Whenever you involve citizens and you start co-creating solutions with them, you end up with solutions you never thought of – Christian Iaione
This quote nicely summarises the second event in the series ‘New Democracy’ on February 25th 2016. The experiences from Solin, Leeuwarden and Bologna brought some new perspectives on good urban governance to add to the recommendations for the EU Urban Agenda. Most important were the focus on processes instead of practices, the value of experimentation, and the varied new set of values and roles that result from co-creation between citizens and governments. The implementation of these insights in the EU Urban Agenda could help to set the right priorities in European urban regulation for the coming years.
Recommendation 1: Do not look for best practices, but look for best processes
An important insight of this evening was that although cities throughout Europe share the same challenges, the context within a particular city is too different to be able to implement ready-made solutions. Senior Associate for Development Projects Antonija Eremut from Solin emphasised that we cannot simply copy-paste a successful model of co-creation. Best practices of co-creation that worked in one place can have adverse effects in another situation; instead more attention should be given to the process of such collaborative governance. Also in Bologna Christian Iaione, Founder of the think-tank LabGov, aims to promote Bologna not as a best practice but as a ‘best process’, which could help co-design a best process in another city by sharing steps, mistakes and solutions. It is in fact this process that needs to be valued for the unexpected result it can generate. This leads to the next recommendation.
Recommendation 2: Go for the experiment and be open to change
When there is not one best model to follow, the steps along the way should constantly be re-imagined and reinvented. It is exactly this openness to change according to Sjoerd Feitsma, Alderman of Cultural Affairs in Leeuwarden, that makes it possible to connect with the movements in society that demand change. Another important characteristic of the experiment is that it enables a solution-based approach. Only by experimenting on the ground policy-makers can see the reactions, motivations of the people involved and the possible problems it encounters. Such a process and experimentation oriented form of co-creation takes time, but as Antonija Eremut replied it is exactly the process itself that is valuable. According to Christian Iaione also the solutions that result from it are more valuable. Not taking time for experimentation leads to a quick solution that you cannot implement either because of opposition or because it was not well thought through. This is the ‘cost of impatience’. Experimentation on the ground together with citizens allows for a solution-based approach that actually lies close to the real life of citizens.
There is thus no need for more regulations, but a need to redefine regulations so that they are based on the interests of society. The co-design of the bidbook that made Leeuwarden Cultural Capital 2018 is a nice example of the success of such a different mindset. Christian Iaione calls this ‘re-moulding’ our rules so they fit in the transition we are in. The result of experimentation is therefore not a new set of regulations but a toolkit of guidelines that can lead to new governance devices.
Recommendation 3: Change from command and control to service designers
The fun thing about such co-designing processes with citizens is that it also leads to more effective policies, because the policies are self-implementing. As Christian Iaione explained, implementation is already imbedded in this process of co-designing policy.
Therefore bureaucrats, and civil servants, need to change their roles and skills, they don’t need to just be rules and knowledge bearers, they need to start working together with the citizens, they need to be service designers, which means they need to know people, they need to know the kind of attitudes that people have. – Christian Iaione
Changing the process of governance thus also calls for a redesigning of the internal city government. Involving citizens in the process decreases the need for tools of command and control and instead calls for a transformation of the city government towards a ‘citizen enabling system’. An important factor in these changing roles is trust. As Sjoerd Feitsma mentioned these new modes of urban governing need to place more trust in citizens. This means that in the future there will still be a need for rules, but also a need to let go and be more flexible in order to come to innovative solutions.
Recommendation 4: Be open to different stakeholders
Experimental co-creation inevitably involves different stakeholders, different scales and different themes. This is also the main focus of the EU Urban Agenda by creating new partnerships between cities throughout Europe and trying to involve their experiences to come to new policies on urban governance. According to EU Urban Policy Advisor Pedro Campos Ponce citizens, businesses, and public authorities create the city together. On the one hand co-creation between citizens and government thus means to involve citizens by downsizing governance to the level of the neighbourhood, but on the other hand partnership should also be extended to every stakeholder involved. Sjoerd Feitsma mentioned that co-creation takes the form of a network of people that works together to find solutions. Therefore very different cultural and economic themes can be drivers for co-creation. A lesson to be learned is that urban governance does not simply come from the state apparatus; it can also be generated through cultural awareness on urban issues and better education on the effect of urban processes. If for example the bidbook of Leeuwarden had been a governmental project it would have missed certain urgencies. This shows that involving citizens can make culture an important driver for innovative and more effective urban governance.
Do you have other or additional ideas about successful co-creation in the city and how these practices transform our democracy? You can send your ideas and articles through email.