.
2. Strengthen institutional capacity
Institutional change involves incremental and sequential changes in existing practices, structures, and responsibilities.
3. Define agency responsibilities
Address overlapping and fragmented responsibilities.
4. Develop working groups
Create a multi-disciplinary task force of stakeholder agencies to improve coordination on programs impacting children.
5. Create peer learning networks
Create peer learning networks among the stakeholders that foster information sharing and learning.
A common factor of successful mobility projects is the presence of a political champion or visionary. Strong institutional leadership is necessary to foster innovative policy development and project implementation, especially when trying to shift the status quo, as is the case in building kid-friendly streets and incentivising the adoption of clean vehicle technologies. The value of key actors or organisations in initiating, designing, and implementing projects cannot be understated. An initial step in interventions to improve child mobility and health is the identification of a committed official who can drive the agenda through to completion.
Creating an multi-disciplinary coalition of agencies and stakeholder organisations will ensure better coordination on programs impacting children. Possible participants would include transport agencies, traffic police, public health departments, departments of parks and recreation, environmental protection agencies, and utility agencies.
Over the medium term, regional transport planning and coordination bodies should be established or strengthened. Children’s health and mobility outcomes are improved when institutional responsibilities are not overlapping or fragmented. It is important that these bodies be legally independent and backed up by requisite legislation. They should have the administrative authority to summon departments and hold them responsible for doing their jobs. Regional planning bodies should drive the identification of investment needs and create a pipeline of projects to be delivered at the local level.
Case study: Chennai Non-Motorised Transport Sub-Committee
In Chennai, an Indian city with a metropolitan population of 9 million, the government has taken steps to develop institutions to coordinate planning around walking and cycling. The metropolitan transport planning body, the Chennai Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (CUMTA), created a Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) Sub-committee that is headed by the Commissioner of the city government. The committee facilitates meetings among various stakeholders in order to discuss plans for the city with a focus on improving the NMT infrastructure. The sub-committee includes the city government, the state Highways Department, the metro rail authority, the city bus agency, the electricity board, the state-owned telecommunications provider, academic experts, and various civil society organizations.
During monthly meetings, the Committee reviews the status of ongoing projects, provides feedback on pedestrian facility designs, and helps resolve issues encountered during implementation. These meetings have been instrumental in sorting differences between the various stakeholders involved in the project and facilitating the exchange of best practices. In addition to committee meetings, members take regular site visits to experience the challenges faced by pedestrian’s first-hand and identify solutions.
Institutional mentoring may be a useful capacity-building strategy to support transport, education, police, and public health departments that are implementing projects to address children’s health and mobility challenges. These are learning frameworks that employ an interactive process to supply professionals with new skills and resources. Mentorship opportunities can include one-on-one mentorships as well as institutional partnerships to share resources and knowledge.
Periodic hands-on capacity building activities are essential to impart new skills. Effective trainings include observation of user behaviour, interaction with users themselves. Governments can explore partnerships with educational institutions, non-governmental organizations, or development partners to support capacity building activities.
Institutional change should effect incremental and sequential changes in existing rules. Success in developing small-scale initial projects enables groups to build on the social capital created to solve larger problems with larger and more complex institutional arrangements. For example, traffic calming facilities can be piloted around one elementary school. As the pilot project helps to build political good-will, the intervention can be scaled up across the city.
Of course, not all parties and institutional patterns will follow typical trajectories of institutional change. There are often vested interests in maintaining the status quo of inefficient institutions. Strategic dialogue will find supportive partners who are open to change and help change agents understand the hidden complexities of local institutions.