Sometimes we can become a little blinkered or set in our ways, never stepping back to gain a new angle on the problems we face. At the University of Oxford’s Transport Studies Unit (TSU), we believe that sustainable solutions come from an interdisciplinary perspective, one that can only be gained by stepping outside of our existing routines and networks.
Tackling Global Challenges in Transport
Every year I help deliver a series of courses that aim to change the way transport professionals understand the big global challenges that face transport today - such as climate change; the introduction of smart technologies; the design, delivery and management of new infrastructure; or the complex interrelation of transport with health and wellbeing.
The Oxford Leadership Programme that I manage not only creates a unique opportunity for individual development and learning, but also enables participants to build their professional networks. We bring together a diverse range of academics, practitioners and decision-makers from across the globe (more than 30 countries in the last year alone!) - and from fields such as transport geography, engineering, management, public health and sociology - for week-long residential courses, but the relationships and partnerships that are developed long outlive those weeks.
This was typified by the participants of last year's ‘Global Challenges in Transport: Infrastructures’ course. Their exchanges, discussions and debates carried on much longer than the lecture times, continuing over coffee breaks or a drink at night, and the group built connections that have become lasting friendships.
Great minds think alike?
That week in Oxford lit the spark for what is now a successful think tank, CITIES FORUM, acting across the globe to influence sustainable transport, ensuring a presence at most of the main international gatherings, conferences and debates - from Berlin to Quito, Vancouver to Madrid. In their own words, the forum was “born from the vision of a group of multidisciplinary experts who met at Oxford University, deciding to create an organisation where they harness their skills, experience and common background in making cities more efficient, resilient and sustainable.”
The CITIES FORUM team, representative of our Oxford course participants, is a wonderful mix of nationalities and expertise, and the course clearly infulenced their manifesto: an ambition to work with cities to develop transport systems in line with the sustainable urban development goals.
A better connected transport future
Several participants have also decided to return to Oxford to attend further courses, or give a talk, or collaborate with us on future research projects. I myself got invited to Quito, Ecuador as a Visiting Lecturer thanks to one of our September 2018 alumni. Each course is a really rewarding experience and we are always honoured by the presence of the leading decision-makers, promising early career professionals and academics who decide to spend a week here with us and learn more about our research (and sometimes even help us develop it in ever more innovative ways).
As each new course comes around (at the time of writing our next course on Health and Wellbeing is in December 2019), I eagerly anticipate welcoming more participants and growing this beautiful network of knowledge and experts, who together can make a real different in building more sustainable urban futures.