C) Build bridges between separate stakeholder groups

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Examples from real world governance interventions:

General ambition

Metaphorically building bridges between separate groups of stakeholders often requires the establishment of formal or informal roles (institutionalisation) for individuals or organisations to intermediate, broker information and translate language between different stakeholders of a project. Such “intermediaries” play a crucial role by translating and enabling communication e.g. between civil society groups and governmental actors in order to realize a joint project. They have to be recognised in a way that both civil society groups and institutional/municipal actors feel heard and valued and thus build trust in stakeholders which follow different rationales and have developed different cultures of interaction. More important than how exactly the intermediary operates is its function, which at its core is often about enabling communication and furthering democratic participation on a decentralised, local level. Therefore an intermediary can be of different nature e.g a single project manager, a committee/platform, an open-meeting space or a dedicated organisation. In some cases, like in the fourth example below from London, local governments can also serve and work as an intermediary between different stakeholders. Such bridging roles are not exclusively found between institutional actors and citizens. Connecting/ translating language/ and intermediating between interests of different departments within a municipality can be equally important (to break up ‘silos’ or to counter ‘compartmentalization’)..

Examples

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 them and the municipality as well as the Housing Authority. However, they did not have a formal role in influencing policy making. (Q.13).

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Vauban neighborhood, Freiburg

The “Vauban city planning council” was a consultative committee consisting of municipal actors, local parliamentarians and citizens. It can be considered as an intermediary as it was a place for discussion and mediation between stakeholders (Q.15).

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Bürger Energie Berlin, Berlin

There have been changes in terms of changing how the energy system can be imagined, who owns it and who participates in it. Political documents for example the coalition agreement in Berlin have some changes, particular attention has been given to citizens’ participation in the energy sector. Now there is also legislation for tenants’ energy self-consumption models which the citizen energy movement has contributed to (Interview with a BEB representative on Sep. 9,2020).

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Inner-city community energy, 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 (Q.13).

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Relation to justice in urban sustainability governance

This enabling governance arrangement tries to overcome injustices caused mostly by the Lack of effective knowledge brokerage and stewardship opportunities as well as Unfit institutional structures.

Lack of effective knowledge brokerage and stewardship opportunities as a driver of injustice refers to the ways in which (access to) useful information and know-how around sustainable urban interventions, and their benefits, is not shared effectively or equally among social groups, sectors or disciplines and thus constrain the potential for both sustainability and justice. Creating bridging roles can help in overcoming barriers that certain disadvantaged groups might have, especially concerning the access to useful information of urban development projects around sustainability and justice. By translating language of practitioners/academia to one that disadvantaged groups can connect to in a better way, they can also express their needs and potential fears around these projects furthering especially procedural justice as well as justice as recognition.

Unfit institutional structures as a driver of injustice refers to those aspects or functions of organizations, public offices, administrations and authorities that deal with urban governance and stand in the way of achieving just outcomes in urban sustainability. Trying to bridge between e.g different municipal departments is key to overcoming silo-thinking and for the development of projects that integrate justice in urban sustainability governance. Institutionalising a role to translate language between municipal actors and underrepresented groups is also central when trying to commit to a meaningful participatory process.

Critical reflection

As mentioned, intermediaries have to meaningfully consider voices of all involved stakeholders of a project. They therefore possess a very powerful role, as they can steer the project in certain directions by favoring some voices over others. This is especially important in justice oriented sustainability governance as the past decades have shown that certain entrenched interests (economic, class-based, race-based...) have been given priority in urban governance. This means that intermediaries have to know about types of barriers that different groups of underrepresented citizens might face. These barriers can be very unique for e.g women, children, undereducated/poor residents or people who are underrepresented because of their race. Sometimes, exclusion of underrepresented voices may therefore even happen with intermediaries that are supposed to include very different groups of citizens, as it is very difficult to recognise these barriers if you come from a position of power yourself. Intermediators may also play a highly problematic role if they disguise or downplay actual differences in objectives between different 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.

Covid-19 connection/How does this enabling arrangement play out under the conditions of a pandemic?

Institutions and processes that rely on different people to meet are facing restrictions concerning the number of people that can participate or even making meetings impossible at all. Purely switching to online formats does not seem feasible here as these bridging organizations build on low-entry barriers. Online meetings/formats could be a higher hurdle especially for older or less educated people as well as people who do not speak the language properly making the work of bridging roles more difficult.