The Smart Future Forum features insights and thought leadership from our network of policy professionals and development practitioners on topics relating to CSF’s thematic areas. Here you will find articles, reports, essays, op-eds, interviews, and more.

Anchoring meaningful community participation at the heart of nature-based solutions in cities

Historically, and more often than not, community participation has taken the form of “consultations” to satisfy engagement criteria for projects, a sort of ‘tick-box’ exercise. These can take the form of awareness raising initiatives to inform communities that projects are taking place in their communities or with the ecosystems they engage with. In these instances, communities have little autonomy to guide the direction of these projects or voice their opinion and provide feedback. For NbS initiatives to be successful, meaningful engagement is essential to ensure project success. Thus, it is paramount that we move to a model of meaningful community engagement in a way that is equitable and just with the communities who will be impacted either directly or indirectly, by NbS projects. This article details out principles of community engagement that should be taken into consideration when designing NbS projects to ensure meaningful engagement and participation throughout the project lifecycle from conception through to completion and finally to review evaluation.

Dirty Business: Reading modernity in Colombo’s fish markets

Why are fish markets consistently decried as filthy, and what does that say about urban space and our changing ideas of what is acceptable in our cities? While adding fish markets to the list of national failings may be the simplest course of action, a closer examination of how these markets are perceived by urban planners and administrators, offers us insight into dominant ideologies of planning, municipal governance and public health that continue to influence our cities today. 

Financing Conservation: Six Mechanisms Sri Lanka Should Know About

Conservation efforts across the globe are in urgent need of sustainable financing. The challenge to meet this need is difficult but surmountable. The growing recognition of natural capital, the increasing availability of innovative financing instruments, and the expansion of climate-oriented funds means that there are now a greater number of financing alternatives for countries like Sri Lanka that do not have the fiscal capacity to sustain conservation efforts through traditional budgetary sources. At the Centre for a Smart Future, we are looking at some of these instruments and mechanisms specifically to identify their applicability to Sri Lanka, and learning lessons on how they can be deployed sensibly and sustainably. It’s vital that domestic economic and governance considerations are borne in mind when choosing these instruments and mechanisms for use in Sri Lanka, and government, development partners, policy think tanks, and environmental specialists should be engaged inclusively to get the best outcome for the country.

Understanding Power Asymmetries in Platform-based Gig Work

In contrast to traditional employment, the power structure in the gig economy is largely dominated by the platform companies that use different mechanisms rooted in algorithmic management leading to power asymmetries. Workers have little agency and find it difficult to contest unfair decisions or unethical behaviours by platform companies, given the few organisational resources at their disposal. In this context, platform companies must work towards improving overall transparency of their operations (i.e., particularly on algorithms), so that workers are made aware of how different aspects of their work (i.e.,ratings, incentives, commission rates etc.) are determined.

A New Project on Innovative Financing for Sustainable Marine Conservation in Sri Lanka

Ecological conservation sites cannot operate without proper financial planning and management. In Sri Lanka, sites are operational, however, can stand to benefit greatly from revisiting theoretical and practical considerations of planning and management. Moreover, unlocking innovative financial solutions is only possible once conservation and financing stakeholders are on the same page regarding the issues, objectives, and outcomes of conservation. While financiers may be aware of the opportunity, the lack of awareness and knowledge on science-based conservation metrics too limits the attention given to this space. The Centre for a Smart Future is partnering with the Blue Resources Trust on a research and advocacy project to advance innovating financing for sustainable marine conservation in Sri Lanka, under a project funded by the Oceans 5 consortium.

Borrowing To Eat: The Impact of Sri Lanka’s Economic Crisis on Colombo’s Working Class Poor

Colombo Urban Lab’s third policy brief on the impact of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis on Colombo’s working class poor communities focusses on household debt and social security. Our ongoing research with communities in Colombo show an increase in household debt as families struggle with competing expenses - food, utility bills, transport, education, health, livelihood. Poverty and vulnerability presents itself very differently in Colombo, and while the streets of Colombo may look like it is back to normal, the crises faced by working class families tell a different story. 

Policy-Lab on ‘Integrating Equity and Reframing Urban NbS in South Asian Cities’

The need for Nature-based Solutions (NbS) that integrate equity and address the unique challenges of South Asian cities will be the focal point of a two-day Policy-Lab scheduled to take place on August 22-23, 2023, in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Colombo Urban Lab will be one of the collaborating partners at this event together with People's Alliance for Right to Land (Sri Lanka), Transitions Research (India) and International Centre for Climate Change and Development (Bangladesh). The event, supported by the Stockholm Environment Institute’s Strategic Collaborative Fund, aims to reframe NbS within the region's social, political, and economic context, focusing on the growing urban areas.

Circuits of Semiconductors and Affiliation: a Shallow Dive into the Small-Scale Mobile Phone Repair Sector

In Sri Lanka, the way telecommunication technologies have embedded themselves into people’s lives cannot be ignored. Over the past two decades, mobile telephone voice subscriptions have gradually increased. Furthermore, at the end of 2021, the total cellular mobile telephone subscriptions were 135% of the population. These facts and figures describe the public’s need for mobile phone connectivity services in order to connect to people and things. However, within this sector, the roles played by states and larger enterprises tend to overshadow the ancillary roles played by people organised at smaller scales.

Beyond Pomp and Pageantry: Looking at Public Markets as Lived Spaces

The reconfiguration of Colombo’s built environment and key infrastructure has lasting consequences for the city’s food environment and people’s access to affordable and nutritious fresh produce. Public markets are more than the building in which its activities take place. They are lived spaces for people of different walks of life and facilitate more than mere commercial activities. The conceptualisation and design of these markets must also consider the lived experiences of those that work and engage with the market, in order to make them sustainable in the long run.