Why Building City Stakeholder Capacity Matters More Than Ever

Eddy Adams

By Eddy Adams, on October 29th, 2014

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We’re on the road again. Between late October and early 2015 URBACT is holding Info-Days  in locations across the EU. It’s an opportunity for our participating cities to share some of the success stories from the current programme, now drawing to a close. And of course we’ll also be explaining how URBACT III is going to work, with an emphasis on the changes we’ve made.

For the URBACT team it’s a chance to test the temperature out there. So, in the design of the Info Days we’ve been working closely with national Ministries to take account of cities’ current and upcoming priorities.

My Riga Take Aways

Last week I learned a few things in Riga during the first of our URBACT Info-Days. I now know that whilst the rest of Europe might be enjoying unseasonal double-digit temperatures, you can find yourself sub-zero in the Latvian capital in mid October. I also learned about the controversial fund-raising model introduced to pay for the iconic new National Library  (which included funds derived from a utilities tax). But my biggest take away was the appetite amongst Latvian municipalities to work differently with stakeholders, and a better understanding of the challenge that this can represent for many of them.

At one critical point during our Q and A session, a participant asked “But how can we work differently with citizens and other stakeholders?” This is such a perfect question for URBACT that at sessions like this people might suspect that we planted it there! But no, it was genuine, and in the coming weeks during our road show I expect it to arise again and again.

Joining the Dots Between Riga and Brussels

The Riga Info Day came at the end of a month where building the capacity of city stakeholders has been a prominent theme. Within this, supporting civil servants to collaborate more effectively with citizens has been a recurring sub-theme. During the EU Open Days in Brussels, we hosted a European Commission workshop focused on capacity building. In a packed room a Danish elected official, a Polish civil servant and a Greek NGO activist enthused about the way in which the URBACT programme had supported their professional development.  Linking the URBACT experience to their respective city roles, they explained how network participation, the URBACT National Training Scheme , the URBACT Summer University and the Training for Elected Officials  had influenced the way they now work.

Other events in October have underlined the importance of supporting capacity building in our cities. The European Commission’s Urban Development Network meeting set out the opportunities available to cities in the new programming period. But it also raised big questions about their readiness to optimise these. During the event there was much discussion about the new territorial instruments (notably ITIs  and CLLD) and the challenges some cities anticipate in utilising them (for a variety of reasons). There was also a strong focus on integrated innovative approaches – after an inspiring input from entrepreneur Eva Gladek – which underlined the shifting city authority role to broker and enabler.

The Fit with Emerging Workstream Messages

And in the new URBACT workstreams, we can see important messages arising about the extent to which city authorities are ready to work differently with their stakeholders. The Social Innovation Workstream emphasises the brokerage role increasingly required from city authority employees, what the city of Amersfoort describes as the ‘free range civil servant’ who is comfortable working outside the office, within and alongside the community. And the Workstream  on environmental interventions explains how cities like Hamburg and Växjö are involving a spectrum of stakeholders – including citizens – in their sustainability developments.

Placing Capacity- Building Centre Stage

For me, the question from the floor in Riga, together with this body of evidence from recent city events, endorses our decision to place city capacity building centre stage in the new URBACT programme. Throughout the URBACT II Programme this need has become increasingly evident, driven by a range of factors that include the reduction of public funds on account of the Crisis, the relentless impact of technology and changing public expectations of services. The net effect has been rising pressure on city employees to work differently, and with higher levels of efficiency and innovation. The role of city authorities is shifting, and across Europe the adaptation to this change is far from uniform.

So what have we learned within the URBACT team about our capacity building work within the current programme? The short answer is – a lot! But for now, I’d underline the following:

  • There is a high demand for peer-learning platforms – shared spaces where trust is built between participants
  • Well-designed ‘learning by doing’ opportunities are hugely beneficial – the URBACT Summer University, using a simulated city environment, is an excellent example of this
  • Capacity building programmes which mix stakeholders types are highly effective – as they provide exposure to other perspectives
  • Toolkits are useful – but much more powerful when provided alongside coaches and mentors
  • Elected officials welcome opportunities to learn from their city peers – although a design challenge, the success of our pilot programme underlined this

So, as we finalise the details of the new programme, we are building these lessons into our approach, and looking to improve on what we have created so far. As we do, our discussions continue with cities on what they need from us in the new programming period. You can let us know by engaging through our social media channels or by responding to this blog. Or, of course, by speaking with us directly during the Info days. We look forward to seeing you there!

Related article: “Dead Practice is a Dead End: We Should Focus on Capacity-Building for Stakeholders”.


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