Peer Review as a Development Tool for the Climate Change Work in Helsinki

In spring 2013, a peer review was carried out between three cities of Southern Finland. The cities – Helsinki, Turku and Lahti – reviewed their climate policies and the management of storm waters as part of adapting to climate change. The peer review was accomplished as a part of the Climate-proof city – tools for planning (ILKKA) project. The peer review has several suggestions on how to develop the climate change work in Helsinki, and many of those have now been launched into practice in the city.

Peer review is a method in which specialists of the same field who work in different organisations assess each other’s methods and results concerning the defined topic. Peer review that is implemented through interviews is an interactive event, from which the reviewers may also learn from the organisation being assessed.

The specialists from Turku and Lahti assessed the current state of climate work in Helsinki by interviewing approximately 40 people, including managing clerks, specialists and politicians. The final review was constructed based on the interviews and background materials, and it was compiled by a third party consultant. The utilised background materials consisted of political decisions of city organisations, strategic policies, background reviews and various follow-up reports.

Climate change work in Helsinki requires clearer coordination, prioritizing and scheduling

The peer review states that Helsinki has exceptionally large resources for climate work in Finland and that measures are already being carried out widely in different sectors. However, these measures are partly inconsistent with each other and there is no clear coordination responsibility. As development measures, the reviewers suggested clearer responsibility areas of climate work and defining the primary adaptation measures, based on the emission reduction potential and adaptation need. In order to better define the whole climate change work, the reviewers suggested compiling a uniting mitigation and adaptation programme, in which the objectives and measures have been prioritised and scheduled.

The management of storm waters in Helsinki is controlled by the Storm Water Strategy published in 2008. The city’s exemplary reviewing of the background information in the Storm Water Strategy was commended, as well as the strategy itself: it had good objectives, focus points and priorities. An active, multi-sector storm water workgroup operates in Helsinki, and successful run-off water solutions have been implemented through many pilot projects. However, the weak flow of information within the city and the unclear areas of responsibilities concerning the execution of measures hinder the implementation of the Storm Water Strategy. The review suggests updating the strategy and at the same time evaluating the success of the current strategy. In addition, a comprehensive stakeholder analysis could be carried out in order to facilitate more efficient communication and better commitment.

The review’s suggestions are already visible in the city’s operations

Helsinki has already begun to implement the suggestions of the peer review. For example the coordination responsibility of climate matters was appointed to the City of Helsinki Environment Centre in autumn 2013. Furthermore, the Environment Committee has made a proposition to the City Board towards compiling a roadmap for climate change mitigation and adaptation. The follow-up group of Helsinki’s Storm Water Strategy has handled the suggestions of the peer review and is currently utilising them to develop the strategy. For example, the city’s internal flow of information has been invested in.

Peer review is a learning process

The representatives of the cities taking part in the peer review felt that the method was a necessary and effective way to develop operations. Even though the cities already generally acknowledged the faults and problems in their climate work before participating in the review process, receiving feedback from a third party was seen as very important for introducing the development suggestions. It was felt that feedback from an external specialist was more effective and held more weight. In addition to the final results, the peer review process is also a good way to exchange good practises, because of specialists of the same field are brought together to discuss issues.

The peer review is available in Finnish: Peer review of the climate policy and stormwater management in the cities of Helsinki, Lahti and Turku (pdf)