Good Food for Cities

Harnessing the power of co-creation for sustainable cities

January 5, 2024
Selene Casanova
International communications

Co-creation has been hailed as a powerful approach to tackling complex urban challenges, from food security to urban development and citizen participation. Between September and November 2023, the Sustainable Cities Platform organised a series of multilingual webinars to share insights on co-creation tools, concepts and perspectives. The webinars showcased examples of co-creation initiatives from across the platform’s network, demonstrating that by bringing together diverse stakeholders and adopting a participatory approach, we can develop innovative and sustainable solutions for our cities.

Why is co-creation important in the context of sustainable cities?

"Easier said than done" is a catchphrase often used to describe co-creation in the context of sustainable cities, where issues affecting one area, such as sustainable housing, are linked to other issues, such as transport, the food environment or energy systems. These interconnected problems require multiple actors to align and coordinate their responses. Fortunately, whether it's the participatory design of a school food policy or the community-based redevelopment of a neighbourhood to improve access for people with disabilities, there are a number of methodologies, tools and approaches that can inspire local actors to facilitate collaborations that meaningfully involve all key stakeholders in a co-creation process.

“In order to steer cities towards sustainability, co-creation, involving the collaboration of people with different backgrounds and perspectives, is crucial.” – Karlien Gorissen, Coordinator of the Sustainable Cities Platform, VVSG.

The members of the Sustainable Cities Platform define a sustainable city as one that functions within the limits of the planet while ensuring the minimum social conditions for the well-being of its citizens. With the aim of sharing and exchanging good practices in the context of sustainable cities, the Platform brought together experts and practitioners from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe to discuss different cases of co-creation, practical tools, methodologies and perspectives.

Takeaways from the webinars

Four key messages emerged clearly from the various sessions. Details of the sessions can be found below:

  • Co-creation is a collaborative process that brings together diverse stakeholders to identify, design and implement solutions to common challenges. It requires a shift from top-down approaches to bottom-up and participatory decision-making.
  • Effective co-creation depends on strong stakeholder engagement and the creation of an inclusive and equitable environment. All voices should be heard and valued, regardless of their background or position.
  • Participatory decision-making is essential to ensure that solutions reflect the needs and aspirations of the community. This can be achieved through a variety of methods including surveys, workshops and focus groups.
  • Co-creation is an iterative process that requires flexibility and adaptation. As conditions change, solutions may need to be modified or replaced.

Leveraging collaboration to build sustainable and inclusive food systems

The first session discussed principles, methodologies, and approaches for facilitating co-creation processes. Mariela Wismann, shared Rikolto’s experience in facilitating multi-stakeholder processes in the context of sustainable food systems which involves developing, piloting and scaling up solutions that take into account the linkages and trade-offs between different actors and areas in the food systems.

Multistakeholder process used by Rikolto. Source: Facilitation of multistakeholder processes: a toolkit -Rikolto.

In practice, Rikolto uses this approach to facilitate collaboration between producers, traders, consumers and relevant government agencies, for example to address food safety and traceability challenges as in the Bau traditional market in Vietnam or to help attract more resources and expertise to scale up a food chain model for traditional markets that improves access to safe and healthy food in Mbale, Uganda.

Dialogue and relationships are at the heart of any co-creation process, Mariela explains. Every actor has a different ability to participate effectively in a co-creation process and to shape action, depending on their agenda and their relationships with more or less powerful actors. Therefore, facilitating this connection and dialogue can allow stakeholders to learn about each other's perspectives, expose assumptions, find common ground and open the door to unimaginable futures.

Drawing on this approach, Rikolto developed a toolkit for facilitating multi-stakeholder processes. A set of mindsets, skills and tools around 6 areas of multi-stakeholder facilitation:

  1. Systems thinking.
  2. Stakeholder engagement.
  3. Shared vision.
  4. Multistakeholder governance.
  5. Learning and change.
  6. Facilitating multistakeholder dialogue.
Skills and tools around 6 areas of multi-stakeholder facilitation.

“Co-creation is an art that requires empathy, compassion, and self-awareness. Facilitating a multi-stakeholder dialogue involves clarifying roles and responsibilities through open and transparent discussions, ensuring that all voices (women, young people, people with disabilities, etc.) are heard, strengthening accountability through formal commitments, responding to changing needs and circumstances, and facilitating cooperation and coordination among stakeholders through leadership" Mariela Wismann, Good Food for Cities programme director in Latin America, Rikolto.

Facilitating multistakeholder processes: a toolkit

This toolkit is designed to provide you with a roadmap for you to draw inspiration from, to experiment with, to learn from and to adapt the resources to suit your own context and needs.

Download your copy

Hélène Lambert, Project Manager for Citizen Participation, Gender Equality and Social Inequalities and Amal Erragh, territorial coordinator, from Enabel, illustrated how co-creation adapted to local contexts can promote participatory and multi-actor territorial development through two initiatives from Enabel in Morocco: the Jemaa el-Fna redevelopment project and the Tadafor project.

Set in the Moroccan context, these two projects have been designed to acknowledge the country's cultural, linguistic, and geographical diversity, build on the political environment and prioritise the inclusion of marginalised groups.

The redevelopment of Jemaa El-Fna Square began in 2007. The focus was on a co-creation strategy that actively involved local stakeholders, moving away from traditional top-down approaches. The team developed a co-creation process based on the principles of stakeholder diversity, cultural adaptation, inclusive consultation, and the importance of local solutions.

Cultural adaptation was central to the project's approach: by integrating traditional practices, local values and norms, it sought to preserve the community's identity. The renovation took a year and a half to complete, and the result was not just a physical transformation, but was seen as a cultural revival, creating pride and ownership within the community. Space was created for traditional performances and cultural elements were incorporated into the design of the square. The co-creation process led to the identification of areas for street performers, providing dedicated spaces for their art.

The Tadafor project, implemented in partnership with national stakeholders to strengthen civil society and citizen participation in local governance in five regions of Morocco, incorporated a design thinking framework from the outset. Design-thinking is a human-centred approach to problem solving that emphasises empathy, creativity and iterative prototyping to generate innovative solutions. This methodology facilitated the development of activities such as citizens' conferences, detailed analyses of youth and women's participation, and digitalisation.

“We conducted an analysis of the level of participation of young people and women, and a study on the state of digitalisation of services and tools for citizen participation. It gave us a deep understanding of the main challenges faced by most of these actors.” Amal Erragh, Territorial Coordinator, Enabel in Morocco.

A flexible approach to territorial co-creation from Enabel - Graphic adapted from presentation of Enabel.
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In response, the project not only guided local actors to develop actionable plans, including a training programme for civil society organisations on effective citizen participation through petitions, but also set the stage for promoting mutual trust and effective collaborative practices in local governance.

Hélène also shared six elements from the Tadafor project that helped make their co-creation process successful: 1) inclusive stakeholder participation, 2) in-depth needs analysis through regular consultations, 3) defining a shared vision that reflects stakeholder aspirations, 4) fostering innovation through small-scale pilot solutions, 5) prioritising continuous learning and evaluation, and 6) maintaining transparent channels of communication.

Lessons from practice about territorial coaching, collaborative innovation, and participatory budgeting

The second webinar presented the experiences of 3 city regions: territorial coaching in the Kaolack region of Senegal, collaborative innovation for a sustainable urban food system in Bandung, Indonesia, and participatory budgeting in Copargo, Benin.

Dr Mahmouth Diop, Director of the Territorial Coaching Centre of Kaolack, shared his experience in implementing a territorial coaching approach to facilitate multi-stakeholder alignment in the salt sector. As a result of three months of regional coordination by the Territorial Coaching Centre, stakeholders were able to develop and agree on a comprehensive Priority Action Plan. The consensus endorsement of the plan facilitated the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between key stakeholders, marking an important milestone in the economic development of the region. According to Diop, the use of the territorial coaching approach throughout the process not only led to tangible economic benefits, such as increased turnover for the local salt cooperative, but also improved communication and dynamic leadership within the region.

"The territorial coaching approach is emerging as a strategic response aimed at aligning and converging the diverse forces within the region. This methodology is seen as a catalyst for dialogue and change. It fosters the development of behaviours, skills and visions that are essential for comprehensive transformation". Dr Mahmouth Diop, Territorial Coaching Centre.

Within the set of tools of this approach, they facilitated activities such as the sociogram and the "pro-action café" to enable multi-stakeholder and territorial coordination. The Sociogram was used in the early stages of the process to characterise the dynamics and relationships between stakeholders of the salt sector, highlighting gaps, creating a common vocabulary, and creating a shared understanding. The Pro Action Café provided a dynamic space for creative, deep, and inspiring conversations based on a set of integrated principles, thereby generating an a collaborative and relaxed atmosphere for generating new ideas, sharing knowledge and analysing options for action. Finally, the Inclusion Circle enables participants to connect with each other and the bigger picture by asking questions to the collective intelligence of the group. Based on this experience, the Territorial Coaching Centre is planning to expand to a wider range of challenges faced by local communities in the Kaolack region.

The territorial coaching approach in 6 steps in the Kaolack region. Adaptation from presentation of the Dr Mahmouth Diop.

Dr. Theresia Gunawan, an innovation expert and lecturer at the Catholic University of Parahyangan in Bandung, Indonesia, described how co-creation has been used to develop sustainable innovations for Bandung's food system, which is dependent on external areas for its food supply and faces challenges of child malnutrition and stunting.

To address these issues, a Bandung Food Smart City multi-stakeholder process was established using the 'Pentahelix' methodology, involving all five key stakeholders: the city government, academia, NGOs, the private sector, citizens, and the media, to collectively address food security issues and contribute to the SDG goal of 'Zero Hunger'. The platform produced a number of innovative solutions, such as the community-based urban agriculture programme 'Buruan Sae'. The motto 'We grow as you wish' (Mantap - maunya tanam apa?) captures the collaborative spirit of the programme. One example of cross-sector collaboration is a partnership with a government supplier to provide land for community gardens to provide fresh produce for employees. A mobile application was also launched to connect hotels, restaurants and cafes to redistribute surplus food to those in need.

Methodology of the community-based urban agriculture programme 'Buruan Sae'. Adaptation from the presentation of Dr. Theresia Gunawan.

In Benin, citizen participation in local government has historically been limited to information-sharing, with co-creation and policymaking largely neglected. Franck Kinninvo, an expert in decentralisation and communication, used the 'open commune' approach of Copargo, a municipality in the north of the country, as a case study to discuss the state of citizen participation in municipal affairs.

Benin's national structural reform recognises that local authorities play a crucial role in grassroots democracy. In Copargo, local authorities have taken a proactive approach to extending citizen participation beyond mere accountability by introducing partial participatory budgeting, a comprehensive process involving decrees, financial allocation and forums at district and municipal levels. The participatory budgeting exercise followed the following process: 1) representatives of the municipality conducted village-level surveys to gain insight into community needs, 2) these needs were collated at the district or ward level and prioritised through forums and voting, and 3) the final selection of initiatives to fund at the community level was based on available resources.

"During the village and neighbourhood forums, we listed 67 projects from citizens for basic social services. The next stage was to prioritise them in the district. 12 projects were selected". Franck Kinninvo, decentralisation and communication expert.

The 'open commune' approach in Copargo has led citizens to express demands for basic social services such as boreholes, classrooms, and health centres. Participatory budgeting processes can promote responsible citizenship, foster civic duty in paying taxes, and improve overall local governance.  Unfortunately, due to limited resources and other challenges, the initiatives prioritised in the participatory budgeting process could not be implemented at the time of the presentation.

Finally, three additional online meetings were conducted in Spanish, French, and English to enable small groups of practitioners to discuss their experiences with co-creation, the challenges they face in facilitating such processes, and ways to overcome them.

Co-creation is a powerful tool for creating sustainable and equitable cities. By bringing together diverse stakeholders and adopting participatory approaches, we can develop innovative solutions to complex challenges and build more inclusive and sustainable communities.

Access the presentations and recordings from the webinar series: here.

Article originally published by the Sustainable Cities Platform, in English, Nederlands, French and Spanish. Edited by Charlotte Flechet, Global Directors of Rikolto's Good Food for Cities programme.

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