Build bridges between separate stakeholder groups

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Build Bridges between Separate Stakeholder Groups

❖ “Building bridges takes a lot of time, it doesn't happen overnight. Often this time is missing.” ("Berlin" Arena, 03.2021)

❖ “To get EVERYONE on board (i.e. people who don’t share our idea) we need to start by understanding them.” ("Berlin" Arena, 03.2021)

General ambition

Building bridges between separate groups of stakeholders requires setting up various informal or formal roles (e.g., intermediary, information broker, language translator, etc.) to enable communication, build trust, and increase mutual understanding through “on-site” engagement. At its core, building bridges is about furthering democratic participation on a decentralised, local level.

Such bridging roles can be filled by diverse actors (e.g., a project manager, a committee, a dedicated organization, esteemed community member, etc.) who are sensitive to the needs and perspectives of others, self-reflective of both their own privilege as well as their intermediary role, and generally humble ("Berlin" Arena, 03.2021).

Community members, for example, are important intermediaries because they are familiar with the local dynamics and can help to keep things going after a project is over ("Berlin" Arena, 03.2021). Additionally, civil society groups play important roles as intermediaries and information brokers between local governments and community members by creating ways for sharing knowledge about political activities and community needs and wants ("Berlin" Arena, 03.2021). In some cases, local governments can serve as intermediaries between different stakeholders in a community.

Bridge-building roles, such as intermediaries, foster efficiency and help to avoid repeating the same mistakes that often come with short term, project-by-project municipal based approaches. Intermediaries who know their city and its history and inhabitants well, for example, carry over knowledge and experience about how things work and what has and hasn’t worked in the past. In this way, communication between residents and municipalities as well as different municipal departments can understand each other better, retain lessons learned when moving between projects ("Berlin" Arena, 03.2021), and work together more effectively.

Conferences like UrbanA Arenas, virtual and local forums or platforms, and face-to-face community gatherings (e.g., children’s and neighborhood parliaments, food and arts festivals) all provide opportunities to build bridges: freely share information, build ideas, chat and make new connections (or find comfort in old ones) and enjoy yourself in a safe space ("Berlin" Arena, 03.2021).


Anti-gentrification resistance, Rome

The role of anti-eviction platforms was crucial as they contributed to voice the claim and to represent the interests of evicted/targeted citizens. The anti-eviction platforms liaised between the voiced concerns of evicted residents and the municipality as well as the Housing Authority. However, they did not have a formal role in influencing policy making (Q13).

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Co-creation of a sustainable neighborhood in Freiburg

The “Working Group Vauban”, a consultative committee consisting of municipal actors, local parliamentarians and residents, provided a place for discussion and mediation between stakeholders (Q15).

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Inner-city community energy in London

The local government, Lambeth Council, which had a small group running a Low Carbon Zone served as an intermediary organization in the beginning which helped the team organize themselves and contact other relevant groups. The enabling configuration is the connectedness of this Council to various groups in the area. However, this group was small and had minimal capacity (Q13).

A small group within the local government, Lambeth Council, helped the team organize themselves and contact other relevant groups despite their minimal capacity (Q13). Additionally, “Estate mamas”, well respected middle aged women who lived in the area, offered resources and support and helped to establish trust between community members. (Q24)

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Community Land Trust Brussels

The Community Land Trust in Brussels is a social real estate developer that builds affordable housing projects on collectively-owned land in Brussels for people with limited means. Collaboration between separate stakeholder groups is integral to the project as its managing board consists of civil society/housing organisations, private firms, social enterprises and the local government (Q5).

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Superblocks Barcelona

In several neighbourhoods, multi-stakeholder decision making processes have been formalized in local, regular working groups to design superblocks based on seeking agreements between different stakeholders. These working groups arose in response to the lack of participation processes in the Poblenou neighbourhood and the municipality retroactively realizing that individual superblocks have to be adapted to local particularities (Q13).

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Some action idea(s), examples, and resources from UrbanA’s "Berlin" Arena (03.21)

❖ Use technology (e.g., open-source digital platforms for community self-organization) to foster dialogue.

❖ Create public spaces where people can informally gather and find common ground.

❖ An open source-platform, such as this one in Barcelona, allows communities to self-organize and facilitates dialogue between policy makers and residents:

❖ A political body, such as Freiburg’s Migrant_innenbeirat (Migrant Council), can help to represent the interests of the city’s immigrant residents in the city council:

That is not all! Additional insights from the “Berlin” Arena are included throughout this Enabling Governance Arrangement.

Relation to justice in urban sustainability governance

Building bridges between different stakeholder groups may address injustices associated with a Lack of effective knowledge brokerage and stewardship opportunities as well as Unfit institutional structures.

‘Lack of effective knowledge brokerage and stewardship opportunities’ means that knowledge is not shared effectively or equally across social groups, sectors or disciplines, making it difficult to go forward. Building bridges can assure that useful knowledge and pressing concerns about urban development projects, for example, are shared across stakeholders in meaningful ways (especially including perspectives that are often left out). Additionally, translating the different ways of communicating across practitioners, academics, and diverse community members helps to build mutual understanding and respect that make collective action possible. In particular, building bridges opens a channel for disadvantaged groups to express their needs and potential fears around these projects, furthering procedural justice as well as justice as recognition.

‘Unfit institutional structures’ are rigid, top-down, bureaucratic and regulatory constraints that limit learning and policymaking opportunities needed for addressing urban inequalities and challenges to sustainability. Bridging municipal departments gets information flowing, making urban sustainability and justice possible. Having an on-going person designated to translate different languages between municipalities and underrepresented groups demonstrates commitment to a meaningful participatory process.

Critical reflection

Intermediaries ideally trust that a good process will bring a good outcome when it comes to urban sustainability and justice. Without this trust, they may steer efforts in certain directions, favoring some voices over others. History has shown that certain entrenched interests easily gain priority at the cost of sustainability and/or justice, especially since it can be difficult to recognise barriers if you come from a position of power yourself. Intermediaries may also be problematic if they overlook differences in objectives between actors (e.g. achieving ‘green growth’ vs. ‘overcoming capitalism’) for the sake of harmony, a feeling of common purpose or the success of tangible projects.

Intermediaries might be biased in favor of certain approaches or particular networks, affiliations, or institutional logics (ways of doing things). Consequently, the intentions of an intermediary may be called into question, causing conflict and undermining the bridging efforts ("Berlin" Arena, 03.2021).


Holistic Neighborhood Development Augustenborg

In Malmö, each department has its own unit designed for community engagement (e.g the Highway and Parks department, the Culture department…). On a city level, these units can be brought together through an intermediary organization connecting neighbours, the city, housing companies, local companies. These departments could then become the core of long-term structured development processes, acting as an institutionalized intermediary and memory while transferring knowledge in and between cities (Q31).

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Co-creation of a sustainable neighborhood in Freiburg

Collaboration between residents and the municipality was not always easy because each group had to adapt to the institutional logic of the other. For instance, when a joint working group of city administration, parliamentarians and civil society organisations invited a representative of Forum Vauban to take over a permanent seat in a consulting role, Forum Vauban welcomed this decision of the city as a step of opening up to hear their perspectives. Nevertheless, they were not always satisfied, because the residents were expected to adapt fully to the logic of urban planning as it prevailed in the city administration (Q23).

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Covid-19 connection

Due to COVID 19, it has been difficult to bring people together face-to-face. Switching to online formats can create barriers to participation, especially for those who are not comfortable or familiar with on-line platforms, don’t use computers or don’t speak a common language well - thus making the work of bridging roles more difficult. At the same time, the pandemic has made widespread virtual engagement more commonplace, and has possibly increased the capacity for bridging certain groups that would not have otherwise had the opportunity to meet in person.