Collaborative Governance in Cities under Austerity: An Eight-case Comparative Study

Lead Research Organisation: De Montfort University
Department Name: Politics and Public Policy

Abstract

Context

Austerity governance, defined as a sustained agenda for reducing public spending, poses new challenges for the organisation of relationships between government, business and citizens in many parts of the world. This project compares how these challenges are addressed in eight countries: Australia, Canada, France, Greece, Ireland, Spain, the UK and the USA. Governments have long sought effective ways of engaging citizen activists and business leaders in decision making, through many formal and informal mechanisms - what we term collaborative governance. The focus of our research is how collaboration contributes to the governance of austerity. Governments and public service leaders argue that collaboration with businesses, voluntary organisations and active citizens is essential for addressing the many challenges posed by austerity. The challenges include transforming public services to cope with cuts, changing citizen expectations and managing demand for services and enhancing the legitimacy of difficult policy decisions by involving people outside government in making them. But at the same time, collaboration can be exclusionary. For example, if there are high levels of protest, governmental and business elites may collaborate in ways that marginalise ordinary citizens to push through unpopular policies. Our challenge is to explore different ways in which collaboration works or fails in governing austerity and whether it is becoming more or less important in doing so.

Aims and objectives

We propose to compare the role of collaboration in governing austerity in eight cities of the aforementioned countries: Athens, Baltimore, Barcelona, Dublin, Leicester, Melbourne, Montreal and Nantes. It is in towns and cities that government has the most immediate and closest day-to-day engagement with citizens and it is for this reason that we chose to locate our research at the urban scale. Our primary objective is to understand whether, and if so how, collaboration among public officials, citizens, business leaders and other actors contributes to austerity governance. For example is there more collaboration, less or are we seeing different kinds of collaboration emerging? Who, if anyone, refuses to collaborate and with what implications for governing austerity? Might collaboration be a way to subvert or resist aspects of austerity? The research is comparative, meaning that it is looking for patterns and to see what lessons and insights countries in different parts of the world might draw from one another.

Applications and benefits

Finding ways to collaborate with citizens has always been important for central and local governments, although collaboration has been a higher political priority in the past 20 years than before. Our study will tell politicians and public officials much about how collaboration works as a way of governing austerity. However we are not trying to 'sell' collaboration, or suggest that those suffering from cuts and wanting to resist them should collaborate if they do not wish to. For citizen activists our research will highlight different strategies and options for speaking truth to power - by engaging with city government and local business elites, or refusing to do so and perhaps focusing on protest instead. We will discover when collaboration serves the ends of community groups and when it does not. Participants in our study, and others, will have the opportunity to discuss these issues at a series of local events, at which we will discuss our findings. The research will also engage with important academic debates about the changing nature of governance. In gathering and comparing a large body of data we will learn about the changing role of government under austerity and whether governing is becoming more elite-focused, remote and hierarchical, or perhaps even more inclusive despite the challenging times in which we live.

Planned Impact

The principal non-academic beneficiaries will be participants in the research, students, policy makers at different levels of government, community activists, business activists and other civil society groups and educated publics interested in public governance issues. The primary categories of beneficiary are public sector and political leaders and third-sector organisations and campaign groups. We will deliver three main kinds of impact: Improving Social Welfare and Public Services, Influencing Public Policy and Legislation and Operational and Organisational Change.

Because public officials are preoccupied with austerity governance and collaboration in all the case study countries and cities, policy makers will find our research especially useful. Paul O'Brien, Chief Executive of the Association for Public Service Excellence will be our expert adviser and APSE will provide a vehicle for disseminating the research to UK stakeholders, locally and nationally. To enhance international impact and knowledge exchange we will produce a project stakeholder report, which will form the basis for dissemination events in each case study city. Key policy makers will be invited to attend along with local respondents and other stakeholders. Assisted by APSE, we will also target the public service press with articles in each country. APSE will also use the stakeholder/impact report as the basis for discussion among member authorities in the UK, and will further promote our work throughout the public sector. This strand of our impact strategy focuses on improving both social welfare and public services and operational and organisational change.

Community activists and third sector groups, particularly those directly involved in the research, will be invited to participate in local dissemination events, and webinars, to deliberate and validate findings. They face dilemmas about whether and how to collaborate in the governance of austerity. Our research will generate insights into how these dilemmas are handled in different places, what kinds of strategy are effective (collaborative or otherwise) and how changes in third-sector funding and organisation affect collaborative capacity. The investigators have excellent links with community and voluntary sector organisations operating at local and national levels and the stakeholder reports will inform deliberations about strategy and practice. This strand of our impact strategy focuses on influencing public policy and legislation as well as social welfare and organisational change.

We propose to contribute to public discourse by targeting media: e.g. an article for Public Magazine, a podcast on Youtube and the researchers' websites. We recognise that effective dissemination requires more than merely publishing outputs. Each of the researchers has strong networks through which the project and its outputs will be promoted. This strand of impact is about influencing the public sphere.

Students - especially those on graduate programmes - will learn from and apply the research. Many of the investigators are involved in teaching public service leaders and middle managers at masters level. The findings will be a particular source of learning and action for students concerned with assessing the utility of collaboration for austerity governance, such as through culture change and 'managing down demand'.

Academic colleagues beyond immediate professional circles will also benefit from the large body of data we propose to collect. They will also benefit from engaging with our academic outputs and theoretical conclusions about changing modes of governance. Most of the research team is well-known, or becoming well-known, in international scholarly circles and we will therefore achieve high levels of academic impact through publishing in highly regarded journals (such as Urban Studies or Public Administration), citations therein and seminar/conference dialogues with interlocutors.
 
Description Our key findings, also referenced in our published report, are as follows:

1. The 2008 crisis hit cities very unevenly, even those at the European epicentre. Not all recognise the language of "austerity" - e.g. in Baltimore retrenchment is so normalised that the post-2008 period appears unexceptional. Nantes, sees itself as employing "Keynesian" governance strategies and austerity as something outside. Moreover, there are important analytical distinctions to be drawn between the concepts of neoliberalisation, austerity (as a post-crisis intervention) and crisis, or crises, which are construed in very different ways across out dataset.

2. As might be expected, our respondents see austerity as hitting the worst-off hardest of all. In some instances, austerity has had significant impacts on the middle classes too.

3. What happens in cities matters. Cities affected by crisis and austerity respond in varied ways. Urban histories, economies, traditions, struggles, conflicts and geographies make a big difference to austerity governance and also to patterns of resistance.

4. Practices of collaborative governance vary widely on a continuum from those concerned with radicalising participatory democracy to those preoccupied mainly with managing austerity and maintaining state control.

5. For locally distinctive reasons (involving political centralisation, rescaling and re-territorialisation, social alienation/public disaffection, institutional instability and organised resistance), austerity weakens the prospect for strong, inclusive and equitable social partnerships between governments and citizens. In this specific sense, collaboration is weakened by austerity (our core research question), though public agencies remain keen to distribute responsibility and mobilise governing resources from within civil society.

6. Relatedly, austerity is damaging to grant dependent local voluntary and community groups. This finding reveals an austerity paradox. Governments demand greater levels of citizen activism under austerity, while austerity itself makes this harder to achieve in crucial arenas. At the same time, austerity concentrates government resources in larger third sector organisations, some with little connection to locality. These processes contribute to distancing and alienation.

7. Urban governance, especially in cities where austerity politics is not contested, tends to be either hierarchical and state-centred, or rooted in "elite" partnerships between governments, business leaders and NGOs.

8. Branding and place marketing is central to urban growth strategies for coping with and moving beyond austerity. Some cities (selectively) integrate cultural and ethnic diversity into their branding.

9. However, there is an ever-present tension between the hard logics of urban development and the pursuit of a socially just, inclusive and democratic city espoused in international agendas such as Habitat III, UN Sustainable Development Goals, and EU societal challenges - and through the new municipalist wave.

10. Cities cannot avoid fallout from international crises and national austerity measures, but some do adopt governing strategies that diverge from those of regional and national governments.

11. Crucially, there is evidence of emerging political alternatives to austerity, even in cities severely affected by spending cuts and fiscal or political centralisation. Some, but not all alternatives can be linked to the popular concept of the "new municipalism" understood as the radical alliance of local state and activists who reject the politics of austerity.

12. Resistance to austerity is very uneven and of variable impact. Given a felicitous alliance between electoral and grass-roots anti-austerity forces, the potential for alternatives comes into view. Yet, there remain formidable barriers to cities that seek to breach with austerian orthodoxy.

13. Linking opposition movements and building alliances between cities, social movements, workplace and community organisations able to challenge or influence higher tiers of government will be crucial if anti-austerity forces are to progress.

14. The potential in municipalist strategies for reviving and radicalising collaborative governance, thereby forging a new relationship between the local state and citizens, remains to be seen.
Exploitation Route 1. As a source of academic papers exploring austerity governance in the eight individual case studies. We are currently working on a case study based issue of Journal of Urban Affairs, which will give us an extended open access window for the collection. Several of these papers are already published online before print, others are still under review.

2. As a source of transversal, comparative outputs juxtaposing the findings across the eight case cities, and sub-sets thereof. We have a contract with Bristol/Policy press to publish a collectively authored monograph provisionally entitled "New Spaces of Hope: Governing Cities in and Beyond Austerity". The PI (Davies) is preparing a further manuscript, also to be published with Bristol/Policy Press looking at the way cities govern and contest crises, entitled "Urban (Dis)orders: A Conjunctural Analysis of City Politics in the Age of Austerity".

3. Through lesson-drawing across cities among activists, policy-makers and concerned citizens, facilitated by the stakeholder report published last year. Stakeholders in most of the eight cities are very curious about experiences in other cities and show evidence of wanting to engage further with the research team and host institution (The Centre for Urban Research on Austerity at De Montfort University).

4. We already know that our research is playing an important role in the development of Labour Party policy for cities, councils and communities, as indicated in other sections of this report. The research is a rich source of information to political, policy and activist groups interested in developing "new municipalisms" and reconstituting the local state. We hosted a DMU-funded conference in June 2018 to explore these issues and produced a video animation as a resource to stimulate debate and ideas. The project has given rise to sustained stake-holder engagement. In December 2019, the DMU Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence will fund stakeholder event in Athens, to be hosted by our local investigator, Ioannis Chorianopoulos. This workshop will employ international learning from our study to explore the possibilities for more progressive and sustainable urban governance in Athens.

5. CURA is now developing a Masters programme in Urban Studies at De Montfort University, to be launched in October 2019. This will draw directly from research conducted as part of this study. For example, the MA will include an Urban Practice module based partly on our research in Leicester. It will also entail a partnership and exchange between DMU and a new masters programme developed by our local investigator in Barcelona, Ismael Blanco, at the Autonomous University. The Barcelona programme also draws on this study. The partnership initially will involve DMU students taking a module delivered (in English) in Barcelona, whilst UAB students will take a module on our programme at DMU. We expect other such educational outcomes in due course.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Other

URL http://cura.our.dmu.ac.uk/category/austerity-governance/
 
Description Myself and co-investigator, Professor Steven Griggs, have been appointed as advisors to the UK Labour Party's Community Wealth Building Unit, representing respectively the DMU Centre for Urban Research on Austerity and Local Governance Research Centre. The CWBU was established in February 2018, and we have participated in many activities since. The proximate reason for Labour's interest in our work, was the report "Governing in and Against Austerity", published and disseminated in English, French, Greek and Spanish. As one party advisor put it in correspondence, "I think the role for Labour now is to try to rebuild the tools of social power and resistance - unions yes, but also co-ops, direct democracy and community organisation. Your research is interesting and powerful because it is trying to build up the discourse in that space". As such, our research is part of a UK and international milieu and concerned with both "increasing the effectiveness of public services and policy", and "enhancing the quality of life, health and creative output". At this point in time, we cannot point to direct and tangible changes to UK policy and practice deriving directly from our research. Direct impacts could arise in future, particularly if there is a change in government. At present, our impact is primarily in shaping and influencing opinion, through building and reinforcing a multi-stakeholder community of interest committed to developing new agendas for urban governance, involving leading national politicians, councillors think-tanks, academics, practitioners, activists and concerned citizens.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Appointed as Advisor to Labour Party Community Wealth Building Unit
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
URL http://communitywealthbuilding.org.uk
 
Title Project dataset 
Description We have established a SharePoint database, as a repository for verbatim transcripts of interview and focus group data (including English summaries where they are not in English), and observation field notes (again, summarised in English where appropriate). The data remains confidential at present. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact None so far. The materials will be cleaned and presented for archiving at the end of the study. 
 
Description Municipal Action, Research and Advocacy Network (MARAN) 
Organisation Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution CURA is a founding member of MARAN, established in January 2019.
Collaborator Contribution The Urban Institute (Sheffield), CLES and NEF are co-founding partners and fellow steering group members.
Impact This is a new initiative to coordinate and develop municipalist thinking and action in the UK.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Municipal Action, Research and Advocacy Network (MARAN) 
Organisation New Economics Foundation
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution CURA is a founding member of MARAN, established in January 2019.
Collaborator Contribution The Urban Institute (Sheffield), CLES and NEF are co-founding partners and fellow steering group members.
Impact This is a new initiative to coordinate and develop municipalist thinking and action in the UK.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Municipal Action, Research and Advocacy Network (MARAN) 
Organisation University of Sheffield
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution CURA is a founding member of MARAN, established in January 2019.
Collaborator Contribution The Urban Institute (Sheffield), CLES and NEF are co-founding partners and fellow steering group members.
Impact This is a new initiative to coordinate and develop municipalist thinking and action in the UK.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Blog post - project overview 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We have established a Centre, website, blog and twitter account as vehicles for publicity, dissemination and impact of project research. The link below provides the basic description of the project and its goals.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.dmu.ac.uk/research/research-faculties-and-institutes/business-and-law/centre-for-urban-re...
 
Description Blog post on disability and the bedroom tax 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Blog post by the PI, Jonathan Davies, on Disability and the Bedroom Tax, drawing on exploratory research undertaken in Leicester.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://cura.our.dmu.ac.uk/2016/01/27/disability-and-the-bedroom-tax-discretionary-payments-violate-s...
 
Description Case study blogs - phase 1 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Nine blog-postings on our research findings from phase 1: one overview piece and a piece each on Athens, Baltimore, Barcelona, Dublin, Leicester, Melbourne, Montreal and Nantes. Our blog stats indicate that the blogs were accessed by several hundred people and they received a degree of attention on twitter. We also reposted them all on the Urban Transformations website but have no data about engagement statistics from that.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://cura.our.dmu.ac.uk/category/austerity-governance/
 
Description Community Wealth Building Unit 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Several meetings of the UK Labour Party's Community Wealth Building Unit since March 2018. I was invited to become an advisor on this group as a direct outcome of the research and the international lessons it provides.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL http://communitywealthbuilding.org.uk
 
Description Daily Politics - Sunday 21st January 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact On Sunday 21st January 2018, BBC1 East Midlands broadcast an episode of Daily Politics featuring a report of our research in the city of Leicester, followed by a studio debate involving the PI, Professor Jonathan Davies, Andrew Bridgen MP and Dame Glenis Willmott, former leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Dissemination Workshop - Melbourne 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I am currently eliciting further details of this workshop from the local investigators.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Dissemination workshop - Nantes 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact The objective was to present an overview of key international project findings and discuss details of the Nantes case study with Nantes stakeholders. The event was held on 19th September 2018, co-organised with GAELA, a local community association in Nantes. The workshop was a 2 hour public debate to discuss the final report, Governing in and against austerity. The format was a 15 minute presentation followed by roundtable discussion with representatives of GAELA and civil society in Nantes, followed by discussion with the audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Founding meeting of the Municipal Action, Research and Advocacy Network 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The inaugural meeting of the Municipal Action, Research and Advocacy Network was held on 22nd January in Sheffield.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Inaugural Conference - Centre for Urban Research on Austerity 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The inaugural conference of the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity involved a mix of academics, post-graduates and professional practitioners, including an interviewee in the exploratory phase of the current research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.dmu.ac.uk/CURA2015
 
Description Labour Party Community Wealth Building Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I was invited to speak at this conference on 8.2.18 and to present examples of international lessons on how cities cope with and resist austerity. The conference was held to launch Labour's new Community Wealth Building Unit, on which I have also been engaged as an advisor, as a direct result of research on this project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://events.labour.org.uk/event/105422
 
Description National media interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Interview with the Times Higher on the goals of this ESRC study of austerity governance, and the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/impact-of-austerity-politics-charted-by-de-montfort-centre
 
Description Project Workshop - Athens 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact This workshop, a defined project outcome, took place in December 2017. The objective was to present an overview of key international project findings and discuss details of the Athens case study with Athens stakeholders. These included trade unions, elected local politicians and senior policy-makers, NGOs and philanthrocapitalist organisations, representatives of informal solidarity networks, activists and members of cooperative enterprises.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Project Workshop - Baltimore 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact This workshop, a defined project outcome, took place in July 2017. The objective was to present an overview of key international project findings and discuss details of the Baltimore case study with Baltimore stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Project Workshop - Barcelona 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact This workshop, a defined project outcome, took place in June 2017. The objective was to present an overview of key international project findings and discuss details of the Barcelona case study with Barcelona stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Project Workshop - Dublin 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact This workshop, a defined project outcome, took place in September 2017. The objective was to present an overview of key international project findings and discuss details of the Dublin case study to local stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Project Workshop - Leicester 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact This workshop, held in January 2018 was a defined project outcome targeted mainly at project respondents. The objective was to present an overview of key international project findings and discuss details of the Leicester case study with local stakeholders. In this instance, local stakeholders were most interested to hear about what was happening in international case studies and received presentations on the case studies in Barcelona and Nantes.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Project Workshop - Montreal 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact This workshop, a defined project outcome, took place in October 2017. The objective was to present an overview of key international project findings and discuss details of the Montreal case study to local stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://twitter.com/rkeil/status/918575942875996161
 
Description Stakeholder workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The conference held on 27th June 2018 built on our report "Governing in and Against Austerity", creating an international academic/practitioner/activist exchange around the possibilities and potentialities for new forms of municipalism as alternatives to austerity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://cura.our.dmu.ac.uk/2018/05/14/conference-registration-open-municipal-socialism-in-the-21st-ce...
 
Description Workshop presentation - Equality and Democracy in Local and City Government 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was invited to present research from the project at this event, which brought together key stakeholders in the community wealth building and new municipalist milieu, including a number of colleagues in the Community Wealth Building Unit.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/events/public-lectures/spring-2019/equality-democracy/
 
Description Workshop: Urban Governance and City Policies 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited lecture on "urban alternatives to austerity" at the Barcelona.Gov Winter School on "Urban Governance and City Policies", on 25th January 2019. The goal of this School was to create a space for exchanging experiences and debating the development of public policy in cities. The event was co-organised by our local investigator, Dr Ismael Blanco, at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, and hosted at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona from 23-25 January 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://barcelonagov.net/en/cursos/gobernanza-urbana-y-politicas-de-ciudad