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  • Digital Transition in cities – how can it benefit citizens?

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    Women using her phone to take a picture at the Tallinn URBACT City Festival

    Take a trip down memory lane with us. Re-discover stories and reflections that we've captured over the last years. This article was first published in 2019 and, yet, is more relevant than ever, with digital transition at the heart of EU cohesion policy objectives and the URBACT Programme.

    Digital transition


    Digitalisation is omnipresent in today’s social and urban life and URBACT cities are seizing the opportunity. As Alison Partridge, Lead Expert of the TechRevolution 2.0 and the TechRevolution Transfer Networks, always advocates cities need to ‘adapt or die’. for many years: “cities of all sizes need to better understand the opportunities offered by digital and tech and jump on them to grow higher value jobs and start-ups for local people”. Indeed, at all levels of society and of governance, services and products are going digital: online availability, digital tools for access, compiling and using data to proceed to meta-analysis.


    The transition to a society based on “virtual”, intangible, vectors, using computing techniques and algorithms – a digital transition - is growing in European cities, meaning more intrusions in our daily lives.



    The use of new technologies to communicate and access information is changing the way society works



    states the Action Plan of the Digital Transition Urban Agenda Partnership because “citizens live an increasingly digital life both in the public and private sphere”.


    Beyond the digital divide issue, private data protection and free choice, this trend follows new consumption and production patterns, as well as interaction between people.


    Taking advantage of digital transition’s potential is an asset for cities, not only for business development and job creation, but also for city governance and getting closer to citizens, thus developing more integrated governance approaches at city level. That is the way URBACT cities have approached their digital transition over the last 15 years – as a means of driving change in cities.This article, written by URBACT Expert Marcelline Bonneau,  presents a few cases from URBACT cities and Urban Agenda Partnerships, which can inspire other cities.



    Digital transition as a goal: transforming cities’ local economic development



    Cities are taking advantage of digital transition as a goal in itself. Indeed, the digital sector has been and should be developed. Creating “smart cities” is now appearing in more and more cities’ strategy as a way to achieve competitive advantage. Focusing on local economic development, as a new way of addressing emerging societal issues such as environmental and social ones, requires strong leadership, commitment and investments.


    For some URBACT Networks, digitalisation of cities means the development of incubators, hubs and other platforms to support the development of jobs and skills. Featuring a wealth of examples about the ways in which cities support tech and digital economy, TechPlace showcases URBACT Networks such as TechTown, GEN Y CITY and Interactive Cities. It shares content such as articles, videos, podcasts and presentations on the ways cities use social media, digital strategies, digital education, digital health, co-working environments, digital hubs etc.


    Developing digital strategies is the starting point of the DigiPlace network, one of the 23 approved Action Planning Networks back in 2019. It seeks to support the creation of global vision and improve technical and engineering capacities by incorporating digital innovation, with both hard and soft infrastructures. Supporting digital growth and transformational economies is also the key focus of the TechRevolution 2.0 network. Transferring the experience of Barnsley (UK) and its Digital Media Centre, a business support programme which nurtures an 'ecosystem' thanks to knowledge-based jobs and businesses across all sectors and industries.


    As for the skills needed to move towards more digital cities, URBACT has also contributed to the Digital Skills Map platform, as an outcome of the Urban Agenda Partnership on Jobs and Skills, presenting local know-how on digitalisation in vocational education and training.







    Digital transition as a methodology: A governance focus



    Digitalisation can, on the other hand, be seen as a methodology. The process, supporting societal and urban transition, has a strong impact on governance, and on how our everyday life is organised - as well as on the way we make the city work.


    Although the use of technology can lead to personalisation of services, “strengthening the barrier between the people and the services which their taxes fund”, as pointed out by URBACT Expert Eddy Adams following URBACT city lab's contribution to the Leipzig Charter, it's key to use adequate language which does not alienate people. Indeed, administrations and citizens need to get to know each other and adopt a language that is understandable by both sides. When used correctly, digitalisation and new technologies can be harnessed to transform cities into platforms of open innovation and develop digital urbanism. The ESPON working paper on the “Digital innovation in urban environments: Solutions for sustainable and fluently working cities” backs the benefit for vertical and horizontal co-creation of cities.


    Digital transition can be supported by specific tools to make governance more inclusive, participatory and more efficient. As identified by ESPON, larger cities and Northern European cities are more advanced than the rest of European cities.


    Such a process, according to the Urban agenda Partnership on Digital Transition, can be supported by 4 frameworks: technological, organisational, institutional and by stakeholders (see figure). Indeed, what is of crucial importance to cities is not what technology is used but how it is used.


    Nele Leosk, 2019, DIGITAL TRANSITION ABC


    Creating a one-stop shop for citizens and ensuring the centralisation of citizens’ information is the core of the Card4All URBACT network transferring the experience Citizen Card System of Gijon (ES). The card enables using innovative services and technologies. Cities can thus gather information to improve their services and use it as part of a participative processes. This can be applied to promote social inclusion, local trade, urban mobility and sustainable living, creating a Smart City with Smart Citizens. Such a card can be used for access to citizens’ terminals (for public services), public transport, library, swimming pool, public toilets, car sharing, etc. The IoTxChange network also seeks to benefit from the Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to improve the quality of life in small and medium sized EU cities.


    At the same time, participation and citizens’ engagement is also increasingly relying on digital tools. The participatory budget of Paris URBACT Good Practice is an online process which combines offline and online promotion. The city of Agen (FR) has started a new network, ActiveCitizen, placing citizens at the heart of local democracy in small and medium-sized cities, developing new interactive platforms such as Agen’s Tell My City.


    Many other URBACT cities have developed digital solutions on a wider scale. For example, Helsinki (FI), within the REFILL network, shared its experiment with an online service, Flexi Spaces, allowing people to find and book spaces by the hour in the neighbourhood of Kalasatama. After all, it's safe to say URBACT brings a wealth of knowledge and practical cases into the European Urban Policy debate – helping develop and share new innovative solutions creating smart cities.






    Are you interested in the topic of digital transition but don't know where to start?

    Join us for a webinar on 9 March 2023, from 10.00 to 11.30 (CET), to understand how tech can be an asset in your city and how it can potentially help you in your future action-planning journey



    Digital transition URBACT webinar

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  • Breaking isolation

    Social connections are necessary for society. However, it is clear that many people are isolated nowadays. The public affected by this problem of isolation is not necessarily the one we think of at first. Because this difficulty does not only affect the elderly, as one might think. We note in particular since the pandemic a sharp increase in cases of loneliness in urban areas among parents of single-parent families, but also among young people.

    The objective of our future network is to work on the question of the social bond between people. How can citizen participation promote social links among young and old, and how can citizens be involved to recreate ties and facilitate them?

    This citizen involvement must promote social diversity and intergenerational links because it is also a citizen's duty to take care of one's neighbour. Make an act of citizenship by ensuring that those around you are not abandoned.

    This problem linked to the Isolated Public is very present in Agen, which is why we want to develop the involvement at the City level of volunteers in the neighbourhoods in the service of Agen citizen assistance.

    Working in collaboration with small and medium-sized cities, with similarities to the city of Agen, would make it possible to compare how other European cities are tackling this difficulty.

    The cities in the network could define together which strategy to put in place. Experiments at the local level with territorial partners would make it possible to test innovative solutions based on existing systems but also by inventing new possibilities linked to new generations while using new technologies.

    Because citizen participation can be a solution in the fight against isolation.

    Nicolas CASTET
    City of Agen
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    Social inclusion
  • ActiveCitizens

    Lead Partner : Agen - France
    • Hradec Kralove - Czech Republic
    • Dinslaken - Germany
    • Saint-Quentin - France
    • Bistrița - Romania
    • Cento - Italy
    • Santa Maria da Feira - Portugal
    • Tartu Vald - Estonia


    City of Agen (FR)


    ActiveCitizens - The different levels of citizen participation


    • Kick-off Active Citizens Network, Study Visits Adventure & Baseline Study
    • Validation of Phase 2, Communication Plan, Phase 2 Journey & Integrated Action Plan Roadmap
    • Analyse of problems, Visions, First series of experiments (Small Scale Actions), Mid Term Reflection, State of Action Report & Integrated Action Plan Draft
    • Reprogramming Network, Last rounds of Small Scale Actions, Final Integrated Action Plan, dissemination & Closure of the Active Citizens Project

    Final products

    Integrated Action Plans

    Listen and co-create with citizens - Integrated Action Plan Santa Maria da Feira
    Listen and co-create with citizens

    Santa Maria da Feira hosts multiple inspiring practices of citizen participation but also multi-stakeholder collaboration. Read more here !


    Santa Maria da Feira - Portugal
    Integrated Action Plan Hradec Kralove

    Read more here ! 

    Hradec Kralove - Czech Republic

    Read more here !


    Read more here !

    Agen - France
    Bistriţa Integrated Action Plan

    Read more here !

    Bistrita - Romania
    Saint-Quentin Integrated Action Plan

    Read more here !

    Saint-Quentin, France

    Read more here 


    Read more here 



    Useful links

    Digital Free Version of the Game  Citizen participation? Hell No !!  Just follow the link

    Video presentation of Active Citizens here

    First Small Scale Action in Agen - Video : Improvement works on Chopin Square

    Small Scale Action in Agen - Video : Choice of Voluntary Drop off Points

    Small Scale Action in Agen - Video : Market of ideas

    Small Scale Action in Agen - Video : Videomaton developement works on Place Fallieres

    Small Scale Action in Agen - Video : Citizenship Project with High School

    Small Scale Action in Agen - Video : Reduilding a Schoolyard with Pupil's ideas

    Small Scale Action in Agen - Video : Videomaton In Palissy High School

    Last Transnational Meeting in Lead Partner City of Agen - Video : Lead Partner and Lead Expert interviews

    The aim of ActiveCitizens is to rethink the place of the citizen in the local governance by finding a balance between representative democracy and participatory democracy. Led by the City of Agen (France), this Action Planning Network of European small and medium-sized cities, with the same expectations and the similar challenges, will take into account, to do this, new digital tools while integrating the issue of citizens away or not comfortable with digital tools.

    Citizen's participation in small and medium EU cities
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  • 23 Action Planning Networks ready for Phase 2!

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    On 7 May, URBACT's Monitoring Committee has officially approved all Action Planning Networks to proceed to Phase 2.



    The main objective of Action Planning Networks is to bring together between 7 and 10 cities across Europe to exchange their experience in a particular thematic urban development challenge and to share their ideas about possible solutions, during a period of over 2 years. The Phase 1 (from late June 2019 to February 2020) focused on the development of baseline studies, city profiles and the production of the Application Form for Phase 2.

    Following the Monitoring Committee's approval of the networks, cities are now ready to focus on the exchange and learning activities using a range of learning tools and approaches in line with the URBACT Method. Every partner city will consolidate an URBACT Local Group, which will co-design Integrated Action Plans for future implementation. The Phase 2 also presents a novelty for the projects, from now on cities are encouraged to undertake pilot actions (Small Scale Actions), to experiment with new ideas for projects gained from other network exchanges and in line with the cities’ network topic.

    As a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, the URBACT Secretariat will follow up with a series of adapted activities to support these networks and their partners, including the delivery of trainings using online formats and a 3 months extension of the network life-cycle, meaning that projects will run until August 2022. Thus, networks will respect the following calendar:


    • Activation Stage (May - December 2020): putting together an Integrated Action Plan roadmap
    • Planning Actions (December 2020 - December 2021): drafting the Integrated Action Plan
    • Planning Implementation (December 2021 - June 2022): finalising the Integrated Action Plan
    • Integrated Action Plans Finale (June - August 2022): sharing knowledge


    You can find all approved networks in the table below, the Lead Partner city is indicated is bold. To find out more about each one of the projects, check the network's webpages.
    Congratulations to the 23 approved projects!





    Research, technological development and innovation


    Leiria (PT)
    - Longford (IE)
    - Madrid (ES)
    - Mechelen (BE)
    - Michalovce (SK)
    - Parma (IT)
    - Pella (EL)
    - Unione della Romagna Faentina (IT)
    - Szabolcs 05 Regional Development Association of Municipalities (HU)

    Security and safety are two common goods and fundamental components of European democracy. This network intends to analyse strategies and concepts of urban design and planning, which could contribute to prevent segregation and anti-social behaviour. Additionally, this network wishes to co-create an integrated approach towards urban security focusing on improving citizens’ quality of life and the city’s smart, sustainable and inclusive growth towards a good living environment.

    Find your Greatness

    Alba Iulia (RO)
    - Bragança (PT)
    - Candelaria (ES)
    - Perugia (IT)
    - Wroclaw (PL)
    - Võru (EE)
    - Limerick (IE)
    - Budafok-Tétény 22nd district of Budapest (HU)

    The challenge is to build on the cities' opportunities. The partners of the project need to identify locally a strength, which was built as a sustainable mechanism generating urban development. The goal of this network is to explore and enhance the potential of the city, combining strategic marketing approach with innovative smart city tools.

    Access to and use of ICT

    (previously DI4C)

    Messina (IT)
    - Botosani (RO)
    - Oulu (FI)
    - Portalegre (PT)
    - Roquetas de Mar (ES)
    - Saint- Quentin (FR)
    - Trikala (EL)
    - Ventspils Digital Centre (LV)

    This network aims to set up an acceleration mechanism to enable cities to catch up the digitalisation opportunities in hard & soft infrastructure. Remove all the obstacles encountered by mid-sized cities in their digital journey: lack of strategic & global vision lack of technical and engineering capacities difficulties in incorporating the digital innovation. Municipalities need to guaranty the uptake of digital innovation by the local stakeholders: citizen and entrepreneurs.


    Fundão (PT)
    - Dodoni (EL)
    - Jelgava (LV)
    - Nevers Agglomeration (FR)
    - Razlog (BG)
    - Ånge (SE)
    - Kežmarok (SK)
    - Åbo Akademi University (FI)

    The objective is to encourage the creation of a network of European cities committed to the design of digitalization plans based on Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to increase the quality of life in small and medium sized EU cities, guiding us through a new age of digital transformation.

    Competitiveness of SMEs


    Amarante (PT)
    - Balbriggan (IE)
    - Pori (FI)
    - Pärnu (EE)
    - Grosseto (IT)
    - Gabrovo (BG)
    - Heerlen (NL)
    - Kočevje (SI)
    - Medina del Campo

    - Saldus (LV)

    This network aim to produce 10 different and unique robust economic development strategies, targeting their own genuine niches, and generating urban innovation ecosystems. City partners will focus on deepening the understanding of their own local economic strengths and establish strategic methods to revitalise their economy, adapt their city to the next economy and to future economic changes, establishing methodological bases for generate resilient cities.

    Tourism Friendly Cities

    Genoa (IT)
    - Braga (PT)
    - Rovaniemi (FI)
    - Venice (IT)
    - Utrecht (NL)
    - Krakow (PL)
    - Cáceres (ES)
    - Druskininkai (LT)
    - Dún Laoghaire Rathdown (IE)
    - Dubrovnik Development Agency (HR)

    This network aims to explore how tourism can be sustainable in medium-sized cities, reducing the negative impact on neighbourhoods and areas interested by different types of tourism to reach this ambitious aim, the project will create integrated and inclusive strategies which can keep a balance between the needs of the local community, in terms of quality of life and of services available, and the promotion of sustainable urban development at environmental, social and economic level.

    Low carbon economy in all sectors

    Urb-En Pact

    Clermont Auvergne Metropole (FR)
    - Bialystok Association of the Functional Area (PL)
    - CIM Alto Minho (PT)
    - Rouen Normandie Metropole (FR)
    - Elefsina (EL)
    - Galati (RO)
    - Palma di Montechiaro (IT)
    - Tampere EcoFellows (FI)

    Local authorities embrace the ambitious goal to become a zero-net energy territory within the next 30 years. Thus, the aim is to define the local action plans to become zero-net (ZNE) territory by producing and delivering local, renewable and regulated sources of energy by the implementation of an energy loop which gathers all the stakeholders of this circular economy, especially the consumers included in this fair trade business in and around the metropolitan area.

    Zero Carbon Cities
    (previously ZCC)

    Manchester (UK)
    - Bistrita (RO)
    - Zadar (HR)
    - Modena (IT)
    - Frankfurt am Main (DE)
    - Tartu (EE)
    - Vilvoorde (BE)

    The network will support capacity building of cities to establish science-based carbon reduction targets and their Sustainable Energy Action Plans (SEAPs) aligned to Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Working with 7cities to adopt different approaches to carbon budgeting and science-based targets, the network will undertake a programme of capacity building in order to support their local activities and integrated action plan and influence Covenant of Mayors' signatory cities.

    Environmental protection and resource efficiency


    Barcelona Metropolitan Area (ES)
    - Porto Metropolitan Area (PT)
    - Krakow Metropole Association (PL)
    - Paris Metropolitan Area (FR)
    - Gdansk-Gdynia-Sopot Metropolitan Area (PL)
    - Amsterdam Region (NL)
    - Transport for Greater Manchester (UK)
    - Thessaloniki Major Development Agency (EL)

    The overall goal is to rethink, transform and integrate mobility infrastructure aiming at reconnecting people, neighbourhoods, cities and natural spaces. The project will develop planning strategies, processes, instruments and partnerships, fostering public transport and active mobility, reducing externalities and unlocking opportunities of urban regeneration with the objectives of structuring the territory, and achieving a more sustainable, equitable and attractive metropolis.


    Utrecht (NL)
    - Riga (LV)
    - Oeste CIM (PT)
    - Copenhagen (DK)
    - Granada (ES)
    - Munich (DE)
    - Kavala (EL)
    - Prato (IT)
    - Nigrad (SI)

    URGE (circUlaR buildinG citiEs) aims to design integrated urban policies on circularity in the building sector – a major consumer of raw materials – as there is a gap in knowledge on this topic. The result is an in-depth understanding of this theme and a first plan for a tailor-made methodology that allows the circular dimension to be widely integrated in the large construction tasks the URGE partnership is facing. URGE thus accelerates the transition towards a circular economy.

    Healthy Cities

    Vic (ES)
    - Anyksciai (LT)
    - Bradford (UK)
    - Alphen aan den Rijn (NL)
    - Falerna (IT)
    - Farkadona (EL)
    - Loulé (PT)
    - Pärnu (EE)
    - Malta Planning Authority (MT)

    This network aims to deepen the relationship between health and the urban environment, planning actions that focus on improving the population’s health, while developing a rigorous health impact assessment methodology around it. Urban Planning can become a health generator on many grounds, and this network of cities reflects the multiplicity of possible approaches to tackle the issue: green areas, mobility, social cohesion or promotion of sports are some examples.


    Mula (ES)
    - Belene (BG)
    - Cesena (IT)
    - Malbork (PL)
    - Roskilde (DK)
    - Heraklion (EL)
    - Šibenik (HR)
    - Ukmergè (LT)


    The ultimate goal is to represent a moment of change, improving the urban environment of cities involved, developing heritage-led urban regeneration. It will enhance the potential of heritage in small and medium cities developing strategies for economic and social cohesion, inclusion and sustainable urban development. This network fosters the transnational exchange of experiences to test an innovative policy framework, combining a sound integrated approach with a real transformation purpose.


    Resourceful Cities
    (previously UrbReC)

    The Hague (NL)
    - Bucharest 3rd district (RO)
    - Ciudad Real (ES)
    - Mechelen (BE)
    - Cáceres (ES)
    - Patras (EL)
    - Oslo (NO)
    - Opole (PL)
    - Vila Nova Famalicão (PT)
    - Zagreb (HR)


    This network seeks to develop the next generation of urban resource centers to promote the positive economic, environmental and social impacts for the circular economy. They facilitate waste prevention, reuse, repair and recycling. The centers also work as connection points for citizens, new businesses, researchers and the public sector to co-create new ways to close resource loops at the local level.

    (previously Rurban Food)

    Coimbra Region (PT)
    - Alba Iulia (RO)
    - Córdoba (ES)
    - Larissa (EL)
    - Szécsény (HU)
    - Bassa Romagna Union (IT)
    - Tartu Tartumaa Arendusselts (EE)
    - BSC Kranj and Gorenjska (SI)

    Recent experience suggests that it is necessary to promote a transition towards regional food systems. This network encourage the creation of a network of European cities committed to the design of food plans that extend from the urban and periurban areas through a corridor that facilitates urban-rural re-connection. This approach enhances production and consumption environments founded on a base of economic, social and environmental sustainability, integrated into development policies.


    Hegyvidék 12th district of Budapest (HU)
    - Espoo (FI)
    - Limerick (IE)
    - Messina (IT)
    - Breda (NL)
    - Poznań (PL)
    - Santa Pola (ES)
    - Suceava (RO)
    - Tartu (EE)

    As a response to the various health risks related to rapid urbanization and the densification of cities, this network project promotes health-responsive planning and management of urban green infrastructure with an overall aim to bring health and wellbeing benefits for citizens across Europe. The network applies a holistic approach that addresses the main functions provided by urban green infrastructure that deliver health and social benefits.

    Sustainable transport


    Bielefeld (DE)
    - Arad (RO)
    - Badalona (ES)
    - Nazaré (PT)
    - Turku (FI)
    - Guía de Isora (ES)
    - Panevèžys (LT)
    - Saint-Germain-en-Laye (FR)
    - Sérres (EL)
    - Valga (EE)

    This network improves quantity and quality of attractive public spaces in urban areas. For this, it tackles the main public space use being transportation in 3 aspects: improving user experience and adding space to pedestrian networks and (semi) pedestrianised places, upscaling intermodal hubs to urban centres of mixed use as well as reducing and optimising parking in public space. The project takes a user-centric approach by users assessing and creating future use and design of public space.

    Thriving Streets

    Parma (IT)
    - Antwerp (BE)
    - Igoumenitsa (EL)
    - Klaipèda (LT)
    - Nova Gorica (SI)
    - Oradea (RO)
    - Santo Tirso (PT)
    - Radom (PL)
    - Southwark London Borough (UK)
    - Debrecen Economic Development Centre (HU)

    This is a network that addresses the bottlenecks in sustainable urban mobility. The project will focus on the economic and social benefits of sustainable mobility, rather than on the widely demonstrated environmental effects. The network argues that working with local amenities and social networks at neighbourhood level could unlock the hidden demand for active mobility in cities, and thus act as enabler of behaviour change towards more resilient and liveable neighbourhoods.

    Employment protection and resource efficiency


    Heerlen (NL)
    - Aarhus (DK)
    - Baia Mare (RO)
    - Fundão (PT)
    - Kecskemét (HU)
    - Pordenone (IT)
    - Zaragoza (ES)
    - Võru Development Centre (EE)

    This network aims to explore how social impact bonds can be used to improve public service delivery in areas such as employment, ageing, and immigration. Often, the delivery of services is hindered by fragmented and siloed agencies and budgets, financial and political shorttermism, and an aversion to risk and difficulty creating change. The social impact bond is a promising model that ameliorates these issues by increasing collaboration, prevention, and innovation.

    Social inclusion and poverty


    Ghent (BE)
    - Braga (PT)
    - Glasgow (UK)
    - Thessaloniki (EL)
    - Liège (BE)
    - Odense (DK)
    - Poznań (PL)
    - Toulouse Metropole (FR)
    - Timisoara Department of Social Assistance (RO)

    This project aims to eradicate homelessness through innovative housing solutions at city level. It will exchange knowledge on how to gather accurate data and make the conceptual shift from the symptomatic management to the actual ending of homelessness, with Housing First and Housing Led as guidance model. This network will guide the partner cities towards integrated local action plans linked to the long-term strategic goal of Functional Zero (no structural homelessness).


    Agen (FR)
    - Bistrita (RO)
    - Cento (IT)
    - Dinslaken (DE)
    - Hradec Králové (CZ)
    - Santa Maria da Feira (PT)
    - Saint-Quentin (FR)
    - Tartu (EE)

    The aim of this network is to rethink the place of the citizens in the local governance by finding a balance between representative democracy and participatory democracy. This network of European small and medium-sized cities, with the same expectations and similar challenges, will notably take into account, to do this, new digital tools while integrating the issue of citizens away or not comfortable with digital tools.


    Amsterdam (NL)
    - Dublin (IE)
    - Lisbon (PT)
    - Riga (LV)
    - Sofia (BG)
    - Tallinn (EE)
    - Vilnius (LT)
    - London Greater Authority (UK)

    This network addresses the importance of inclusive cultural policies. A challenge all cities in this project face is that culture does not enrich or empower all people equally. We need to gain a better understanding of our communities in order to engage all citizens in our cities. We have identified four topics to work on that will enable us to gain that understanding and support us in reaching all population groups in the participating cities from the west, east and south of Europe.


    Umeå (SE)
    - Frankfurt am Main (DE)
    - Panevèžys (LT)
    - Trikala (EL)
    - La Rochelle (FR)
    - Barcelona Activa SA (ES)
    - Celje JZ Socio (SI)

    Creating conditions for gender equality through a holistic understanding of how gender inequality is created in the specific place. This network creates an exchange on challenges faced by cities with an understanding of gender inequality that is globally understood but locally contextualised.

    Education, skills and lifelong learning


    Milan (IT)
    - Bratislava (SK)
    - Budaörs (HU)
    - Guimarães (PT)
    - Molina de Segura (ES)
    - Nantes Metropole (FR)
    - Rijeka (HR)
    - Kekava (LV)
    - Sofia (BG)
    -Vratsa (BG)

    Through intensive capacity building of local actors, the network will increase collaboration among municipalities, businesses and the civic society in order to promote sustainable, inclusive & innovative urban change. The project aims at increasing the role and added value of companies’ CSR activities at local level, towards urban regeneration and social innovation, with a special emphasis on education, in order to better address emerging and unmet local needs.




    Interested in finding more about the approved networks and what they will do? Watch the URBACT Method video and check out the Action Planning Network's infographic!

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  • Do we need participatory democracy to save democracy?

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    Everyone acknowledges today that democracies around the world are increasingly challenged. The number of issues they have to face – and have difficulties to respond to (social justice, economic stability, climate change, etc.) – put our democracies at risk. On top of that, a growing number of people feel that they are not listened to or taken into consideration by policymakers. Citizens claim a right to have a say in public decisions, choices, and policies that are made.


    At city level, local governments are not at rest either and face the same situation as national governments and appear quite unequipped to respond to the claim of citizens. Yet, they realise they have to better collaborate and involve citizens in decision-making processes and in the local governance of the city in general. Amongst those conscious cities, 8 small and medium-sized cities of Europe have decided to embark on the audacious journey of participatory democracy.

    These 8 cities have gathered together in order to set up a network called Active Citizens. These cities all range in between 35 000 and 95 000 inhabitants. They are from all over Europe, -south, west, and east. From Portugal (Santa Maria da Feira) to France (Agen and Saint Quentin), Italy (Cento) to Germany (Dinslaken), Czech Republic (Hradec Králové), Romania (Bistrita), and Estonia (Tartu). These 8 cities have different experiences with participatory approaches, some having already engaged with participatory methods, while others are more at the beginning of the journey. However, they all have in common this shared feeling that they need to go further, and that they can do so, by joining together and learning from one another.

    The ambition of the Active Citizens’ network of cities is quite clear: how to better involve citizens in the local governance of our cities? ‘But why would you do that?’ one could ask. Well, because, ‘we believe that by involving citizens into the local governance, we can build better policies, services, and cities as a whole. More efficient. More pertinent. More relevant. More adapted.’

    ‘But why would we need to involve citizens in the governance? We already have elected officials for that! It’s the whole principle of representative democracy!’


    Yes. In principle. Elected officials are elected to represent citizens and ‘govern in their name’. And they do. But in many cases, they don’t represent ‘enough’ of the people. And even if they did, does this prevent them to compose with citizens during their whole mandate, for every decision? Cities acknowledge today that integrating a certain level of citizen participation (in some cases) to the decision-making process could be – not only – useful, but actually necessary. 

    Citizen participation? Hell no!


    Clearly, not everyone in city administrations (but also in national governments) is convinced of the added-value of citizen participation to governance. Reasons of NOT doing citizen participation are plenty. In order to identify them, we developed, within Active Citizens, a card game called ‘Citizen participation? Hell no!’. This game is composed of 42 reasons of NOT doing citizen participation. The cities of the network were asked to pick the ones they most often hear within their own administrations, by their colleagues (either civil servants or elected officials). Some of the reasons include: “citizen participation slows down every process or project’, ‘citizen participation is useless because citizens are not experts!”, “it’s too complicated to work with citizens”, “citizens are better at complaining, than at finding solutions”, “citizens have no interest in public actions & matters”, “no need for citizen participation, we already work with NGOs, unions and associations of consumers”, “with citizens, conversations always remain superficial and without depth”.

    Yes. There is still a long way to go in order to deconstruct these many ‘reasons’…

    But... ‘what is it you want?’


    There are many objectives which could motivate a city to engage in a network such as Active Citizens. The 8 cities of the network were therefore asked to express what were their motivations… and here is a little selection of the most common desires they have picked:

    • We want to develop a culture of participation and a sense of active citizenship.
    • We want to rebuild trust between citizens and the city administration.
    • We want citizens to co-create solutions (ideas, plans, agendas, actions) with us, city administration.
    • We want to facilitate the dialogue between elected officials and citizens.
    • We want to collect citizensʼ opinions and views on public matters or actions.
    • We want citizens to take an active part in urban planning projects and decisions.

    This set of motivations highlight the richness and diversity of objectives (but also challenges) that the cities wish to tackle through citizen participation: from trust to dialogue, from consultation to co-creation, from concrete projects to public agenda, and more.

    ‘When you start doing citizen participation, you realize there are so many things you are not satisfied with, as a city administration’


    For the cities who have already a bit of experience with forms of citizen participation, all of them are not 100% satisfied with how things are. ‘First, It’s always the same people who show up’. That’s the so-called ‘usual suspects’. And, most often, they are all retired. ‘This is not satisfactory, as a public administration’. Indeed, cities want citizens to be as diverse as possible, as representative as possible (of all the inhabitants and potential voices). ‘Citizens tend to only speak up for their personal interest, not necessarily the common good’, yet it is the role of a public authority to ensure that public policies and services shall be for the common good. ‘In the neighbourhood councils, we decided that the citizens would be elected by the inhabitants but we realise that, once elected, they don’t all necessarily consult the citizens afterward’. Even though the idea was to give power to citizens, we end up having just a new layer of not-functioning-so-well ‘representative democracy’, at the micro-level of a neighbourhood, instead of a city one. Of course, all the cities are experimenting, testing, piloting, exploring and learning from their experiments, what works well, what works not so well, what does not work, then revise, change, redesign their ways of doing. And citizens contribute to it (requesting particular trainings, suggesting changes, etc.). Both sides have to learn how to collaborate better, as it is not a natural thing for any of them.

    There is hope, there is urgency, there is pressure


    Participatory democracy is a trendy topic. No doubt. The number of articles, news, papers, books, case studies, of participatory democracy are multiplying like never before in the last decade. At the same time, toolkits, guidelines, toolboxes, and handbooks of all kind are also multiplying and meant to support cities in the adoption of participatory approaches in their governance. Yet, the trendy nature of the topic is not without risk. Indeed, as the topic becomes ‘a nice thing to do and have’, some cities tend to apply participatory approaches either in bad ways (tools, methods, formats) or for the bad reasons (fake motives, hidden agenda) leading to what could be called ‘fake public participation’. And this can have disastrous effects on democracy. Indeed, the number of active citizens willing to take part, to a certain degree, to public decision making processes, are not – let’s be honest – millions (yet). So doing ‘fake public participation’ can convince the most willing citizens that participation processes are just smoke and mirrors. Disappointing, once again. And lowering a bit more the citizens’ trust in politics, and, by extension, the democratic model. But there is hope, because citizens are present and willing to take part, and city administrations (like the ones of Active Citizens) are also more and more inclined to go towards a more participatory democracy and want to do it right, meaning with honesty, transparency, attention, care and empathy.

    From urbact
    Ref nid