A New Generation of Urban Policies - Exploring Approaches to Support Policy Coherence and Integration

15 April, 2021


On 15 April 2021, the EUKN organized a Policy Lab on behalf of the Portuguese Ministry of Environment and Climate Action as part of a series of activities undertaken by the EUKN Secretariat to support the Portuguese EU Council Presidency in the first half of 2021. The Policy Lab targeted the necessity of a new generation of urban policies supporting the transition towards sustainability, and it offered a platform to explore features and challenges of such urban policies. Using the Portuguese National Circular Cities Initiative (InC2) as an example of a circular economy initiative, the event aimed to discuss how initiatives like the InC2 could be understood as new demonstrations of coherent and integrated urban policies.  

Read the input paper to discover more about a new generation of urban policies and the background of the Policy Lab.  

An output paper, built upon the input paper and integrating the insights of the Policy Lab, will be published on the EUKN website in the upcoming months.  

Framing the Topic - Keynote Speech & Discussion

As indicated by the programme, the first part of the Policy Lab consisted in a keynote speech by Prof. Dr. Ing. Geert R Teisman, who  began by introducing the type of necessary policies for European cities to flourish. The main points addressed by the keynote's presentation are summarised below: 

  • There is no one single optimal level of policy making: optimal policy creation should involve multiple levels of governance - ranging from a neighbourhood, city, region, country and EU level - meaning that multi-level governance and the ability to apply it must be improved. 

  • Policy-making often focuses on short-term problem solving, yet in order to create more sustainable policies, there is a necessity for long-term policy integration with a focus towards future transitions. 

  • Before developing additional policies, the outcomes and outputs of existing policies should be assessed, to evaluate whether they are already generating impact.  

The keynote speech was followed by a discussion between Mr Teisman and  the PhD Research Fellow, João Mourato, who reflected on considerations and challenges which might arise in a transition towards integrated and coherent polices. The exchange resulted in the following reflections: 

  • To enable the aforementioned new forms of urban policy creation, more attention must be given to an overall shift in institutional culture rather than solely focusing on the implementation of strategy and reaching objectives. 

  • To support a more rapid shift towards sustainable transitions, the impact of policies should be better monitored. Therefore,the European an the national levels could take a leading role in monitoring and evaluating the impact of policies.  

Following the discussion, Elisa Vilares, Head of Division of Territorial Development and Urban Policy, Directorate General for Territory, gave a presentation on the Portuguese InC2 as an example of a circular cities initiative which aims to support and empower municipalities and their communities in the transition to a Circular Economy. The Portuguese InC2 initiative aims to create synergies in policy through a multilevel context and ensure effective local uptake, one of the biggest challenges experienced in its national urban agenda. 

Mapping Challenges & Solutions - Two Interactive working Groups 

During the second part of the event, two interactive working groups (WGs) mapped out challenges and solutions of a new generation of urban policies in European countries.

The WGs had different focus points: Working Group 1 (WG1) focused on the InC2 initiative by discussing the following statement, ‘The pursuit of a Circular Economy supports the rise of new policy design, targeting more coherent and integrated urban policies’; Working Group 2 (WG2) focused on the challenges of the new generation of urban policies and the following statement, ‘A new generation of urban policies is needed. These new urban policies should acknowledge the complexity of a transition to sustainability and embrace its wide scope and systemic nature to generate long-term structural change’. 

The findings reported in the plenary by both WGs were similar in their nature. The main features and challenges of new urban policies, as emerged from discussions, are summarized below.  

  • Raising awareness and citizen participation: To transition towards a new generation of urban policies, both WGs emphasized the necessity to involve citizens in the process, in order to increase their understanding of a shift towards new urban agenda setting. Awareness must be heightened through additional resource-creation in media as well as practical methods, such as workshops. 

  • Functional shift on an institutional level: Both WGs discussed the importance of well-functioning institutions for civil servants to be able to carry out their roles. Moreover, participants pointed out that,while policy makers may be under pressure to develop immediate solutions, successful policy may take longer to be developed. Therefore, challenges will have to be addressed in combination with a shift in longer-term mindset in policy creation, to provide an opportunity for learning and improvement. WG1 reflected on the importance of breaking silo working within institutions, where communication across departments is low. Additionally, the necessity to revise the skills of officers, policy makers and decision makers was addressed, equipping them with the right resources in order to accelerate this transition as well as incorporating new functions to accompany this transition. 

  • Cultural shift to support cooperation: To support cooperation across levels, WG1 identified as key the creation of a shared language and a cultural in a shift in policymaking, to be carried out through multi-level governance and addressing all societal relationships (e.g. the phycological consequences to this transitions). Moreover, WG2 emphasised the importance of accommodating citizens who experience fear, anxiety and a lack of trust and control, those who may be disadvantaged by, for example, losing their jobs due to this transition. 

  • Existing solutions: WG2 suggested different existing forms of integrating a new generation of urban policies. For one, the importance of incorporating civic participation was pinpointed as well as efficiently accessing existing knowledge within different governmental levels. The involvement of  younger generations in the development of new urban policies was stressed, which would bring in contemporary approaches to tackling existing environmental and societal problems. Also, it was recommended to shift the scale of problem-solving. Complex issues must not always be solved on a larger level, local initiatives must also be identified which have the potential to over other governmental levels.