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Collaborative Governance

Area: Community participation

With the world becoming increasingly urbanized and city planning facing numerous complex challenges, urban governance is being downscaled and decentralized, from the national level to the local level. Local authorities are now assuming more prominent roles in structuring urban development plans at the city or neighbourhood level.

Various interpretations of governance exist (see, for example housing governance on this vocabulary). However, the definition proposed by Ansell and Gash (2008) – describing governance as the “regimes of laws, rules, judicial decisions, and administrative practices that constrain, prescribe, and enable the provision of publicly supported goods and services” – remains pertinent in discussions about housing, energy, and urban development. Governance involves the negotiation and reconfiguration of institutions – representing “a set of norms” (Savini, 2019)– leading to claims of urban citizenship and power struggles. These processes aim to establish location-specific governance practices, as noted by Baker and Mehmood (2015) and Zavos et al. (2017).

In European urban planning, innovative governance models are emerging, integrating housing and spatial planning with increased resident decision-making control (Nuissl & Heinrichs, 2011; Scheller & Thörn, 2018; Van Straalen et al., 2017). Consequently, exploring collaborative urban governance is crucial. Ansell and Gash (2008, p. 544) define collaborative governance as “a governing arrangement where one or more public agencies directly engage non-state stakeholders in a collective decision-making process that is formal, consensus-oriented, and deliberative and that aims to make or implement public policy or manage public programs or assets”-

The shift towards neighbourhood-level governance is pivotal in nurturing a "politics of locality" (Ghose, 2005). Despite power disparities, new opportunities for active citizenry emerge, especially in housing, neighbourhood revitalization, and service delivery. Governance now extends beyond governmental tiers, incorporating the civic sphere and community-driven initiatives, bridging gaps left by formal state-driven sectors. Collaborative governance develops over time, benefiting from shared vision, dialogue, consensus-building, and understanding diverse roles and responsibilities (Innes & Booher, 2003). This integration emphasizes alternative governance forms, focusing on "territorially-focused collective action" (Healey, 2006, p. 305) and self-organization, contrasting the top-down, modernist model.

Collaborative governance, akin to collaborative planning, emphasizes rights-claiming processes, granting decision-making authority to non-experts. Ghose (2005, p.64) contends that “in order to participate in the power hierarchies […] one has to understand how to perform actively as a citizen in order to claim a right to the city”. Therefore, collaborative governance is a process characterized by shared responsibilities, where shared knowledge serves as the primary currency. This shared knowledge is emphasized as crucial in challenging the authority of experts, as noted by Emerson et al. (2012).


Ansell, C., & Gash, A. (2008). Collaborative governance in theory and practice. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 18(4), 543–571.

Baker, S., & Mehmood, A. (2015). Social innovation and the governance of sustainable places. Local Environment, 20(3), 321–334.

Emerson, K., Nabatchi, T., & Balogh, S. (2012). An integrative framework for collaborative governance. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 22(1), 1–29.

Ghose, R. (2005). The complexities of citizen participation through collaborative governance. Space and Polity, 9(1), 61–75.

Healey, P. (2006). Transforming governance: Challenges of institutional adaptation and a new politics of space. European Planning Studies, 14(3), 299–320.

Innes, J. E., & Booher, D. E. (2003). The Impact of Collaborative Planning on Governance Capacity. In IURD Working Paper Series.

Nuissl, H., & Heinrichs, D. (2011). Fresh wind or hot air-does the governance discourse have something to offer to spatial planning? Journal of Planning Education and Research, 31(1), 47–59.

Savini, F. (2019). Responsibility, polity, value: The (un)changing norms of planning practices. Planning Theory, 18(1), 58–81.

Scheller, D., & Thörn, H. (2018). Governing ‘Sustainable Urban Development’ Through Self-Build Groups and Co-Housing: The Cases of Hamburg and Gothenburg. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 42(5), 914–933.

Van Straalen, F. M., Witte, P., & Buitelaar, E. (2017). Self-Organisation in Oosterwold, Almere: Challenges with Public Goods and Externalities. Tijdschrift Voor Economische En Sociale Geografie, 108(4), 503–511.

Zavos, A., Koutrolikou, P. (Panagiota), & Siatitsa, D. (2017). Changing landscapes of urban citizenship: Southern Europe in times of crisis. Citizenship Studies, 21(4), 379–392.


Created on 26-10-2023 | Update on 08-12-2023

Related definitions

Housing Governance

Author: T.Croon (ESR11), M.Horvat (ESR6)

Area: Policy and financing

The shift from ‘government’ to ‘governance’ has been debated since the early 1970s. Whilst state interventionism had been widely embraced within western societies during the post-war decades, governments gradually moved from exercising constitutional powers to acting as facilitators and cooperative partners (Rhodes, 1997). Over the course of a few decades, this resulted in governance as ‘interactive social-political forms of governing’ (Nag, 2018, p. 124).  Hira and Cohn (2003, p. 12), influenced by Keohane (2002), define governance as “the processes and institutions, both formal and informal, that guide and restrain the collective activities of a group”. Its decentralised and flexible nature could still include public actors but would also leave space for private and third-sector parties to provide services in hybrid and temporary institutional arrangements. To formulate one single definition of ‘housing governance’ as a particular mode of governance is however difficult due to its multilevel character. Housing could relate to either a family home, a housing association, or a complete local/national housing governance framework. On a household level, Wotschack (2005, p. 2) defines governance as managing “the daily time allocation of spouses by household rules and conflict handling strategies”. The work of Wijburg (2021) indicates that local/municipal governance entails a set of public interventions, strategies, policies and provisions used to provide local needs (e.g. housing supply). On the national level, Yan et al. (2021) define public rental housing (PRH) governance as “a structure of a wide range of government and non-governmental actors that act in all its phases of PRH provision from policy design to implementation and realisation”.[1] This specific definition on PRH combines the domestic definition of governance with Wijburg’s understanding of governance on the local level. Within the Chinese context, the national government provides policies and creates nationwide operational methods, whilst local governments implement and formulate the policies locally (Yan et al., 2021). Critics point out that a more decentralised governance structure complicates the public accountability of housing provision. Peters and Pierre (2006, p. 40) distinguish problems concerning the ‘isolation’ and ‘enforcement’ of accountability. The former refers to demarcation, as it is easier to measure the performance of a government housing agency directly responsible for new build and operations, than those from the private sector in an indirect role trying to stimulate and facilitate other actors and contracting out construction and operations (Shamsul Haque, 2000). The latter relates to the accountability deficit that arises when responsibility is transferred from democratically governed municipal agencies to actors without a representative institutional arrangement, and thus without control mechanisms for tenants or the wider population (Mullins, 2006). Throughout history, understanding of governing has evolved together with the role of government. The state plays a different role in capitalism, corporatism and socialism, which has varying effects on local and/or (inter)national levels. Whilst the above paragraphs describe housing governance within a democratic governance regime, transferring the conceptual debate to autocratic or hybrid regimes would pose difficulties. Thus, finding a unique definition of housing governance applicable in all spheres remains a challenge, and the specific context must be carefully considered. Important challenges remain, and as housing provision mechanisms evolve, further exploration of housing governance, especially on a municipal level, are likely to gain importance (Hoekstra, 2020). [1] “Housing provision is a physical process of creating and transferring a dwelling to its occupiers, its subsequent use and physical reproduction and at the same time, a social process dominated by the economic interests involved” ibid.

Created on 16-02-2022 | Update on 21-02-2022

Community Empowerment

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)

Area: Community participation

Community empowerment appears in the literature of participatory action research (Minkler, 2004), participatory planning (Jo & Nabatchi, 2018), and community development (Luttrell et al., 2009) as a key element of participatory practices, understanding it as a process that enables communities to take control of their lives and their environments (Rappaport, 2008; Zimmerman, 2000). Many argue that community participation becomes meaningless if it does not lead to, or pass through community empowerment. As the term is being used in diverse and ubiquitous ways, it runs the risk of ending up as an empty definition and a catch-all phrase (McLaughlin, 2015). It is therefore important to specify the perspective through which we will view the term and clarify the nuances.  Since its origins, empowerment has been used in two different ways. Firstly, top-down as the power that had been ‘granted’ by a higher authority, such as the state or a religious institution, and secondly, bottom-up, as a process by which groups or individuals come to develop the capacity to act and acquire power. Examples of the latter can be found in social groups such as feminists working in nongovernmental organizations throughout the global south in the 1970s, who found a way to address social issues and inequalities that enabled social transformation based on women’s self-organization (Biewener & Bacqué, 2015). The term was gradually appropriated by welfare, neoliberal, and social-neoliberal agendas whose priority was individual agency and choice. In neoliberal rationality, empowerment is related to efficiency, economic growth, business productivity, and individual rational choice to maximize profit in a competitive market economy. In social liberalism agendas, empowerment is understood as ‘effective agency’, where ‘agency’ is not an inherent attribute, but something that needs to be constructed through ‘consciousness-raising’ (McLaughlin, 2016). A broader definition sees empowerment as a social action process through which individuals, communities, and organizations take control of their lives in the context of changing the social and political environment to improve equity and quality of life (Rappaport, 2008; Zimmerman, 2000). Rowlands (1997), refers to four types of empowerment: power over, as the ability to influence and coerce; power to, to organize and change existing hierarchies; power with, as the power from the collective action and power within, as the power from the individual consciousness. Using this classification, Biewener & Bacqué (2015), adopting a feminist approach, understand empowerment as a multilevel construct with three interrelated dimensions: 1) an internal, psychological one, where ‘power within’ and ‘power to’ are developed, 2) an organizational, where ‘power with’ and ‘power over’ are strengthened and 3) a social or political level, where institutional and structural change is made possible through collective action. Thus, community empowerment links the individual level, which involves self-determination, growth of individual awareness, and self-esteem, to the collective level, relating critical consciousness and capacity building with the structural level, where collective engagement and transformative social action take place. This view of empowerment, which considers its goals and processes, has a social dimension that is lacking in other approaches that prioritize individual empowerment. Aside from the feminist movements, the philosophy and practices of community empowerment have been greatly influenced by the work of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and an advocate on critical pedagogy. Freire proposed a dialogic problem-solving process based on equality and mutual respect between students and teachers; that engaged them in a process of iterative listening-discussing-acting. Through structured dialogue, group participants shared their experiences, discussed common problems, and looked for root causes and the connections among “problems behind the problems as symptoms” (Freire, 1970). The term conscientization, that Freire proposed, refers to the consciousness that arises through the involvement of people in the social analysis of conditions and their role in changing them. This awareness enables groups to be reflexive and open spaces, to enact change or to understand those limited situations that may deter change (Barndt, 1989). Empowerment can be understood as both a process and an outcome (Jo & Nabatchi, 2018). As a process, it refers to “the development and implementation of mechanisms to enable individuals or groups to gain control, develop skills and test knowledge”(Harrison & Waite, 2015) and it entails the creation of new subjects who have developed a critical consciousness and the formation of groups with a ‘collective agency’ ‚ or ‘social collective identity’ (Biewener & Bacqué, 2015). Empowerment as an outcome refers to “an affective state in which the individual or group feels that they have increased control, greater understanding and are involved and active” (Harrison & Waite, 2015). This can lead to a transformation of the social conditions by challenging the structures and institutionalized forms that reproduce inequalities. The values and the significance of community empowerment can be further applied in the participatory and community-based approaches of the housing sector. Examples of such approaches in the housing provision are the housing cooperatives, and self-developed and self-managed housing groups. Housing cooperatives aim at promoting co-creation to engage future residents, professionals, and non-profit organizations in all the stages of a housing project: problem-framing, designing, developing, cohabiting, managing, and maintaining. Such organisational models stress the importance and pave the way for community empowerment by uniting individuals with similar interests and ideals, enabling them to have housing that responds to their needs, preferences, and values. The participation of the residents aims to strengthen their sense of ownership of the process, the democratic decision-making and management, and the social collective identity, making community empowerment an integral characteristic of cooperative housing initiatives. With this social perspective, residents can gain individual and collective benefits while contributing to fairer and more sustainable urban development on a larger scale (Viskovic Rojs et al., 2020).

Created on 03-06-2022 | Update on 03-06-2022

Collaborative Planning

Author: A.Panagidis (ESR8)

Area: Design, planning and building

State-controlled spatial planning has been criticised for being too paternalistic as it tends to exercise political weight from the top, indicating the imbalance of power in decision-making processes (Albrechts, 2003). Furthermore, the dominance of an urban (economic) growth ideology in planning is discussed in critiques which address the problems of trust and accountability in central planning authorities. While the state is expected to act in the public interest through the rational and impartial guidance of planners, there is a notable lack of trust observed towards planning institutions and their methods of operation (Swain & Tait, 2007). A common issue raised in the critiques of planning institutions is how the prioritisation of the technical knowledge of “expert” professionals is leading to the exclusion of the public through the resulting lack of diversity in universal assumptions of their interest, the lack of transparency and the changing political dimensions of planning decisions in general. In addition, the advancement of neoliberal ideology, either by rolling back the power of the state, or by the state operating as an entrepreneurial actor, has led to further mistrust of planning mechanisms aligned with urban entrepreneurialism (Phelps & Miao, 2020). State-market partnership dominance allows very little room for citizens that are not in positions of power to influence planning decisions and develops mistrust towards hegemonic planning institutions. A major dilemma is how to prioritise actions which would meet the needs of smaller groups of stakeholders while also serve the wider society. In addition, a common difficulty is the translation of theoretical concepts into practical actions that can address complex societal problems and create positive outcomes for communities and the environment. In response to the structural failures of strategic planning and the distancing of citizens from democratic decision-making processes, Healey (1997) wrote about “practicing planning” or, “doing planning work”, focusing on the place-based, fine-grain interactions that are socially embedded and potentially able to influence the structures and power relations of existing planning institutions. The theory of collaborative planning (Healey, 1997) has been influential in the advocacy for new relations between state and local actors where policies and resources had not been previously allocated sufficiently. Collaborative planning accepts the highly political nature of allocating resources such as housing and social infrastructure, and aims to eradicate socio-economic injustices in certain areas. Collaborative planning ensures citizens’ right to be heard and the accountability of decisions made after the planning process by those in power. However, collaboration in planning has largely involved the management and mediation of continuous conflicts, for example, between competing urban interests. Moreover, scholars of collaborative planning theory use the paradigm of communicative planning to argue that “communication itself is a form of action that changes the realities of the social world, including power relations” (Innes & Booher, 2015, p. 200). Communicative planning as an overarching paradigm is a fundamental means for instilling ethics and justice judgements in the particularities of collaborative planning theory which is specific to place (Campbell & Marshall, 2006; Innes & Booher, 1999). Innes and Booher (2003) discuss the capacity of society to govern and claim that the building of collaborative capacity for governance is dependent on “mutual trust and shared understandings” (Innes & Booher, 2003). However, while the paradigm of communicative planning stresses the need for a more equitable distribution of power (Albrechts, 1991, 2003; Forester, 1999), the operationalisation of communicative planning theory into action has remained a great challenge. Feelings of unfairness translated also into a lack of trust in public administration and other context-dependent challenges related to the governing processes are often found to be major obstacles in citizen-government collaboration. Both collaborative governance and planning emphasize collaboration and stakeholder engagement but one needs to precede the other. Firstly, collaborative governance involves the rules and forms of interaction and communication through which public and private actors work collectively during decision-making practices (Ansell & Gash, 2008). Secondly, collaborative planning is a theory related to plan-making and policy-making in terms of spatial development and the management of public resources which depends on the consensus-building capacity of collaborative governance practices. Through the integration of collaborative approaches in governance and planning at the local level, alternative scales of urban governance appear, namely at the level of community, as “territorially-focused collective action” (Healey, 2006, p. 305) and by advancing bottom-up, self-organized initiatives in contrast to the top-down, modernist model that has dominated most configurations of Western urban space. Fundamental to these considerations is the concept of placemaking in planning, explained by Healey (1998) as the work that involves people with a “stake” in a place which then makes them become active participants in urban planning processes. Hence, placemaking is the process of utilising the joint knowledge, abilities and effort of community members in collaborative planning, often involving public spaces and neighbourhood amenities, considering the balance of social and economic values and uses of land that grow out of the diverse concerns of those with legitimate interests. In other words, the communicative capacity of a community connected to a place, according to social values embodied in place, builds the capacity for direct forms of planning through discussions and plan-making process which involve all relevant stakeholders (Albrechts, 2013). As a result, the processes of coordinating and determining the diversity of decisions, collaborative planning strategies are not confined to technical expertise. They are strategies which recognise the value of “deliberative democracy” and citizens’ involvement in policy-making. However, a more collaborative and neighbourhood-oriented approach to planning also demands the ability to respond to the conflicts, debates and micropolitics of planning practice during the cooperation between state and non-state actors. Additionally, problems of participant selection and representation, stakeholders’ ongoing commitment and the level of shared decision-making and risk-taking that local administrations are able to manage can be especially challenging (Bartoletti & Faccioli, 2016). A deeper understanding of the contextual, variegated planning processes and how they hinder or facilitate collaborative practices at the level of everyday decisions is still overdue (Calderon & Westin, 2021). The dominance of technocratic and political actors accustomed to top-down/hierarchical norms followed by the exclusion of residents and other less-powerful stakeholders are structures which have been socially embedded and reproduced over time. Consequently, the interplay between institutions and the agency of all of the actors and their understanding of collaboration is highly context driven: "[Institutions] emerge and are reproduced within the specific spatial and temporal horizons of action pursued by specific actors … this shows the key role of actors in mediating (supporting, reinforcing or diminishing) the influence of institutions, and thus context, in specific planning processes … Hence, an analysis of the influence that context has on specific planning processes cannot be performed without close attention to actors and how they use their agency to reproduce or deviate from the institutional setting in which they operate." (Calderon & Westin, 2021, pp. 16–17). Currently, a resurgence of communicative and collaborative paradigms in planning is being witnessed, but by using the concepts of co-production and co-creation. For example, urban living labs are being used as experimental spaces where actors with different levels of power and different types of skills and knowledge are learning to work together. A recent analysis shows that mutual learning and collaboration reinforce each other, yet challenges which remain may be the time-intensive nature of collaborative planning in general and the lack of clarity about expectations, responsibilities and roles of participants (Knickel et al., 2023). These new platforms for deliberation allow us also to think about housing outside of the bounds of private property and as a fundamental part of decisions at the scale of neighbourhood planning.        

Created on 06-03-2024 | Update on 06-03-2024


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