The 7 challenges

The uniqueness of the UIA is the strong focus on implementation at real urban scale of innovative solutions. Previous experiences of the funding schemes for innovation as well as the experiences of the UIA projects clearly show that implementing unproven solutions in strong cooperation with a variety of local stakeholders can be a very challenging process. In this perspective, UIA has identified seven cross-cutting challenges for implementing innovative projects that are relevant, with different meanings and intensity, for all UIA projects regardless the policy area they are addressing.

Implementing and testing unproven solutions through a genuine participative approach implies a high degree of risk for urban authorities. However, administrations in general and civil servants in particular operate in an environment where the level of risk aversion is traditionally high. A positive and committed leadership is therefore a key pre-requisite for municipal led innovation. Political and administrative (senior management) leadership can lower the aversion to risk by providing a strong vision and legitimisation but also by creating a professional environment where civil servants can be more inclined, motivated and rewarded to be innovative, to use their discretion, to work differently with local actors, etc. Positive leadership is also a guarantee for local stakeholders that by working with urban authorities on innovative projects, part of the risk is shared. Therefore leading to the following questions:

  • How to secure this type of leadership?
  • What does leadership mean in an innovative project?
  • How does it work down all the chains of levels?
  • What are the characteristics of positive leadership for innovation?
  • Is the top-level political leadership (mayor) enough? Or should urban authorities look for a more “diffused” form of leadership?
  • How to keep leaders enthusiastic about the project?
  • How to manage changes in the political and senior management leadership over the implementation process?

Urban authorities are responsible for providing public services to ensure better quality of life for citizens. One way of doing this (and the most common one) is to tender out contracts to external service providers and/or purchase products through public procurement procedures. The total value of public procurement in the EU is estimated at €2 trillion per year – or about 19% of European GDP. The way in which this money is spent has clear implications for the economy, as well as for the organisations spending it and the citizens who ultimately benefit of their services. Public procurement procedures must comply with EU law, which is transposed into national legislation by Member States. Public procurement is therefore perceived as an administrative procedure but also increasingly considered as a powerful leverage to promote innovation, achieve socio-economic and environmental policy objectives and address societal challenges. UIA projects will all tender contracts and procure services during the implementation phase. The type of services and products to be procured, the financial amounts mobilised, the nature and the competencies of service providers will be very different across projects. However, overarching questions can be identified:

  • How to effectively engage service providers in the definition of the best service/product (pre-procurement/pre-commercial procurement)?
  • How to avoid hyper-specification of the services/products needed and focus on results to leave freedom and create the conditions for innovation in the mode of delivery (public procurement of innovation)?
  • How to use data to show that procurement processes have contributed to deliver the expected results?
  • How can urban authorities ensure other local benefits (e.g. social inclusion, local employment, environment, etc.) in the commissioning and procurement process?

UIA projects are complex because they test unproven solutions at a real urban scale but also because they try to do so by intervening on the different interconnected dimensions of the challenge(s) being addressed. Combining and coordinating different actions in the framework of an effective integrated approach, which looks at the interconnections between the social, economic and environmental dimensions, can be particularly difficult for urban authorities. The main difficulty is represented by the tension between the functional specialisation of departments and offices within municipalities versus the cross-department cooperation and coordination needed. Shaped by the traditional “silo” organisational culture, urban authorities are often ill equipped to fight against the modern complex challenges, which extend beyond departments' boundaries and narrow competencies. UIA projects are all committed to testing new forms of management and coordination, which involve all the relevant skills, experiences and competences within the municipality. The main questions here are:

  • What are the most effective coordination mechanisms?
  • How to make sure that these are accepted and understood by different levels of management?
  • What is the role of senior management in creating and managing such “integrated task forces”?
  • How can new technologies help this horizontal coordination and cooperation?
  • How can risks and rewards be shared across departments involved?
  • What type of group within the urban authority is most effective to deliver the integrated aspects of the projects?
  • How to link the UIA project with other existing (and complementary) actions delivered by other departments?

The participative approach – the development of strong partnerships between public bodies, the private sector and civil society (including citizens and inhabitants) – is widely recognised as a cornerstone of efficient urban development policies. Organisations as well as individuals and end-users external to the urban authorities are increasingly willing to contribute in finding and implementing new solutions to the most pressing societal challenges. NGOs and cooperatives are conceiving new ways of delivering welfare schemes for vulnerable groups while new technologies to reduce pollution or to improve mobility are being prototyped by research centres and private actors (multinationals as well as start-ups). Urban authorities need to tap into the collective intelligence of different stakeholders and benefit from the diffused knowledge and expertise to find new ways and approaches to develop efficient solutions to these societal challenges. UIA helps and encourages urban authorities to set up local partnerships that are rich, diverse and that involve “traditional stakeholders” as well as “unusual suspects”. Delivery Partners have a key role in the project's co-implementation and they share with the urban authorities risks and responsibilities. Over the implementation process, UIA projects will generate valuable knowledge around questions such as:

  • What are the most effective coordination mechanisms for co-implementation?
  • How to maintain the motivation and commitment of all partners and wider stakeholders over the implementation phase (trust, co-responsibility, mechanisms and procedures)?
  • How to solve potential conflicts?
  • What are the limits of sharing responsibilities?

Monitoring and evaluation of results is still a challenging task (lack of understanding of terminology, a general perception of the exercise being purely administrative and a disconnection between the main urban authorities and the partners leading the Monitoring and Evaluation Work Packages) and the focus remains essentially on the monitoring of results. A number of urban authorities are using the opportunities offered by UIA, in terms of flexibility and availability of financial resources, to go a step beyond. By applying different logic models, combining counter-factual with theory-of-change methodologies, designing Randomised Control Trials but also introducing ethnographic techniques, some UIA projects are trying to assess to what extent the project has contributed to the changes in the local situation (if any) as well as if these changes can be attributable to the innovative approaches tested. Amongst others, all questions to which urban stakeholders involved in UIA projects are trying to find answers, often with very experimental solutions are:

• How to design and deliver the effective collection of data, analyse and monitor results;
• What type of approaches can isolate the impact of the different integrated interventions;
• What type of qualitative metrics should be considered to measure the change in the local situation.

In 2020, as part of its capitalisation activities, the most promising experiences of Monitoring and Evaluation for urban innovative interventions among ongoing UIA projects will be identified.

The final aim of any sustainable urban development project, and therefore of any UIA project, is to increase the quality of life of citizens. Beneficiaries, target groups, end users and more generally citizens are therefore key actors. Urban authorities have clear responsibilities and interest in involving them in the design and implementation process. Therefore, UIA projects need to establish a two-way inclusive and honest communication process that goes beyond the simple information about the project (the project’s plaque and poster). They need to define a process able to engage target groups to increase the quality as well as the shared acceptance and ownership of the project by collecting and taking into consideration feedback, suggestions and proposals. The first UIA projects have all conceived their communication activities as an integral and important part of the implementation process and they demonstrate how it is possible to be innovative by testing new methods and techniques to outreach, engage and involve end users and beneficiaries. Last but not least, a positive communication approach can also reinforce the message that the EU and its funds have a concrete impact on the ground on the quality of life of its citizens. The relevant question here is: How will the project team communicate with all relevant stakeholders at local level about progresses, benefits and (eventually) problems?

UIA projects are conceived as experimental tests of innovative solutions never tested before in the EU at a real urban scale. As such, they are limited in their scale (focusing on one specific neighbourhood or target group) and duration (3 years). The aim is to use this testing phase to verify how the innovative solution reacts to the complexity of real life and, if successful (according to the parameters defined in the monitoring and evaluation framework), the experimental stage should lead to an upscaling of the solutions. However, planning the next stage is not something that urban authorities should start doing only at the end of the project. Already when designing their proposals, UIA projects were reflecting on questions such as:

  • What should be the next step (a gradual or a generalised upscaling)?
  • What types of conditions and resources are needed?
  • What should be the role of the partners be in the upscaling process?
  • What are the additional or new challenges of deploying the project at a larger scale?
  • How can urban authorities ensure that the approach tested in the project becomes more generalised (mainstream) and has greater impact on the long term?
  • What type of conditions and resources are needed?
  • When should the upscaling process start?

Experience shows that whilst implementing UIA projects, beneficiaries are expending innovation capabilities that are crucial to shape their transformative role as urban policy makers. Other crosscutting challenges are identified, completing the above list of 7 challenges.

Integrated Territorial Approach

With the objective of fostering sustainable urban development, UIA projects are designed and delivered in accordance with the principles of Integrated Territorial Development.

As part of the new programming period 2021-2027, the Commission published a proposal for a multiannual financial framework for the new Cohesion Policy.  The Common Provision Regulation (CPR) - regulating the uses of the EU structural funds - introduces a number of innovations, amongst which the identification of five Policy Objectives. While the policy objectives 1 to 4 address single thematic challenges, the policy objective 5 (PO5) addresses multi-thematic challenges in a certain territory.

PO5 is about : “A Europe closer to citizens, by supporting locally-led development strategies and sustainable urban development across the EU

It has been designed as a horizontal objective, with the aim of fostering the integrated territorial, urban and local development strategies, providing greater thematic flexibility – as it allows the combination of all intervention fields available under PO1-4 – and incentivising a special governance method based on a more collaborative working and decision-making.

These changes are driven by the conviction that overcoming policy silos and institutional, sectoral, administrative and political boundaries at a lower level of proximity, integrated territorial development (ITD) can help increase the effectiveness, relevance and return on investments of Cohesion Policy interventions.

The urban dimension of the Integrated Territorial Development principles are defined by the New Leipzig Charter, a charter endorsed by the informal council of EU ministers on urban matters. It provides a strategic framework for the implementation of the ITD at the urban scale, with the aim to “stimulate innovative and participatory approaches in urban development, promote socio-economic and territorial cohesion, and support polycentric settlement structures”.   It sets (amongst others) the following principles:

  • place-based approach: Focusing urban strategies and funding instruments on the local situation, given potentials, in order to foster endogenous urban transformation and reduce socioeconomic inequalities
  • integrated approach: Coordinating all areas of urban policy in a spatial sectorial and temporal manner
  • participation and co-creation: Involving all urban actors to strengthen local democracy, letting citizens having a say in process that impact their daily lives. Including new form of co-creation and co-design practices that can help cities in managing conflicts, share responsibilities, find innovative solutions
  • multi-level governance: tackling challenges jointly across all  levels of urban and spatial policy

UIA projects are testing new delivery mechanisms for sustainable urban development and over their implementation process, projects generate valuable knowledge around questions such as:

  • To what extent UIA projects have been delivered taking into account the above-mentioned principles?
  • What has it meant for urban authorities to implement an integrated territorial development project?
  • Has such an approach produced meaningful practices of innovation and how has it influenced the achievement of the expected results?

In 2021, as part of its capitalisation activities, the most promising experiences of the integrated territorial approach for sustainable urban development among ongoing UIA projects will be identified.