Experimenting with Cities

‘How can experimentation as a form of governance become more systematized?’

In 2018, the Urban Futures Studio will undertake a year-long action-research project into experimental governance. Drawing inspiration from experimental practices from around the world, we will design and implement cutting-edge learning interventions to catalyse real experimental practices in the Netherlands.

The great potential of experimentation

To many of today’s complex challenges, we do not have clear-cut solutions. Although big issues like climate change or the energy transition require a coordinated response, simple or single solutions will not do. Instead, they require a multitude of solutions, that are constantly renewed. That is why experimentation is so important. In experiments, diverse actors work together in practical settings to try out new ideas and solutions. In recent years, we have witnessed a surge of experiments on the local level. Although these experiments greatly contribute to finding innovative solutions on the local level, their overall impact is still limited: as small-scale initiatives, the ultimate value of experiments lies in their ability to influence their wider system, but exactly that often turns out to be difficult.

The need to systematize experimentation

If we want to realize the full potential of experimentation, we must look beyond local experimental contexts, and start thinking about how the system as a whole can learn from experiments: local experimentation is all about ‘learning-by-doing’, but how can you make the lessons that come out of local experiments also applicable to other contexts? We argue that to do so, two forms of ‘learning’ must be added to the local ‘learning-by-doing’. First, we need channels of ‘horizontal learning’, through which experimental actors can learn from each other and draw inspiration from each other’s practices. Secondly, we need channels of ‘vertical learning’, through which actors on all levels of government (i.e. multi-level governance) can learn from the innovations that come out of local experiments, and adapt their policies to it.

What we will do

In the project of ‘Experimenting with Cities’, we will experiment with cutting-edge ideas to catalyse learning in real experimental settings. We will identify promising experimental collaborations, and - through action research - will investigate how these collaborations can be further systematized (in terms of horizontal and vertical learning). Together with stakeholders, we will design and implement interventions that will help stakeholders to systematize their experimental efforts and speed up their quest of finding innovative solutions to complex challenges. The project will result in concrete insights and tools that will help to bring system to local experimentation.

The ‘Experimenting with Cities’ project is undertaken by the Urban Futures Studio in collaboration with the Dutch Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. Interested to know more? Please contact our project lead, Suzanne Potjer, s.p.potjer@uu.nl.

Voor informatie in het Nederlands: bekijk deze link.