A person climbing up stairs to reach for a book

Knowledge is owned and managed by the community


Creating sustainable and just cities is a learning process. Knowledge is created through collaboration at the community level between policy-makers, planners, residents and others. All benefit from this knowledge. Policymakers and political actors, including those from higher levels of governance such as the EU and the UN, advocate for tailored approaches and policies based on knowledge commons (collectively created information) and other forms of citizen science.

Co-learning and knowledge brokerage, based on collaborative forms of knowledge generation like co-production, co-inquiry, community-based and community-led research, participatory action research and citizen science, are key processes in the effective co-generation and mobilisation of knowledge. They depend on effective data collection, and ideally sharing of data, which can draw on the aforementioned citizen science and other forms of collaborative inquiry. This may take place within the context of crowdsourcing efforts that invite people from all walks of life to contribute to identifying issues and courses of action. Integral meta-mapping can also help develop a common language that links different kinds of stakeholder knowledge.

Any meaningful participation process requires both that citizens are well-informed, and that their knowledge and insights are taken into account. Creating a comprehensive vision of change also means drawing on and bringing together the knowledge of diverse stakeholder groups in a city. Accessing this knowledge means it is necessary to tap into existing community networks, while exchanging knowledge and information is, in itself, an important way to build bridges between different stakeholder groups.

This key is a direct remedy for a lack of effective knowledge brokerage and stewardship opportunities. Wider access to knowledge is crucial to overcoming limited citizen participation in urban planning, and can help address weakened civil society. Sharing knowledge more widely and ensuring that decision-making processes and organizational structures both enable and reflect this is an important part of overcoming unfit institutional structures.

  • The big challenge will be to transfer knowledge to citizens and enable citizens to create and share knowledge. (Davie Philip, Sustainable Ireland)
  • Design thinking, citizen science and the arts could all play key roles in empowering communities to collect and create collaborative data, and build knowledge commons. (Davie Philip, Sustainable Ireland)
  • I think accessibility should also be beyond physical spaces: How to access information, how to communicate through e-platforms, how to access education, how to access democratic online participation tools. Is information from the city website accessible? Can people understand what it says? Can they see what it says? Are all the city apps accessible?. (Pilar Orero, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)

Inspirational example

The city as commons, Ghent

The Ghent Commons Transition Plan was commissioned by the Mayor and Council of Ghent in Northern Flanders. 

Its aim was to document and understand the emergence of the commons in the city in order to identify what forms of public policy could best support its further growth. It was developed on the basis of a broad participatory inquiry during early 2017, which aimed to capture the knowledge of those involved in sustainability and equity initiatives across the city. A key outcome was understanding the city itself as a commons, in which active co-creation and exchange of knowledge support collaborative action between authorities and local residents. One such initiative explored in the process was the Living Streets project, which supports citizens in redefining urban spaces by closing streets to traffic for extended periods.

Woman standing on a bridge

Avenues for action

You might be wondering, what everyday actions can I take to put all this theory into practice? Take a look at the avenues for action, below, for some practical guidance.

Get inspired!


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