Collaboration across scales

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Revision as of 16:16, 8 October 2018 by Tom Henfrey (talk | contribs) (added middle paragraph to regional section)

This page summarises the interactions and synergies between commnity-led initiatives (CLIs) and local, regional, national and international decision-making institutions, highlighting enablers and barriers of this partnership across scales, including a strong focus on common set of values and visions as well as innovative collaborative methodologies.

Municipal Actions

In recent decades local governments have proactively faced the sustainability challenge by adopting policy innovations.[1] Their role is crucial since, at least in cities and developing countries, they are responsible for most of the public spending.[2]

The leading action of local governments concerning sustainability have been facilitated by transnational nongovernmental organizations and initiatives like ICLEI, who provide tools, networking and services and promote advocacy. ICLEI’s status as a founding member of ECOLISE, and collaboration in projects such as Urban A. Researchers support collaborations among community initiatives and local authorities in cutting-edge research and knowledge exchange projects such as ClimAdaPT.Local, in which a transdisciplinary team based at Lisbon University supports 26 Portuguese Local Authorities in the development and implementation of Municipal Climate Adaptation Strategies, and Municipalities in Transition, whose project team includes an embedded researcher based at FCiencias.Id and DRIFT.

Municipalities are affected by numerous factors that can act as barriers or enablers. Besides the obvious access to resources (financial; human) and information, there is a great dependence on issues like leadership, institutional context and competing planning agendas.[3]

Drawing on the direct experiences of community-led initiatives, activists associated with the Transition movement report:

many examples of engaged communities working for positive change who feel unsupported, even blocked, by local governments. We also see many municipalities with positive goals and a determination to act who are struggling to build genuinely collaborative relationships with local citizens.[4]

The EU-Funded BASE research project (Bottom-Up Climate Adaptation Strategies Towards a Sustainable Europe) studied 23 European cases of climate change adaptation, in order to assess interactions of top-down policies and processes, and bottom-up responses and initiatives.[5] The key finding was that participatory approaches and other forms of stakeholder engagement, such as institutional changes, networks or formal collaborations, are key to overcoming barriers to community-led action.[6] These findings reflect a more general rise in policy and research interest in collaborative and participatory governance in multi-level systems, despite a scarcity of empirical evidence.[7] A report prepared by the European Environment Agency notes that meaningful stakeholder engagement and public participation are necessary, but remain rare.[8] It calls for new forms of collaboration, along with governance innovations, and concludes that innovative partnerships with civil society actors are needed as a source of new approaches to adaptation. Similarly, a World Bank report emphasises importance to resilience of civic dialogue, flexible funding allocation, and the incentivisation, scaling up and institutionalization of community-led action.[9]

A decisive step in collaboration between local governments and grassroots movements may be community coproduction of transformative public services. Bovaird proposes the establishment of a “coproduction development officer (…) who can act internally in organizations (and partnerships) to broker new roles for coproduction between traditional service professionals, service managers, and the political decision makers”.[10] In the field of community energy, three factors identified as essential for initiating and nourishing initiatives are trust, motivation and continuity.[11] Collaboration between local governments and communities also raises various ambiguities and potential conflicts.[12] [13] One one hand, being institutionally and politically independent, and so potential freer from structural constraints is a key strength of community-led initiatives. On the other, self-organised action at community scale can create practical and ideological conflicts with policy. Depending on context, interactions with municipal authorities can thus act as either enablers or constraints.

Interactions between local governments and community-led initiatives in the context of the Transition movement include a range of examples. Independents for Frome, for example, is case of citizens taking over the municipality administration by supporting independent candidates standing for elections. At the other end of the spectrum are example of town councils that completely appropriate the transition action.[14]. In some cases, municipalities have put in place programmes to support and enable, or even initiate, community-level action.[15]

The current framework for Transition practice, released in 2016, includes creating networks and partnerships and collaborating with others among seven essential actions for a transition initiative.[16] Earlier, collaboration with local government was one of the Twelve Steps of Transition, noted for both its importance and as a source of endless frustration.[17][18]. Findings of several major European research projects confirm this ambiguity, leading to the conclusion that interactions between civil society and government have both positive and negative effects (…) and a systematic understanding of both the potential and the tensions of civil society actors in sustainability transitions is currently lacking.[19] With the aim of facing these challenges and creating synergies, Transition Network in partnership with the network of Transition Hubs initiated the Municipalities in Transition project in 2017. The main objective is to create a clear framework for how Transition groups and municipalities can create sustainable change together.

Regional Actions

Regions, including bioregions, have been identified as key scales of action for transformative change in both theoretical studies and empirical research.[20] Solidarity economy initiatives become a powerful force for transformative change towards economic resilience when networks of mutually supportive cooperative enterprises reach a critical mass at regional scales.[21].

Some movement-specific networks of CLIs already organise at regional level: for example, the Transition Network website lists regional hubs in Istanbul and Paris.[22] Some regional hubs are cross-movement: for example, the North East Permaculture Network links Transition as well as permaculture groups across North East England.[23] Some regional networks are more organic and self-organised: for example, while Bristol in South West England was the first city to register a transition initiative with Transition Network, Transition Bristol itself remained a small entity, part of a wider matrix of intersecting local projects and regional scale initiatives in domains such as energy, food and a city-wide community currency in the form of the Bristol Pound.[24][25] A 2017 survey of ECOLISE members led to the establishment of the Sustainable Communities Programme as a key initiative, based on creating networks of collaboration and support among multistakeholder pilot initiatives at regional scale.

The ARTS research project took as its focus on inquiry six European city-regions in which collaborations among community-led initiatives, regional government and business create optimum conditions for transformational change to sustainability. In the Brussels city-region, ECOLISE member 21 Solutions plays a key role in the Inspirons le Quartier project, in which Brussels Environment provides central support for Quartiers durables citoyens: autonomous citizens initiatives operating at neighbourhood scale.[26] In October 2018, the project listed 43 participating neighbourhood initiatives across Brussels, including some Transition initiatives.[27]

National Support Structures

CLIs often self-organise at national level, within boundaries that may or may not correspond to the nation state. Some national structures are specific to particular movements, others cross different movements.

National permaculture organisations exist in most European countries, and often coordinate networking, training and/or project support functions.

International structures

Key Findings and Recommendations


  1. Pinto, M., Macedo, M., Macedo, P., Almeida, C., & Silva, M. (2015). The Lifecycle of a Voluntary Policy Innovation: The Case of Local Agenda 21. Journal of Management and Sustainability, 5(2), 69–83.
  2. OECD. (2010). Cities and Climate Change. Policy Perspectives. Paris, France: OECD Publishing.
  3. Measham, T. G., Preston, B. L., Smith, T. F., Brooke, C., Gorddard, R., Withycombe, G., & Morrison, C. (2011). Adapting to climate change through local municipal planning: Barriers and challenges. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, 16(8), 889–909.
  4. Huertas, A., C. Stayton, C. Bottone, F. Pimentel, J. del Río, N. Hillary & S. McAdam, 2017. KR Foundation Municipalities in Transition Final Version. Totnes: Transition Network
  5. Ng, K., Campos, I., & Penha-Lopes, G. (Eds.). (2016). BASE adaptation inspiration book: 23 European cases of climate change adaptation to inspire European decision-makers, practitioners and citizens. Lisbon: Faculty of Sciences, University of Lisbon
  6. Rendon, O., Gebhardt, O., Branth Pedersen, A., Breil, M., Campos, I., Chiabai, A., … Zandvoort, M. (2016). Implementation of climate change adaptation: Barriers and Opportunities to adaptation in case studies.
  7. Newig, J., & Fritsch, O. (2009). Environmental governance: participatory, multi-level - and effective? Environmental Policy and Governance, 19(3), 197–214.
  8. EEA, 2016. Urban adaptation to climate change in Europe 2016 - Transforming cities in a changing climate. Luxembourg.
  9. World Bank. (2015). Community-Led Partnerships for Resilience. Washington, USA.
  10. Bovaird, T. (2007). Beyond Engagement and Participation: User and Community Coproduction of Public Services. Public Administration Review, (October), 846–860.
  11. Avelino, F., R. Bosman, N. Frantzeskaki, S. Akerboom, P. Boontje, J. Hoffman & J.Wittmayer, 2014. The (Self-)Governance of Community Energy: Challenges & Prospects. DRIFT PRACTICE BRIEF nr. PB 2014.01.
  12. van Dam, R., Salverda, I., & During, R. (2014). Strategies of citizens’ initiatives in the Netherlands: connecting people and institutions. Critical Policy Studies, 8(3), 323–339.
  13. TESS final summary report
  14. See, for example,
  15. Reeves, A., Lemon, M., Cook, D., 2013. Jump-starting transition? Catalysing grassroots action on climate change. Energy Efficiency 1–18.
  16. Hopkins, R., & Thomas, M. (2016). The Essential Guide to Doing Transition. Totnes: Transition Network.
  17. Smith, A. (2011). The Transition Town Network: A Review of Current Evolutions and Renaissance. Social Movement Studies, 10(1), 99–105.
  18. Rowell, A. (2010). Communities, Councils & a Low-carbon Future: What We Can Do If Governments Won’t. Dartington: Green Books.
  19. Frantzeskaki, N., Dumitru, A., Anguelovski, I., Avelino, F., Bach, M., Best, B., … Rauschmayer, F. (2016). Elucidating the changing roles of civil society in urban sustainability transitions. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 22, 41–50.
  20. Cato, Molly S., 2013. The bioregional economy. London: Earthscan.
  21. Lewis, M. and P. Conaty, 2013. The resilience imperative. Cooperative transitions to a steady-state economy. Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers
  22. Accessed October 8th 2018.
  23. Accessed October 8th 2018.
  24. Henfrey, T., 2017. Resilience and Community Action in Bristol, in: Henfrey, T., G. Maschkowski and G. Penha-Lopes (Eds.) Resilience, Community Action and Societal Transformation. Permanent Publications, East Meon, Hampshire, pp. 47–56.
  25. Raffle, A.E., Carey, J., 2017. Grassroots activism, agroecology, and the food and farming movement. Ten years in Bristols’ food story., in: T. Waterman and J. Zeunert (Eds), The Routledge Handbook of Landscape and Food. Routledge, Abingdon and New York., p. 15.
  26. Accessed October 8th 2018.
  27. Accessed October 8th 2018.