Cities are sites of crisis and opportunity. In a context of rapid social change and austerity, the effectiveness of traditional systems of urban governance is in doubt. Jam and Justice: Co-Producing Urban Governance for Social Innovation aims to create a unique space to co-produce, test and learn from more inclusive ways of governing cities.
The project was born in 2014 out of a shared passion to move beyond critique. We were interested in the possibility of creating different urban governance spaces to allow social innovation to flourish and recognised a growing appetite for change through participatory research and action.
Our work, and that of others, had pointed to the limits to the 20th century prescriptions of ‘good governance’ and ‘trickle down’ in dealing with an urban ‘polycrisis’. The pre-occupation with finding an ‘organisational fix’ for urban governance had led to a proliferation of different organisational forms. Few delivered fully on promises of democratisation; few sufficiently extended a more ‘just’ enfranchisement of local constituencies, or reconnected local expertise, innovation and creativity to urban policy.
Overall, our starting point was that there has been little advance in the democratic goals of participation, deliberation and empowerment. In the context of recent economic and political shocks, with Brexit and the election of Trump, the need is now more urgent than ever, in the words of a senior official from our previous research, ‘to find the jam in the sandwich’. This means moving beyond unhelpful binaries of ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ by experimenting in the boundary spaces of urban governance in order to more effectively and democratically govern complex wicked urban issues.
‘Jam’ is therefore about trying to bring together different urban constituencies to experiment and innovate to address our shared problems. ‘Justice’ is about re-connecting with those who have been disenfranchised and excluded from the search for solutions. Addressing these concerns requires re-thinking the relationship between cities and knowledge and designing for co-production, in order to recognise and value the expertise and resources of wider urban constituencies.
Jam and Justice seeks to co-produce new governing spaces for social innovation and experimentation between public, voluntary and academic sectors. The aim is to advance theory and practice of co-production as a means to, and a form of, new governing spaces for 21st century cities.
The research is structured around a single site case study – the Action Research Cooperative – and embedded multiple comparative cases. The Action Research Cooperative (ARC) comprises 20 participants from civil society organisations and academia and has delegated resources for the co-design and delivery of 10 action research projects designed to test governance mechanisms for inclusive governance and include more marginalised groups in policy processes. These 10 action research projects will be analysed as ‘cases’ in order to ensure that learning is robust.
So where is this research taking place? Our site of investigation is Greater Manchester in North West England. Greater Manchester was the first English city-region to sign a devolution deal with the UK government and will be choosing its first directly elected Mayor in May 2017. In June 2015 the interim mayor of Greater Manchester, Tony Lloyd, made the following statement:
“For too long people in Greater Manchester have felt disengaged from politics and politicians. Politics is often seen as something that happens down in London with no relevance to us here. The devolution agenda changes all that. Real power is being repatriated from Whitehall to the streets of Greater Manchester. That gives everyone a stake.
There has been criticism of this process that, so far, decisions have been taken behind closed doors and the public has been largely excluded. I understand those criticisms, which is why I want to assure the people of Greater Manchester that they must and will be involved. We are on the brink of change that is real and will be lasting. It is vital the public takes centre stage and is part of the debate.”
Given statements such as these, Greater Manchester presents an interesting first-mover case and useful testbed for theoretical development and practical action. With co-funding from the Mistra Urban Futures centre, we will be sharing our learning via a comparative insight programme in Melbourne, Paris, Chicago, Cape Town, Gothenburg-Malmo and Kisumu.
This blog post originally appeared on the Urban Transformations blog 2 / 2 / 2017