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Co-creation in Urban Governance: From Inclusion
Dorthe Hedensted Lund*
This article sets out to establish what we mean by the recent buzzword ‘co-creation’ and
what practical application this concept entails for democracy in urban governance, both in
theory and practice. The rise of the concept points to a shift in how public participation is
understood. Whereas from the 1970s onwards the discussions surrounding participation
centred on rights and power, following Sherry Arnstein, participation conceptualised as
co-creation instead focuses on including diverse forms of knowledge in urban processes
in order to create innovative solutions to complex problems. Consequently, democratic
legitimacy now relies to a much greater extent on output, rather than input legitimacy.
Rather than provision of inclusive spaces for democratic debate and empowerment of the
deprived, which have been the goals of numerous urban participatory efforts in the past, it
is the ability to solve complex problems that has become the main criterion for the eval-
uation of co-creation. Furthermore, conceptualising participation as co-creation has con-
sequences for the roles available to both citizens and public administrators in urban pro-
cesses, which has implications for urban governance. An explicit debate, both in academ-
ia and in practice, about the normative content and implications of conceptualising partic-
ipation as co-creation is therefore salient and necessary.
Introduction: From participation to co-creation
There has been a significant recent development in the concept of participation
in urban governance: from the early postmodernist ideals of countering expert
dominance to today’s focus on learning and social innovation, in which partici-
pation is conceptualised as co-creation and co-production. But what are the con-
sequences of this development in theory and practice? Does it make a difference
that public authorities are pursuing co-creation rather than participation? This
paper argues that it does, at least with respect to the focus of governance pro-
cesses, citizen roles, and legitimacy in decision making.
I will start with a short introduction to the history of participation. In 1963
Strauss (cf. Fagence 1977) argued that participation was a means to reduce ine-
qualities of power in society. Arnstein’s (1969) famous ‘ladder of participation’
described the power relations at work in planning and showed how ordinary, and
in particular deprived, citizens are disempowered through tokenistic participa-
tion processes. These texts were published against the backdrop of the rise of the
protest movement against the Vietnam War in the United States, student demon-
strations in France (Boonstra & Boelens, 2011; Floridia, 2017), and sanitation
policies resulting in urban demolitions in Denmark. Up to and during the 1990s,
participation in urban governance was much debated and formalised in interna-
tional policy documents, such as Agenda 21 (UNEP, 1992) and the Aarhus Con-
* Dorthe Hedensted Lund, PhD, is senior researcher at the Section for Landscape Architecture and
Planning, Institute of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen.
Her research mainly focuses on how network governance and collaborative spatial planning can
support sustainable development both in urban and rural settings. She has in particular focused on the
involvement of private actors in public governance through governance networks and public-private
partnerships, including institutional and normative barriers for these types of governance and the
roles of citizens.
Dorthe Hedensted Lund
Department of Geosciences
and Natural Resource
Management, University of
Scandinavian Journal of
© Dorthe Hedensted Lund
and School of Public
Dorthe Hedensted Lund
vention (UNECE, 1998), which stipulated the rights of citizens to have an influ-
ence on and participate in the development of their local environments. In urban
governance a socially oriented strand emerged, including a number of area-based
initiatives aiming to engage and empower local citizens (Andersen & Pløger,
2007; Boonstra & Boelens, 2011).
Area-based initiatives in Europe have so far mainly focused on participation
as a means of empowerment in order to support inclusiveness and participatory
and deliberative democracy, and research has addressed the extent to which
these aims have been achieved. For instance, researchers have examined pro-
cesses of exclusion, including the structural exclusion of certain groups of actors
and the discursive exclusion of issues, for example, that professional views and
knowledge are favoured over local inputs (Agger and Larsen 2009; Goodlad,
Burton, and Croft 2005). The criteria for judging participatory processes have
been shaped by the norms of strong, deliberative (Dryzek, 2000; Floridia, 2017;
Fung, 2003) or radical democracy (Mouffe, 2000): to what extent did the process
include and empower all societal groups and voices and arrive at decisions based
on deliberation? To some extent, the processes were seen as ends in themselves
due to their promise of empowerment.
In addition to this, a more neoliberal strand of urban governance has influ-
enced the practice and conceptualisation of participation. Throughout the 1990s
and beyond, new forms of public-private partnerships and networks have been
promoted in order to (among other things) tackle social exclusion. It was argued
that partnerships and networks were more inclusive than purely public initiatives
because they created new spaces for participation. While such arrangements
have the potential to foster increased inclusion and empowerment, studies have
shown that they may also foster elitist, neo-corporatist principles and marginalise
more radically egalitarian principles of collaboration (Cornwall, 2004; Geddes,
2000; Milbourne, 2009), leading to distrust and disenchantment among actors in
civil society (Boonstra & Boelens, 2011). However, these new forms of partici-
pation are not only judged on their inclusivity, but also on their innovativeness
and ability to deliver social services; i.e., new criteria for evaluation have been
added when judging participatory initiatives. Under the banner of ‘smart cities’,
new opportunities for digital involvement and co-creation are also being pursued
(Baccarne, Mechant, Schuurma, De Marez, & Colpaert, 2014).
Social innovation has become a major new agenda in urban governance to
deal with persistent problems of social exclusion and segregation in cities
(Moulaert et al. 2013). In social innovation theory, social exclusion can be coun-
teracted through bottom-up processes in which counter-hegemonic resistance
forms a sort of social movement, acting in opposition to neoliberal discourses
and practices (Moulaert et al. 2007). This is also conceptualised as ‘self-
organisation’: civic-initiated action to influence the urban environment
(Boonstra & Boelens, 2011; Horelli, Saad-Sulonen, Wallin, & Botero, 2015).
Hence, ‘real’ participation becomes self-organising civic engagement. This trend
is being appropriated by established institutions fostering policy frameworks of
the ‘enabling’ or ‘activating’ state, whose social policies are to rely on ‘promot-
Co-creation in Urban Governance
ing an infrastructure of civic engagement for citizens to take matters increasingly
into their own hands’ (Gerometta, Häussermann, & Longo, 2005, p. 2013). In
this framing of social innovation, participation becomes co-creation, whereby
public institutions enable citizens to actively engage themselves in social policy-
making and service provision, and it becomes as much about harnessing re-
sources as about empowering the deprived. We are thus witnessing a significant
shift in the criteria for evaluation and the focus of participation. It is important to
note that these conceptualisations do not exclude each other and can and do exist
as ‘archaeological layers’, with different emphases depending on the institutional
set-up and culture (Poulsen, 2009). In the following, I will unpack the concept of
Co-creation in theory and practice
The concept of co-creation in urban development is by no means clear and well
defined. It has multiple roots: partly in the social innovation literature mentioned
above; partly in the private sector innovation literature; and partly in the ‘com-
municative turn’ in planning theory.
In private sector innovation, the notion of co-creation draws on methods to
involve users in the development of goods and services and the creation of value
(Prahalad & Ramaswamy 2004; Voorberg et al. 2014). In public settings, co-
creation is seen as a strategy for addressing complex societal problems in the
context of strained public budgets, i.e. as a means to solve prevailing problems
in new and more effective ways by harnessing the resources of civil society
(Voorberg et al. 2014; Osborne & Strokosch 2013; Bason 2010). This means that
the focus is on resources and the ability to solve problems rather than on inclu-
siveness, representation and empowerment. Voorberg et al. (2014) show from a
literature review of 122 studies that effectiveness and efficiency in service deliv-
ery are the most frequent objectives of co-creation processes, whereas increasing
citizen participation as a goal in itself is much less frequent – albeit still an issue.
Co-creation in urban development therefore partly builds on knowledge and
experience from processes of innovation in the private sector, which are applied
to public service delivery (Bason, 2010; Osborne & Strokosch, 2013). This liter-
ature provides examples from health services and e-governance in particular,
such as ‘patient journeys’ to improve the patient’s experience of health services
(Richardson, Casey, & Hider, 2007), as well as co-created designs for libraries
(Costantino et al., 2014) or tax services (Langergaard & Carstensen, 2014).
These studies of co-creation in a public sector context tend to be concerned with
generating knowledge about citizens and their experiences with public services
to provide a better ‘problem identification’ for professionals to act on, rather
than creating processes through which citizens themselves invent or articulate
new services or products of public value and new ideas about which institutional
structures may support such activities. Furthermore, citizens tend to participate
as individuals and not as representatives of groups or communities, and it is their
unique interaction experiences with a specific public service, for example a pa-
Dorthe Hedensted Lund
tient’s interaction with a doctor in which they jointly develop a treatment
(Prahalad & Ramaswamy, 2004), that constitute the knowledge used by public
administrators to improve services. In the public service literature, the concept of
co-creation is used interchangeably with the concept of co-production. However,
the latter is seen as more service- and product-oriented as well as more con-
cerned with cost reduction than value creation (Voorberg, Bekkers, and
The literature on participatory design is one of the strands of urban devel-
opment literature, building at least partly on private sector innovation paradigms.
Design processes and small-scale experimentation are used to test ideas and for
‘failing fast’ and learning through the development of ‘proto-types’ (Monguet et
al. 2011). Citizens contribute actively through their knowledge and ideas to test
the viability of the prototyped services or collaborations. However, some partici-
patory design studies focus explicitly on the empowerment of the socially de-
prived and the provision of agonistic spaces rather than on innovation (Hilgren et
al. 2011, Björgvinsson et al. 2012), combining innovation with norms from de-
Another and popular new form of civic engagement potentially enabling cit-
izen-centred co-creation is the so-called ‘living labs’, which are seen as able to
include more spontaneous and experimental activities. Living labs are under-
stood as both a method and an arena for innovation in which multiple actors
collaborate to innovate on services and the creation of public value (Leminen,
Westerlund, & Nyström, 2012; Mulder, 2012). While the concept of living labs
is not clearly defined, there is a consensus that citizen and user involvement is
central and that innovation takes place as a result of bringing together comple-
mentary knowledge, skills and resources in real-life experimentation (Edwards-
Schachter, Matti, & Alcántara, 2012; Leminen, Nyström, & Westerlund, 2015).
Living labs are also gaining popularity under the heading of ‘smart cities’
(Baccarne et al., 2014) and in relation to sustainable development (Voytenko,
McCormick, Evans, & Schliwa, 2016).
An example of a living lab approach to urban development is Suurpelto in
Finland, a new urban area located in the city of Espoo and designed to provide
housing for 15,000 inhabitants as well as thousands of workplaces. The city of
Espoo has created a living lab in collaboration with a university and a vocational
college: a collaboration network and a project to promote co-creation and exper-
imentation with services and products in order to cater for the area’s urban needs
in all ‘life situations’ (Juujärvi & Pesso, 2013, p. 24). There was therefore a
strong focus on analysing the needs of residents and stakeholders through sur-
veys, events and service experiments carried out by students, who followed up
by trying to find business partners to develop services and service concepts.
While actual investments were sparse, stakeholders agreed that the small-scale
experiments were an effective means to foster innovation. Citizens are mainly
seen in this context as users of services and products who can provide place-
based user experience, test services, and give feedback (Juujärvi & Pesso, 2013).
Co-creation in Urban Governance
Another example is an urban living lab in Ghent, initiated and governed by
the city council. It takes the form of a collaborative network established between
the research community, businesses, the public sector, citizens and the wider
community. The focus is on developing Ghent as a smart city and hence on in-
ternet-based service provision, stimulating professionals and citizens to use open
governmental datasets. A yearly event is the ‘Apps for Ghent Hackathon’, for
which the city council issues a challenge related to app development. Teams may
participate and have a chance to win a prize. The activity clearly only activates a
very specific IT-capable participant group, mainly IT students and professionals,
and certainly not the ‘ordinary’ citizen (Baccarne et al., 2014). The living lab
also facilitates other projects related to specific problems: mobility, climate
neutrality, housing, and health (Stad Gent, n.d.).
Furthermore, co-creation in urban development partly builds on the devel-
opment following the ‘communicative turn’ in planning theory, in which schol-
ars such as Healey (2007; 1997), Forester (1999) and Innes and Booher (2010)
argued for more genuine and inclusive public participation, building on Haber-
masian norms of communicative action (Habermas, 1981). However, the ways in
which these collaborative ideas have been put into practice in urban planning
have been criticised for being ‘public support machines’ (Boonstra & Boelens,
2011, p. 104) that also exclude marginalised citizens, and it has been argued that
other forms and other conceptualisations of participation are needed. Boonstra
and Boelens argue that the main problem with participation as it has been prac-
tised since the communicative turn is that participation processes have been
initiated and controlled by public authorities, causing them to be time-
consuming, subordinated to political systems working through a decision hierar-
chy and formalised structures of influence, and affected by an insufficient distri-
bution of authority and responsibility. The end result is that these processes only
enable ‘professional citizens’ (Boonstra & Boelens, 2011, p. 106) or expert citi-
zens (Agger 2012), that is, citizens with the knowledge and resources to act
effectively within this specific framework. Hence, more spontaneous citizen
initiatives and informal solutions to problems are excluded unless other forms of
civic engagement can be enabled and included in planning processes (Boonstra
and Boelens 2011; Agger 2012).
In a related study, Horelli et al. (2015) show how self-organising citizen ini-
tiatives, ranging from spontaneous events to long-term neighbourhood develop-
ment aided by ICT, can link to formal planning institutions under the heading of
expanded urban planning. They show that self-organisation can have significant
and innovative impacts in urban life that activate new citizen types in urban
development. However, they also show that frail links to formal decision-makers
are a challenge for ‘participation as self-organisation’ (Horelli et al., 2015) .
It is worth noting here that the critique of how participation has been put in-
to practice in urban planning is also an expression of a theoretical tension be-
tween participatory democracy and deliberative democracy. Participatory de-
mocracy emerged in the context of struggles for civil rights, youth uprisings,
protests and so on, and was explicitly opposed to existing institutional practices.
Dorthe Hedensted Lund
Participatory democracy in the 1960s entailed an opposition to representation,
which was seen as mere delegation leading to civic apathy. Active citizenship
was a primary virtue, which was to be nourished through empowerment: giving
actual decision-making power to citizens. The political momentum for this ap-
proach to participatory democracy weakened in the late 1970s and the following
decades, but was revived in the early 2000s with a focus on participation as a
tool for citizens to gain control over the decisions affecting their lives as well as
critical awareness of their conditions (Floridia, 2017).
Deliberative democracy took shape in the early 1990s, with the contributions
of Jürgen Habermas and John Rawls providing the theoretical foundation. In
deliberative democracy it is not direct decision-making power which is the cen-
tral feature, but deliberation: the weighing of pros and cons through the ex-
change of ideas and arguments. In order for deliberation to be democratic it
needs to be inclusive, and citizens need to be free and equal. This does not ex-
clude or oppose representation. Nor does it necessarily require that citizens have
direct decision-making power, but rather that they are discursively present in the
deliberations prior to decision making and that their views and arguments are
taken into account (Floridia, 2017).
Co-creation has grown out of both perspectives and consequently has inher-
ent tensions. The social innovation literature has strong associations with partici-
patory democracy through its firm focus on social movements, civic action and
counter-hegemonic resistance, giving direct power to citizens (Moulaert et al.
2007). When public institutions attempt to colonise and harness these trends
(Gerometta et al., 2005), a power struggle breaks out between neoliberal and
participatory ideals seen from a participatory democracy perspective, while from
a deliberative democracy perspective this may be seen as a means to enable
deliberation. This is of course a highly normative judgment.
It is clear from the above that the concept of co-creation is a bricolage of
ideas and norms coming from very varied research traditions and practices, in-
cluding marketing, public service management, urban planning, and design and
innovation. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that the concept does not have
one clear definition. What can be deduced is that co-creation refers mainly to
innovation and value creation taking place as a collaborative process involving
different types of actors. Citizens are seen as valuable contributors to this process
but their precise role is unclear: are they self-organising initiators of new initia-
tives? Or are they merely users of services whose experiences are important to
understand? And what is the role of public authorities in co-creation? Are they
process facilitators and enablers of private initiatives, or collectors and interpreters
of user experiences that can be transformed into input in professional practices?
Roles in co-creation
When participation is conceptualised as co-creation in urban planning processes,
this does entail a different role allocation for planners, public authorities and
citizens than in more traditional (modernistic) planning processes. First and
Co-creation in Urban Governance
foremost, citizens are clearly granted a much more active role, either through
self-organised activism linking to existing institutions, or through public initia-
tives such as living labs (Agger and Lund 2017). The public innovation literature
argues that a broad set of citizens should be enabled as co-creators (the term co-
innovator is also used). Both Voorberg et al. (2014) and Torfing et al. (2014)
subdivide this role into three dimensions, namely co-implementers, co-designers
and co-initiators, to distinguish between the very different approaches to citizen
involvement in various case studies. These dimensions refer to when in a process
citizens are active and also to how active they are.
The co-implementer dimension refers to activities in which citizens are im-
portant in making a service work but do not have a role in the initiation or design
of a service or activity: this draws on the above-mentioned service management
literature and private sector innovation literature. An example could be citizens
using a text message service to the police to report suspicious activities (Larsen,
2015). This does not impose too great a demand on either citizens or public
authorities, and therefore makes it possible for a wide array of citizens to partici-
pate besides expert activists. It is, however, hard to imagine how enabling citi-
zens merely as co-implementers can aid in solving complex problems such as
social inclusion and segregation in cities, or how this approach can come up with
radically new approaches to urban development (Agger and Lund 2017).
The co-designer dimension refers to processes initiated by public actors but
in which it is citizens who develop a service or a place. An example could be the
design and management of outdoor recreation facilities (Wipf, Ohl, &
Groeneveld, 2009). It is clear that this dimension draws on the participatory
design literature (eg. Monguet et al. 2011; Björgvinsson et al. 2012) and can be
enabled through, for example, living labs, which can facilitate collaborative
processes drawing also on the extensive experience of collaborative urban plan-
ning (eg. Innes & Booher 2010), but with an added focus on innovation. Here the
demands made of citizens are greater in terms of time consumption, competenc-
es and collaborative capabilities. Because the processes are initiated by public
authorities, they may suffer from the problems described by Boonstra and
Bolens (2011) of time consumption, subordination to political systems and insuf-
ficient distribution of responsibility and authority. Furthermore, in the living lab
examples above, citizens are reduced to users of services (Baccarne et al., 2014;
Juujärvi & Pesso, 2013) – a rather narrow understanding of citizenship that does
not necessarily grant a very active role to citizens.
The co-initiator dimension describes the most active and resource-
demanding citizen role, and an example could be citizens restoring historical
monuments in Naples city centre (Rossi, 2004). The dimension draws on social
innovation literature and social entrepreneurship. The literature on social entre-
preneurship highlights the drivers and motivations of the social entrepreneurs
who innovate and drive processes of change to the benefit of groups that are
marginalised in one way or another (Mort et al. 2003; Peredo & McLean 2006).
In these contexts, citizens are self-organising and take the initiative to address a
perceived problem, after which they collaborate with public authorities to do so
Dorthe Hedensted Lund
(see also Horelli et al. 2015). However, there are no guarantees that these initia-
tives will in any way be inclusive or empower marginalised citizens in the city.
So, while all dimensions may have their merits, they also have pitfalls to be
For both the co-designer and co-initiator dimensions, the role of planners
shifts from being the experts making the plans and drawing up strategies for an
area to becoming facilitators of processes that link existing networks of resource-
ful urban actors and create new emergent networks. These networks can address
collectively identified problems and challenges and guide development in a
desired direction (Boonstra & Boelens, 2011). Processes of co-creation require
the right leadership to be successful: a leadership that can navigate in conditions
of shared power and voluntary engagement, where participants cannot be or-
dered to collaborate but must be convinced of the merits of collaboration. Ansell
and Gash (2012) highlight three leadership roles that are important to facilitate
collaboration: that of the steward, the mediator, and the catalyst. The steward is
particularly important in the initial phases of a collaborative process, as the role
that establishes and maintains the integrity of the process itself. The steward is
perceived as neutral, ensures inclusivity and transparency, and moves the pro-
cess forward. The mediator acts as a conflict manager and arbitrator, who nur-
tures relations and builds trust among the participants. The catalyst seeks out and
communicates opportunities for value creation and mobilises participants to
pursue these opportunities (Ansell & Gash, 2012). For planners in charge of
participatory processes, these roles may be new territory and require a very dif-
ferent set of skills from what has traditionally been called for in planning. They
may also require a change of mindset and professional culture, which may be
The role of public authorities more broadly becomes that of the enabling
state (rather than the regulating state), providing the opportunities, arenas, and
power for civic networks to form and act. Juujärvi and Pesso (2013) also consid-
er the public sector as an enabler in urban development and in and for urban
living labs. The ability of the public sector to enable civic action is particularly
important because civic membership of associations, political parties, and activ-
ist groups has steadily declined over the past decades. This has led to an erosion
of what Sirianni (2009) calls the ‘civic infrastructure’ for collective action. Siri-
anni presents eight principles for policy design that can foster an enabling state,
six of which are focused on the mobilisation of resources and assets, cross-
sectoral collaboration, knowledge sharing and learning. Only two are related to
democratic norms of deliberation, legitimacy and accountability (Sirianni, 2009,
p. 42), showing that a public sector enabling participation is at least as concerned
with harnessing private sector resources to solve complex societal problems as it
is with pursuing democratic norms.
Co-creation in Urban Governance
Co-creation and democratic legitimacy
While co-creation has elements of deliberative democracy in its rationale, there
is a considerable focus on output and the effectiveness and efficiency of prob-
lem solving through innovation. This raises the issue of legitimacy. While input
legitimacy is most important in more traditional participation efforts in area-
based initiatives, this may be different for processes of co-creation, which may
be less concerned with including all voices and more with harnessing the right
resources to come up with solutions to problems.
Scharpf (1997) has argued that the legitimacy of political decision making is
derived from both the input and the output side. Input legitimacy refers to the abil-
ity to base decisions on the authentic preferences of the affected citizens. Output
legitimacy relies on the ability to solve identified problems. In his words: ‘Democ-
racy would be an empty ritual if the political choices of governments were not able
to achieve a high degree of effectiveness in achieving the goals, and avoiding the
dangers, that citizens collectively care about’ (Scharpf, 1997, p. 19).
While input and output legitimacy are interrelated, participation in urban
planning processes has traditionally been focused on increasing the input legiti-
macy of decision making and understanding the preferences of the affected citi-
zens in an area through deliberative processes. As mentioned above, this has to a
large degree rested on Habermasian ideals of communicative action (Habermas,
1981), in which rational deliberation is the most important mechanism for clari-
fying citizens’ preferences, strengthening the ability of those involved to act as
democratic citizens, and achieving reflective understanding between subjects
through the power of the better argument (Fishkin & Laslett, 2003). To be legit-
imate, processes and influence should be fair, which means that rational delib-
eration should include all affected stakeholders equally and give all involved an
equal opportunity to be heard (Dryzek, 2000). This is where the difficulty lies.
The ideal of equal opportunities for all affected cannot be achieved, only ap-
proached. We are not equally able to make ourselves heard; we are not equally
competent; and we are not equally resourceful (Dahl, 2006). Studies of area-
based processes also show that different processes of exclusion are at work
(Agger and Larsen 2009). In order to achieve this form of input legitimacy it is
thus very important to make an effort to include marginalised citizens by using
methods tailor-made for the groups in question (Agger 2012), as well as facilitat-
ing processes to minimise the importance of power differences and support ra-
tional argumentation rather than interest-based advocacy (Innes & Booher,
2010). These issues are, however, downplayed when the focus is on innovation
Boedeltje and Cornips (2004) argue that fair deliberative decision making is
a utopian ideal, and that citizens are willing to trade off fair processes for effec-
tive problem solving and output legitimacy. If this is the case, it is more im-
portant to include the people with the resources and competences to solve the
problems in decision making and not everyone who is affected. For complex
issues, including everyone affected tends to create too large a group for effective
Dorthe Hedensted Lund
deliberation and decision making (Boedeltje & Cornips, 2004). While it is not
entirely clear-cut that co-creation processes for urban development are only
concerned with output legitimacy, there is a clear tendency in that direction,
based on the strong focus on innovation and problem solving.
Boedeltje and Cornips (2004) do have a point with respect to the utopian
ideal: numerous studies have shown that ensuring inclusion of less resourceful
citizens in particular in urban renewal processes is challenging as the most mar-
ginalised are often excluded (e.g. Agger and Larsen 2009; Geddes 2000;
Boonstra and Boelens 2011; Ferilli, Sacco, and Blessi 2016). In practice, tradi-
tional participatory processes may not be able to boast of more input legitimacy
than new co-creation processes. But at least democratic inclusion is an issue
when initiating participatory processes. Furthermore, from a deliberative democ-
racy perspective, it is not necessary that everyone is included in person, as long
as they are included in the deliberations and their interests form part of a media-
tion process (Floridia, 2017). This may be the case even if only a selected few
citizens are involved in concrete problem solving through co-creation. Nonethe-
less, at least theoretically, framing participation as co-creation has a profound
effect on actor roles and democratic focus.
Discussion and conclusion: Implications for urban governance
What then, are the implications of wanting citizens to co-create rather than par-
ticipate? If citizens are included in innovation processes based on their
knowledge, resources, assets and competences rather than as representatives of
certain societal groups who are entitled to influence the development of their city
or neighbourhood, there is a risk of urban development becoming de-politicised.
De-politicisation may be a result of shifting the focus of participatory processes
and mobilisation strategies from power distribution to competencies; a result of
moving the focus away from the right to influence towards the ability to identify
and solve urban problems. Whether this is a problem or not of course depends on
the capacity of co-creation processes to deliver results. If perceived problems
are being solved, and Boedeltje and Cornips (2004) are right that citizens are
willing to trade off inclusive procedures for problem solving, then perhaps it
does not matter that that de-politicisation takes place. There may however still be
a political issue with regard to whose problems are being solved. Will it be the
problems of the most marginalised citizens, or the problems defined by the pow-
erful? In other words, it is important not to forget issues of power and inclusion
in co-creation processes, particularly as they relate to the identification and pri-
oritisation of problems, after which, when coming up with solutions to these
collectively identified problems, such issues may recede in importance.
The social innovation literature (Boonstra and Boelens 2011; Moulaert et al.
2007) argues that urban development can counter social problems as well as
including a broader range of participants than exclusively ‘expert’ citizens
through the dynamic formations of counter-hegemonic social movements, form-
ing from below as a reaction to existing neoliberal developments. Citizens will
Co-creation in Urban Governance
self-organise to solve social problems in urban areas and co-create solutions in
their interaction with (or struggle against) public institutions and semi-public
networks of powerful urban actors. Yet they do not explain how these self-
organising citizens’ movements are more inclusive than publicly initiated pro-
cesses. It may be that they merely activate other types of expert citizens than in
publicly initiated processes. There is also a risk of social movements becoming
co-opted by existing hegemonies (Mouffe, 2000). In other words, do we not still
need a ‘Leviathan’ (Hobbes, 1651) to protect the powerless from the powerful?
And is that not still an important purpose of public administrations and planners
in urban development? It is here that ideas of the enabling state, as well as the
principles that should guide its development, become relevant. One of Sirianni’s
(2009) two democratically oriented principles addresses the issue of mutual
accountability and the need for inclusive and transparent procedures, which
ensure that decision makers can be held accountable by affected citizens. While
Sirianni (2009) presents a number of examples of enabling public administra-
tions, he also warns of the need for a cultural change in many public organisa-
tions before the principles of an enabling state can become mainstream practice.
Civic initiatives, successful experiments in living labs, and social movements
may be able to push for such a change, as Horelli (2015) also argues.
Enabling citizens as co-creators makes available new roles for citizens in ur-
ban development and value creation that can potentially engage a much broader
set of citizens. This is because the citizen as a co-creator can be seen as a scalar
concept, constituted by the three dimensions of co-implementation, co-design
and co-initiation, each demanding very different resources of citizens. However,
these new roles can only be exploited for public value creation if planners and
other public administrators manage to embrace their roles as facilitators of col-
laborative processes, acting as stewards, mediators and catalysts (Ansell & Gash,
2012) rather than merely experts and professionals, despite the loss of control
In sum, there is both potential and danger in substituting co-creation for par-
ticipation in urban development. The potential relates to problem-solving ability
and more opportunities for other types of citizen than expert activists (Agger
2012) to be genuinely engaged in urban development and problem solving. The
danger relates to the diminished focus on input legitimacy and power inequali-
ties. Whereas participation following Arnstein in the 1970s and onwards centred
on rights and power, participation conceptualised as co-creation instead focuses
on including relevant and sufficiently diverse knowledge in urban processes to
create innovative solutions to complex problems. Consequently, democratic
legitimacy in this process relies to a much larger extent on output rather than
input legitimacy. To avoid the dangers and harness the potential, an explicit
debate is needed, both in academia and practice, about the normative content and
implications of conceptualising participation as co-creation.
There is furthermore a pertinent need to further investigate, both in theory
and practice, what sort of institutionalisation co-creation requires in order to
incorporate issues of power, democratic legitimacy, and inclusive deliberation in
Dorthe Hedensted Lund
the debate. This relates in particular to the role of the public sector as an enabler
of co-creation. Sirianni’s 2009 book and his core principles have made an excel-
lent contribution to this discussion, but there is still work to be done in critically
debating and prioritising these principles based on empirical studies. This also
relates to self-organising civic activities and how they link to other stakeholders
in the places where they operate.
Moreover, in existing studies of urban living labs as a method for co-
creation, issues of democratic norms and power inequalities are rarely raised. As
living labs flourish across Europe, there should be ample opportunities to empir-
ically study their democratic potential and experiment with these aspects as well.
Finally, further research is required to refine the conceptualisation of co-
creation, co-production, and other forms of participatory practices, and the rapid-
ly developing toolbox of methods that accompany them.
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