Transition towards urban sustainability through socially integrative cities in the EU and in China

Multi-Actor Governance

1. Purpose(s)

Multi-actor governance sets the framework for interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral cooperation of experts, city administration and a range of stakeholders, it enables the emergence of new perspectives and innovative solutions though coupling of different fields of knowledge. In such governance setting, involved actors can transgress their own field of action (or 'silos') and create collaborative networks supporting and owning the process of implementation. This approach encourages bundling of synergies and enables the emergence of more innovative and qualitative solutions.

Key Words: governance; multi-actor; cross-sectoral cooperation; collaboration

2. Relevance and Impact

An early involvement of a multi-actor community generates commitment to implementation from the very beginning. Potentially arising conflicts of interests can be addressed at the start, increasing the likelihood of success and benefitting all actors. The different perspectives of the actors lead to more sustainable solutions being developed and implemented.

Multi-actor governance is an effective mechanism in smart and ecocity projects in European cities (London, Stockholm, Vienna) as well as in Chinese cities (Chongqing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Tianjin and Wuhan). In the Chinese context this tool is often used in overall planning and construction activities at community level (i.e. new communities). The cities have proven that new forms of cooperation and communication, qualification measures, municipal self-commitments and more flexible forms of administration are relevant. Although multi-actor governance is not a mandatory instrument, it has proven successful and effective due to an early involvement and consideration of interested and relevant groups of public and private actors, taking into consideration their capacity to implement new and sustainable solutions and plans. Especially when decisions have far-reaching impacts vertically and horizontally cooperation between stakeholders is essential for sustainable implementation.

The tool as such was not tested as planned on a large scale within the project because of COVID-19. The tool was presented as an approach in the online workshop in August 2020 and examples were shared with Chinese partners. Due to COVID 19, it was not possible to test it in a Living Lab workshop in China.

3. Strenghts

The collaboration and alignment between different planning authorities means that a range of perspectives are explored and incorporated and strategic relationships between key stakeholders are established. Synergetic development approach paves the way for comprehensive solutions. An early stakeholder commitment ensures ownership of the collectively agreed aims and implementation steps.

4. Weaknesses

Multi-actor governance requires high density of coordination activities. This governance model asks for structures that facilitate cooperation across disciplines and planning departments. Current processes and structural set-ups may be challenged by the need for cross-sectoral, cross-departmental collaboration and alignment. A further potential weakness may be a missing formulation of clear, joint targets to be achieved. Further potential weaknesses may arise through unclear formulated targets.

5. Good practice examples

Stockholm (map): Royal Seaport Development - Early involvement and commitment of various actors

In the Process of the Stockholm Royal Seaport development, the city established thematic working groups. This format created space for exchange between representatives of the city administration and the private sector. Civil contracts were applied as a legal instrument ensuring the implementation of the set strategic planning goals. Feedback loops were built in between the appointees overseeing the overall strategy on the city level and experts from the thematic working. Close monitoring of the implementation performance was assured through a regular public sustainability reporting.

Stockholm (map): Collective definition of Municipal Program - Involvement of diverse stakeholder groups

In the process of Stockholm Environmental Program (2016-2020) development, the city used a multi-level governance approach in all stages: strategic development, planning, implementation, replication and up-scaling. The essential element of this approach is formed by the thematic groups. Each thematic group consists of 5-10 persons representing several sectors and levels of government (e.g. different departments, businesses, interest groups, etc.). The overall decision making concerning specific elements of the program lies with the city manager, leading the entire process. Following an extensive review process, the City Council approved the program. Furthermore, an administrative board has been assigned to follow up on the specified targets. The “follow-up” of the sub-targets (and related indicators) is reported every four months, thus ensuring the tracking of the progress. The overall progress is recorded in an annual report, prepared by the departments of the City Hall.

6. References

7. Author(s) of the article

Christoph Brodnik