Governance by Experiment

“What happens next after the experiment is over?...” Rob Raven began the workshop, focussing the workshop on the outcomes of experiments in contemporary cities and their impact on urban innovation and governance. 

This workshop began with an introduction of the central features of experimentation as a way to face urban challenges. The role of experiments is increasingly important to test new ideas and visions and to contribute to a new way of urban governance that helps cities achieve and accelerate processes of urban innovation. However, the emergence of this ‘governance by experiment’ also raises a fundamental question: how will a multitude of small experiments be able to address the big challenges that cities face, such as climate change, social inequality and economic fragility? The discussion that followed these presentations circled around this core question.

Two cases of urban experiments were used to explore the idea of ‘governance by experiment’. These were the experiments of ‘Buiksloterham’ in Amsterdam and the ‘Binckhorst’ in Den Haag, which both explore innovative ways of development. In the first half of the workshop, participants split up in groups and interactively sought to find out what made these experiments successful and what were their main challenges. In the second half, everyone came together to discuss how experiments can and should interact with their broader environment: how can experiments be embedded in the institutional environment and how can experiments learn from each other?

The discussion gave a sense of what ‘governance by experiment’ entails, and also exposed its various dilemma’s. One such dilemma discussed was the high personal investment experimentation. Bram Heijer of Binckhorst noted: “Of all the people here, only Frank [from Buiksloterham] and I are not paid by some employer while attending this workshop.” This sparked a discussion about whether and how city governments can set the right conditions for experimentation and whether they could play a role in helping experiments learn from each other.


What is the imagined future? How can we overcome current challenges to reach this future?

A future is needed that emphasizes collective and inclusive learning, where multi-layered challenges are addressed on multiple levels of governance, where innovation is fostered, and where interdependency is acknowledged and respected. We need experiments to facilitate and speed-up processes of learning, participation and urban innovation.