JPI Climate: Collective urban governance, innovation and creativity in the face of climate change (SELFCITY)

Lead Research Organisation: University of the West of England
Department Name: Faculty of Environment and Technology


The SELFCITY project will explore the processes of self-organisation that underpin community-led project-based responses (in terms of both adaptation and mitigation) to climate change in three countries across Europe. Self-organising (i.e. the ways in which communities organise themselves) is one of the three inter-linked processes (along with market-led and state-led mechanisms) that underpin any pragmatic and innovative transition to an adapted urban environment that is closer to being carbon neutral and that may be more resilient to the challenges resulting from changing (climate-induced) weather patterns. In the past considerable work has been carried out on the role of market-led and state-led initiatives, however, we understand far less about the ways in which civil society constructs what are sometimes alternative and sometimes complementary ways of addressing climate change.
Building on existing research and practice on adapting the built environment, urban neighbourhoods and facilitating energy transition, the project will combine social researcher-led work with participant action research to explore, record and enhance the ways community activists are organizing innovative, creative and pragmatic climate change responses in their communities (of place and of space).
It will set out how the problem(s) of climate change are understood both by these activists/practitioners and by the community members they work with. The project will create space for activists to identify capacity-building needs and for the research team to work with activists to fill these needs. Through these interactive and reflective activities the academic and practitioners teams will tease out the tensions and potentials of the inter-relation of everyday knowledge and technical knowledge on climate challenge responses. Not only does this project analyse the tensions in these forms of knowledge creation within a given national context, but it also uses cross-national comparison to help participants break out of culturally implicit (and fixed) constructions of both the climate change problem and the opportunities for change.

Planned Impact

One of the central aims of the project is also to actively engage in and facilitate, in an inter-active manner, the development of self-organisation in relation to specific, locally constructed, challenges of climate change. Here the aim of this project is to help build processes for supporting collective action to do more and disseminate the results more widely. It will do this firstly by analysing and reflecting on the increasing options for local people to become self-organised and interact with emerging technologies for adaptation as well as how, in local contexts, more 'low-tech' strategies may be developed and articulated with 'high-tech' approaches. Thereby producing useful examples of the different ways in which local adaptation and mitigation can be developed, encouraging cross-case interaction and identification of good practices and help enhance local capacity to act. The project will thus give space to practitioners of self-organisation to reflect on their practice and to make those lessons more widely available locally, nationally and Europe-wide. The key lessons derived from this work will to be made available via the change agent organisations but also made available to European and national policy makers.
By these means the project will also contribute to supporting the aims of Europe 2020 and its key goals of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. It will also compliment the increasingly important notion of social innovation as contained in the EUs Social Innovation Research in the European Union (2013) and the key ideas that: social innovation be focussed on the institutional (meso) and the individual (micro) level rather than the societal level; cross-case exchanges to add value to the work; and that stakeholders be included as co-producers of new knowledge and practices. In the UK case it will contribute to Climate Change Policy by helping to demonstrate the role that local communities can play in developing activities at local level and achieving different forms of adaptation/mitigation relevant to the needs of local people. Moreover, the focus on self-organisation is very much in the spirit of 'localism' that pervades much of the current government's thinking about how society should be organised and the increased role for local action and decision-making implicit in such an approach. Given this we will interact with organisations such as the RTPI and LGA.
It is also important to bear in mind that the case studies on self-organisation apply participatory approaches. The objective of participatory research is to modify the asymmetric relation between researchers and researched, in which the researched is often reduced to being a "research object" or "data carrier". Participatory approaches recognise local people as experts on local life and society who can provide advice to less informed outsiders. At the same time, because the "outsider" is not involved directly in local affairs, and thus not a potential competitor over resources etc., it is expected that the researcher can provide the local people with additional information on her understanding of local life and conditions, which often differ from the local interpretations. Participatory research focuses on these different views and understandings in the sense that through communication among persons mutually recognizing each other, a learning process takes place on both sides.


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These are organised around three questions.
What does the research tell us about the reasons for self-organising?
The following summarises the reasons for self-organising:
• Constructing a sense of 'togetherness';
• Creating a 'sense of place';
• Emphasising 'learning by doing' - deemed more appropriate to the issues of (local) climate change and sustainable lifestyles than other knowledge forms;
• Experimenting with practices seeking to develop/enable autonomy in the longer term;
• 'Doing sustainability' is more important for the practices of some groups, but this does not exclude reflection on what they do and 'how they can do it better'; and
• Looking for new ways of 'governing themselves' that are relevant to local communities through a 'deliberative' trial and error process based around a form of governance that is collaborative, non-hierarchical and inclusive.
In each case elements of the above were combined, changing over time, to create a specific form of local self-organising.
Additional research is required to identify whether particular issues (e.g. food, energy, transport) are related to one of three overarching modes of and motives for self-organising (social movement, participative governance or civic activist). We were unable to explore the age-related differences in self-organising. Future research might explore this and the on-going debate within groups about particular styles of mobilising/organising.

What does the research tell us about researching with/about self-organising activists?
The experience of working with our partner groups was extremely valuable and added depth to the case study work in terms of reflecting upon the experience and practice of being an activist. However, the UK case study did not attain the level of an action research project whereby project activists were facilitated to do their own research. At best the research team was able to facilitate collaborative learning.
Our key recommendation in relation to researching with community activists is:
• Create regulations that permit fund holders to grant money to voluntary groups to carry out research - this would include the possibilities of paying volunteers as researchers.

What does the research tell us about how groups can be facilitated to make a bigger impact?
Existing bodies working on climate change (such as local government) should work more closely with and support self-organising environmental groups as this creates opportunities for local authorities to think and work differently.
In addition to resources the groups wanted:

• To be listened to and their views taken seriously;
• Practical help on issues such as 'public liability';
• Relevant support mentoring/facilitated reflection where appropriate;
• Inspiring examples from elsewhere;
• Opportunities to work with other similar groups;
• Assistance to develop a vision for the future.

Overall we were able to identify some of the diversity of self-organising groups as well as the strengths and weaknesses of self-organising in relatively small towns and cities. Generally speaking these groups sought to deepen the commitment of their place-based communities to climate change action. The next stage is to consider how to best join up these groups as part of creating a wider response to climate change that includes, and takes seriously, such approaches/initiatives.
Further information on the overall project may be found at:
Exploitation Route In terms of Q-Methodology our research will provide useful experience and evidence for how other researchers might use this approach in both national and cross-national research in relation to climate change to identify different attitudes to climate change and associated motivations relating to why and how individuals and groups decide to take action at the local level. In relation to the Action-Learning Cycle this has already shown that the use of a relatively small amount of externally provided resources can help local groups to engage in self-reflection on what they are doing and why, clarifying their objectives and whether they are succeeding in meeting those objectives and how they wish to develop in the future. This will be of use to both local groups but also to external funding bodies who aim to support such groups.
Given the current emphasis on localism and voluntary action at local level there will be valuable lessons to learn from this in the wider sense that it cannot be assumed that local groups 'come into existence perfectly formed' but may need some external assistance to identify and develop their objectives, how to achieve these and then to reflect on what has been done/achieved and then to reflect on their future development. Thus recognising that local self-organising groups are dynamic bodies is important and that groups may need support, of varying types, at different stages in their development. It, is however, important that groups identify the support they need themselves (perhaps with some external facilitation similar to that used in our action-learning cycle), rather than have it imposed on them from 'outside'.
Additional Research on the motives for groups to engage in forms of self-organising in response to climate change would help provide a better understanding of how to work with and support such groups.Similarly further research on the different modes of self-organising would also enable policy makers to understand how best to engage with groups.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description Already the work carried out during 2016 has facilitated the development of the two local groups we are working with by enabling them to reflect on what they are doing and why. it has also allowed them to clarify their objectives and assess the degree to which they are meeting those objectives. In addition it has allowed them space to reflect on how they wish to develop in the future. Already they are beginning to act on this and take the initial findings of the Action-Learning Cycle forward to reorganise themselves and develop new activities. Since the last entry the two groups have taken on board the results of the Action-Learning Cycle. One of the groups has engaged in 're-launch' which included an event held in Keynsham in December 2017. A national speaker gave a presentation along with members of the SELFCITY team who presented results fro the project and other regionally based speakers attended. A range of people engaged in local and regional climate change related activities attended the event. In 2019 a Special Panel Session at European Urban Research Association/Urban Affairs Association Conference City Futures IV, Dublin, 20th - 22nd June 2019. The following members of the SELFCITY team organised and presented at the session which was attended by a wide variety of participants from different sectors. • Smith, I and Hall, S. 'Using Q-methodology to outline 'ideal-types' of self-organising based on repertoires of political action across activists in England, Southern Germany and the Netherlands.' • Rothfuß, E and Doerfler, T. 'Framing climate change activism as a process of becoming through the generation of resonant transition practices calling on social theory to understand what self-organising activists do when they respond to climate breakdown.' • Hasanov, M. 'Using a mix of ethnography and collaborative enquiry to understand self-organising in Dutch food groups.' • Zuidema, C. 'Drawing conclusions about how self-organising groups engage with the formal institutions of governance in the Netherlands, England and Southern Germany.'
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

Title Q-Sort Data Base 
Description The UK team conducted 56 Q Sort interviews with members of the two climate change groups we are working with. The interviews each lasted between 45 and 90 minutes and the Participants were asked to order the 47 statements, on an upturned pyramid distribution grid, which offered levels of agreement or disagreement on a Likert scale. The participants were then asked to clarify the meanings that they attributed to statements, and to explain their rationale for the positioning of statements, especially those with which they 'most strongly' or 'least' agreed. The same questions were also used in the Netherlands and Germany (in English in the Netherlands and translated in Germany) providing the basis for comparative analysis between the three countries. On this basis we have complied a preliminary data for further analysis.This will be added to and updated in 2017. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact To date these have been internal to the project. 
Description Action-Learning workshops - the research team has organised 9 workshops between March 2016 March 2017 . The workshops have enabled participants to think about their priorities for being organised. In both cases the groups decided that networking was a priority for them and the workshops have allowed them the space to challenge why and how networking might be important to them. 
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 These workshops were organised in the following ways:
• Action learning cycle workshops worked with groups of participants from the partner groups. These workshops typically took place over 2-3 hours. Together with the SELFCITY facilitators the aim of these workshops was to develop a learning intervention for the group. The learning intervention was to focus on particular learning priorities that the group identified. Although there was some degree of attrition the idea of the learning groups was that they retained a common membership.
• Intervention workshops - the learning groups established a (or several) learning objectives. The aim of the intervention workshop was to provide external (from the SELFCITY team) facilitation and expertise. The participants for these interventions included the learning group but since they were also directed towards learning to network better, invitations for a wider group were made at the suggestions of the core learning group. Subsequent workshops on the took place over 6 hours and were facilitated by a community activist (Chris Church). The next intervention workshop was run by Futerra in Winchester over 3 hours. The final 2017 workshop 2017 was designed to follow up the intervention workshops to explore what was learnt and how it was implemented (or translated for implementation) in the two groups
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
Description Hall, S and Smith, I (2017) Exploring self-organised responses to climate change in the UK: A Q-sort Methodology study. Paper presented to Political Studies Association Environmental Politics Group Conference, 'Climate politics' in interesting times, Keele University, September, 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact This presentation introduced the uses of Q-sort methodology to explore how local self-organised groups responded to climate change in their locality.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Hall, S, Smith, I and Hasenov, M 'Exploring the importance of 'self organization' for climate change activism in the UK, Germany and Netherlands, Paper presented to Association of European Schools of Planning Annual Congress, 'Making Space for Hope', Gothenburg, Sweden, July 10-14 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The presentation discussed and disseminated the results of SELFCITY in relation to the work carried out in all three partner countries. In particular the presentation sought to highlight similarities and differences in how self-organising groups in Germany, the Netherlands and the UK responded to climate change depending on how they defined the problem and the different national policy agendas.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018