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Co-creation Pathway for Urban Nature-Based Solutions: Testing a Shared-Governance Approach in Three Cities and Nine Action Labs


Abstract and Figures

Nature-based solutions (NBS) implementation in urban contexts has proven outcoming multiple benefits to reverse the current trend of natural resources' degradation adversely affecting biodiversity, human health, and wellbeing. Yet, the current urban-planning policy frameworks present a rigid structure to integrate NBS definitions, and their co-benefits to get mainstreamed and up scaled on a wider urban spatial dimension. In this research, we test a complete co-creation pathway that encourages decision-makers to embed citizen engagement methodologies as an approach to co-design and co-implement NBS in shared-governance processes aiming to increment the greening of urban spaces, towards more inclusive and climate resilient cities. On one hand, we assess a tendency to involve a multiplicity of stake-holders that collaborate to the establishment of an Urban Innovation Partnership (UIP) aiming at increasing the social awareness around NBS themes, and at the same time tackling both financial and governance aspects. On the other hand, the innovation embedded in NBS paves the way to combine a multi-scalar flexibility in implementation tools and place-based urban actions, hence resulting in widespread economic, environmental, and social impacts in place. The novelty in embedding the co-creation process in urban-planning practice lies in catalyzing resources towards the transposition of research into practice through policy and planning tools for local authorities and decision-makers. Three front-runner cities (Hamburg, London, and Milan) are under investigation as part of Clever Cities-a Horizon 2020 project-aiming at implementing NBS in diverse urban-regeneration processes, through nine up-running Urban Living Labs (ULLs). Grounded on a comparative analysis of these three cities, key characterization for NBS implementation framework could be categorized into: (1) current urban-planning greening strategies in each context, (2) specific environmental and societal challenges addressed, (3) different typologies and scales of NBS integration within urban morphologies, (4) specific governance 259 260 I. Mahmoud and E. Morello process as response to co-design and co-implementation processes, and (5) availability of financial investment and main stakeholders. As research results, we emphasize using co-creation approach in urban planning to embed and upscale NBS in an inclusive shared-governance process, hence contributing to social awareness and acceptance. Meanwhile, spatial, and financial challenges could be majorly resolved using a multi-scalar approach to manage newly embedded urban-greening policies at the urban level. Lastly, the implementation scale of NBS with local communities requires a radical paradigmatic shift in societal, individual and administrative urban-planning practices.
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Co-creation Pathway for Urban
Nature-Based Solutions: Testing
a Shared-Governance Approach in Three
Cities and Nine Action Labs
Israa Mahmoud and Eugenio Morello
Abstract Nature-based solutions (NBS) implementation in urban contexts has
proven outcoming multiple benefits to reverse the current trend of natural resources’
degradation adversely affecting biodiversity, human health, and wellbeing. Yet, the
current urban-planning policy frameworks present a rigid structure to integrate NBS
definitions, and their co-benefits to get mainstreamed and up scaled on a wider
urban spatial dimension. In this research, we test a complete co-creation pathway
that encourages decision-makers to embed citizen engagement methodologies as
an approach to co-design and co-implement NBS in shared-governance processes
aiming to increment the greening of urban spaces, towards more inclusive and climate
resilient cities. On one hand, we assess a tendency to involve a multiplicity of stake-
holders that collaborate to the establishment of an Urban Innovation Partnership
(UIP) aiming at increasing the social awareness around NBS themes, and at the
same time tackling both financial and governance aspects. On the other hand, the
innovation embedded in NBS paves the way to combine a multi-scalar flexibility in
implementation tools and place-based urban actions, hence resulting in widespread
economic, environmental, and social impacts in place. The novelty in embedding the
co-creation process in urban-planning practice lies in catalyzing resources towards
the transposition of research into practice through policy and planning tools for local
authorities and decision-makers. Three front-runner cities (Hamburg, London, and
Milan) are under investigation as part of Clever Cities—a Horizon 2020 project—
aiming at implementing NBS in diverse urban-regeneration processes, through nine
up-running Urban Living Labs (ULLs). Grounded on a comparative analysis of
these three cities, key characterization for NBS implementation framework could
be categorized into: (1) current urban-planning greening strategies in each context,
(2) specific environmental and societal challenges addressed, (3) different typologies
and scales of NBS integration within urban morphologies, (4) specific governance
I. Mahmoud (B)·E. Morello
Laboratorio di Simulazione Urbana Fausto Curti, Dipartimento di Architettura e Studi Urbani,
Politecnico di Milano, via Bonardi 3, 20133 Milano, Italy
E. Morello
© The Author(s) 2021
A. Bisello et al. (eds.), Smart and Sustainable Planning for Cities and Regions,
Green Energy and Technology, 3-030- 57764-3_17
260 I. Mahmoud and E. Morello
process as response to co-design and co-implementation processes, and (5) avail-
ability of financial investment and main stakeholders. As research results, we empha-
size using co-creation approach in urban planning to embed and upscale NBS in an
inclusive shared-governance process, hence contributing to social awareness and
acceptance. Meanwhile, spatial, and financial challenges could be majorly resolved
using a multi-scalar approach to manage newly embedded urban-greening policies
at the urban level. Lastly, the implementation scale of NBS with local communi-
ties requires a radical paradigmatic shift in societal, individual and administrative
urban-planning practices.
Keywords Nature-based solutions ·Co-creation ·Shared governance ·Urban
regeneration ·Urban living labs
1 Introduction
While the environmental policy and governance research around nature-based solu-
tions (NBS) are currently under discussion, the implementation of green measures
has taken a leap forward, proliferating in a diversity of urban contexts. That is mainly
due to European Commission accelerated funds in Horizon 2020 program (European
Commission 2015). Nonetheless, the academic domain has raced to catch-up with
advanced major endeavors to utilize the NBS umbrella concept of ecosystem-based
approaches to address sustainability challenges, such as resources shortages and flood
and heat risks, as well as climate-change adaptation and mitigation aspects (Albert
et al. 2019; Cohen-Shacham et al. 2019; Lafortezza and Sanesi 2019). The focus on
NBS as a potential topic for research and innovation in urban-regeneration processes
was identified by the European Commission (2015: 4) to address four fundamental
goals: (1) enhancing sustainable urbanization; (2) restoring degraded ecosystems;
(3) developing climate-change adaptation and mitigation; and (4) improving risk
management and resilience in urban settings (Bourguignon 2017; Raymond et al.
This research originates as part of the Clever Cities1project, which investigates
and implements NBS to address urban challenges and promote social inclusion in
nine cities across Europe, South America, and China. Three cities are the frontrunners
in the experimental processes: Hamburg, London, and Milan and other six cities are
to follow with NBS implementation. Starting from this wide research scope, the
present research work aims at testing the methodological scientific effectiveness
of co-creation and shared-governance approaches specifically developed for Clever
Cities and nine Urban Living Labs (ULLs), called Clever Action Labs (CALs).
In particular, this study is divided in three main parts: (a) the co-creation concept
explanation and principles of implementation; (b) the methodology to adopt NBS in
CALs; and (c) a comparative analysis of co-creation process results as initiated by
1A European Commission funded project from the Horizon 2020 Innovation Action Programme
under Grant Agreement No. 776604. See
Co-creation Pathway for Urban Nature-Based Solutions … 261
Clever Cities. The first part analyzes in depth the ongoing co-creation processes, its
theoretical inception and possible correlation with urban regeneration to implement
the NBS concept within the wider scope of the project. The second part compares the
nine CALs co-creation pathways of NBS within urban-regeneration processes, while
testing citizen engagement toolkits and an inclusive shared-governance approach.
The last part reflects on the lessons learned from the co-creation process and urban-
regeneration challenges addressed by NBS in place.
While the relevance is evident for using NBS in solving sustainable urbanization
issues and climate- change pressures, there is no denying that there is an emerging
need to embed a more citizen-oriented engagement approach within its’ implementa-
tion (Gudowsky and Peissl 2016; Sanders and Stappers 2008). The literature empha-
sizes the radical role of a shared process with a multi-scalar stakeholder partnerships
to increment the greening potential of urban spaces towards more inclusive and
climate resilient cities (Bason 2010; Bisschops and Beunen 2019; Jansen and Pieters
2017; Leith et al. 2014; Puerari et al. 2018). Hence, we opted for testing a complete
co-creation pathway that supports decision- and policy-makers towards embedding
co-design, co-implementation, co-monitoring and co-development of NBS during
the whole process (see Clever Cities Guidance in (Morello et al. (2018)).
Co-creation is not a novel concept; however, incorporating co-creation in CALs to
implement NBS required a solid initiative from the three city authorities for getting
accustomed to a shared-governance approach based on open participation and citizen
empowerment. Accordingly, the novelty in applying co-creation in urban-greening
projects has a threefold aim: firstly, to enhance the awareness and knowledge of
citizens and stakeholders around NBS and their co-benefits; secondly, to enhance
inclusivity in decision-making for urban transformation, hence, accelerating the need
for capacity building in public administration towards an effective shared governance;
and thirdly, to achieve a better quality of the regeneration interventions, emerging as
the results of site-specific processes that build on the continuous improvement cycles
and design-thinking stages during the various co-creation phases (DeLosRíos-White
et al. 2020).
In the first 20 months from June 2018 until January 2020, nine ULLs were setup,
and numerous stakeholders and partners were actively involved. Here, we depict
the current status of the co-creation experiences and bottlenecks faced by the cities
during the establishment of the UIP and partially during the initiation of the co-design
phases in the CALs. Hence, we propose the use of the co-creation methodology
as a catalyst and a driver to respond to the urgent climate-change adaptation and
mitigation challenges, pressuring health and well-being, social and economic aspects.
We mainly argue about the motivation of stakeholders’ multiplicity for adopting a co-
creation approach towards NBS implementation in cities, as well as the multiscalar
spatial impacts observed added values into urban-regeneration processes.
262 I. Mahmoud and E. Morello
2 Framework of Co-creation: Characteristics
and Implementation in Urban-Regeneration Contexts
2.1 Co-creation in Theory: Definition and Added Values
Co-creation arose from the business world as “the practice of collaborative product
or service development: where developers and stakeholders are working together”
(Pater 2009; Prahalad and Ramaswamy 2004; Ramaswamy and Ozcan 2018). Bason
(2010: 6) referred to co-creation as the “systematic process of creating new solu-
tions with people-not for them; involving citizens and communities in policy and
service development.” Until recently, these two definitions remain grounded in the
academic literature as a common framework to integrate co-production of knowledge
intertwined with the co-design of solutions based on implementation cases: defini-
tions, outcomes, and joint framing of social problems with stakeholders (Agrawal
et al. 2015;Burkett2016; Mauser et al. 2013).
Bason (2013: 26) alerted European Commission expert group on public sector
innovation to the need to embed co-design and co-creation of innovative solu-
tions. This could be worked out within governments, non-governmental sector, busi-
nesses, third sector and citizens as the main experts to orchestrate the design-driven
processes of organizational learning and institutional innovations. A new EC project
on fostering territorial innovation for climate action (TeRRIFICA 2019)3F calls
for adopting co-creation as a form of collaborative social innovation wherein ideas
are shared and improved together rather than kept to oneself. As a matter of fact,
co-creation could also be seen as a living concept for an active involvement of
actors during the processes of knowledge production and the design of engaged
solutions. In addition, stakeholders and academic institutional involvement along
the process are regarded through the lens of sectoral integration, with the ambition
of transforming decision-making processes into flexible learning processes that bring
together multiple actors and knowledge practitioners to jointly produce a mutually
valued outcome (Galafassi et al. 2018; Parsons et al. 2016).
Throughout the pathway, partners explore the benefits of cooperating and high-
lighting mutual strengths, making the whole process more efficient and leading
to better outcomes. The collaborative dialogue is not designed to force compro-
mises, but rather to facilitate learning and build on harmonizing strengths and assets.
Nonetheless, the need for multiple stakeholders to join forces and craft effective
responses highlights the unusually important role of social science in the analysis of
urban resilience. As an example, each partner brings different expertise: some know
more about the area, others about the people and their daily experiences, and others
about the local challenges for technical NBS implementation aspects. In other words,
successful solutions to environmental problems in urban areas using a complete co-
creation process require the combined efforts of different scientific disciplines and
active dialogues between stakeholders from policy and practice actors (Frantzeskaki
and Kabisch 2016). Hence, we conclude that instead of the traditional hierarchical
organization structure, co-creation goes beyond common participatory methods to
Co-creation Pathway for Urban Nature-Based Solutions … 263
develop innovative solutions for complex (environmental/social/economic) problems
in cities.
In fact, when it comes to urban regeneration, co-creation shifts the focus from
centralized governance towards a more shared decision-making approach by empow-
ering local civic actors and encouraging strong partnerships (McCormick and Kiss
2019; Rock et al. 2018). However, the concept remains fuzzy since it was not “put-
into-practice” enough times to triangulate and evaluate if co-creation really lever-
ages the possible outcomes on the long-run and has a transformative added values
effects, especially on the urban-planning policies scale (Bisschops and Beunen 2019;
Gudowsky and Peissl 2016). Academic research pinpoints some fundamental prin-
ciples of implementation that amplify the circle of co-creation such as (1) adequate
tools for citizen engagement (Engage 2020,2015; Serrano Sanz et al. 2014); and
(2) stakeholder collaboration in a flexibly structured process5 (Wippoo and van Dijk
Another important aspect in co-creation implementation principles is that it needs
to harness a spatial context; co-creation does not occur if there is no “real problem”
to solve; in urban regeneration, this is called place-based approach. Yet, scientific
experiences are rushing to set out guidelines and principles to make co-creation
principles more feasible to local governments, policy-makers, and practitioners, to
be embedded in urban-regeneration processes (Jansen and Pieters 2017). Hence, the
research question lingers on how to embed co-creation principles in cities’ complex
and sophisticated urban reality, whereas stakeholders run their agendas separately,
resources are scarce, and land availability is limited. What’s more, if we have specific
guidelines to get co-creation done right, what are the main principles and rules to get
co-creation done inclusively?
Lastly, the co-creation process does not have a one-size fits-all approach (Wippoo
and van Dijk 2019: 8). Understanding pathway structure and sleeve tools are impor-
tant to undertake the practical aspects of co-creation facilitation towards implementa-
tion, especially that each co-creation process is unique; and theoretical frameworks do
not necessarily mirror co-creation in reality. Co-creation, therefore, needs a medium
to get implemented and a flexible operational structure to be optimally concluded.
Nonetheless, the co-creation effectiveness and efficiency of results relies on the
implementation of each pathway based on attained outcomes and intermediate mile-
stones. As a consequence, the paradigm shift accompanying co-creation somehow
“unavoidably” occurs and shifts the organizational hierarchy of local governments
and institutional structures towards integrated management and shared responsibility
(Leroy and Arts 2006).
264 I. Mahmoud and E. Morello
2.2 Co-creation in Practice and Urban Living Labs
From the recent literature on how co-creation supports inclusive design of long-term
solutions, it is evident that co-creation is a way to cope with the complexity and
uncertainty that NBS have added for delivering results on sustainability measures
and resilience programs (Frantzeskaki 2019; Lawrence et al. 2013). This embedded-
ness of co-creation in urban-planning policies to embrace a user-centered approach
and to co-designing approach often happens in a spatial medium, the so-called Urban
Living Labs (ULLs). Those ULLs are the “enabling environment” whereas the partic-
ipation—conceptualized as co-design instead—focuses on including diverse forms
of knowledge generation in urban- governance processes to create inclusive solu-
tions (da Cruz et al. 2019; Lund 2018). Nesti (2018) iterates on the co-production of
services’ peculiarities occurring differently based on the service itself. For instance,
in some ULL contexts the innovation originates mainly during the co-design stage.
While in others, innovation embraces different co-delivery stages as well (e.g., co-
building or co-maintenance); that stem mainly from the nature of the ULL itself and
the approach to public-service innovation.
From a practical perspective, these values of co-creating better and more inno-
vative solutions have a wider impact on problem-solving in a spatial ULL context,
by taking a progressive approach towards co-identifying a problem or need and
co-ideating, co-designing and co-implementing a solution to it, in addition to co-
maintenance aspects. ULLs are not a new phenomenon anyway. They have been
defined by many scholars as the real-world laboratories for experimental research
with edges between research institutions, society, and public authorities. Hence,
Living Labs encompass societal and technological dimensions simultaneously in a
business–citizen–government–academia partnership (Bulkeley et al. 2018; Menny
et al. 2018). Some scholars particularly grasp ULLs as “spatially embedded sites for
co-creation of knowledge and solutions by conducting local experiments” (Puerari
et al. 2018:2).
This type of spatial configuration enables experimentation for engagement instru-
ments leading to social urban innovation; the idea of complete co-creation is to offer
space for adaptive multi-actor learning and collaborative environment and to enable
progressive urban transition (Bulkeley et al. 2016; Evans 2019; Evans and Karvonen
2011; Voytenko et al. 2016). Moreover, the academic literature reports the lessons
learned from co-creation experiences in various ULLs applied over a wide spectrum
of sectors: mobility, sustainability, food security, natural risks, and others.…2
2Among others, these projects: Looper Project,Sunrise,MUV,andCities4people.
Co-creation Pathway for Urban Nature-Based Solutions … 265
3 Methodology: Sewing the Co-creation Pathway
and Urban Living Labs Establishment for NBS
Setting out the framework of what is meant by co-creation of NBS is challenging.
Sewing the bits and pieces of an environmental concept such as NBS with a fluid
concept such as co-creation requires: (1) an extensive (and exhaustive) literature
review; (2) cross-cutting case-study analysis; and (3) a close monitoring to the current
European projects and advancements of urban-planning policies. This paper trian-
gulates data from literature analysis, project materials, and lastly a cross-case study
comparison. However, few scientific references bring together both concepts of NBS
and co-creation, mainly because the topic is fairly new to the research world, and
few implementation experiences have accrued so far.
In Fig. 1, we represent the conceptualization of the complete co-creation envi-
ronment resulting from the Clever Cities experience. In this figure, we sum up the
main concepts originating from the theoretical framework with the methodolog-
ical corresponding aspects as practiced in Clever Cities co-creation pathway and
operational structure through the CALs. The co-creation environment enforces two
mains concepts: a medium and a flexible operational structure. In urban contexts, the
enabling medium for co-creation would be the ULLs, while the operational structure
corresponds to the co-creation pathway that infuses reflection, production, evalua-
tion, and re-adaptation into the process. Accordingly, Clever Cities translates these
two concepts introducing: on one hand, the UIP and the CALs as the medium to
operate in the spatial context, and the Clever Co-creation pathway (Mahmoud and
Morello 2019)astheflexible operational structure, on the other hand.
Fig. 1 Concept of the complete co-creation for NBS implementation that integrates the co-creation
pathway (the operational structure) and the Urban Living Lab (the spatial medium)
266 I. Mahmoud and E. Morello
The Urban Innovation Partnership and the Clever Action Labs, as two main exam-
ples of the mechanisms to implement NBS in urban processes, work at different
scales, respectively, the urban level and the project-site level. The UIP activates stake-
holders at the urban scale, involving them in high-level governance and lobbying for
promoting city-wide greening policies and practices. On the other side, CALs operate
at the local level in the spatial domain for the tangible co-creation of NBS.
In fact, NBS implementation requires a strong shared-governance approach.
Involving a multiplicity of stakeholders aims at attracting a multitude of resources
and assets (e.g., financial, human skills, equipment, time, and space availability),
achieving a true sense of belonging and adoption of NBS in the urban context. This
is not a one-day or tactical urbanism expected result process; on the contrary, to
put NBS into place, a sense of co-maintenance and co-management by all stake-
holders is recommended (Calliari et al. 2019). In this study, we argue that the spatial,
financial and social inclusiveness challenges around NBS could eventually be over-
come through the effective involvement of stakeholders and gradual positive impacts
generated from the co-benefits resulting from NBS in loco over the long term.
As operational structure, a complete co-creation approach is encouraged to acti-
vate the long-term maintenance of NBS after these have been implemented later.
Many academics and urban practitioners reveal the lack of guidelines and toolkits
to meld both concepts together in a feasible implementation and evaluation frame-
works for cities authorities to grasp. The theoretical frameworks of analysis were not
holistically approached to embed the stakeholders’ collaboration and engagement
as an iterative, inclusive, and shared-governance process. The need for integration
between NBS challenges and putting co-creation methodologies into practice seemed
legitimate. We touch base on the implementation of co-creation in urban-planning
practices; as well as, introducing the experience of how the application of co-creation
in Clever Cities projects using a pathway for NBS implementation in nine ULLs.
To sum up, the co-creation pathway as a reflection to the operational struc-
ture of NBS implementation has been established as a methodological framework
(refer to the Clever Cities Co-Creation Guidance3by (Morello et al. 2018)) encom-
passing six phases as follows: UIP establishment, co-creation planning, co-design,
co-implementation, co-monitoring, and co-development.
Specifically, the phases are composed of 16 steps, not necessarily consecutive nor
synchronous. The structure is intended to be flexibly handled within different urban
contexts. These steps are furnished with a variety of recommended, optional, and
fundamental tools that help cities establish a complete co-creation process taking in
consideration the different spatial place-based contexts, the type of NBS interven-
tions and the governance model selected by the responsible authority. Sleeve toolkits
for the co-design, co-implementation, and co-maintenance of NBS are developed
with cities to be used as a reference in their progressive co-creation process. The
provided guidance documents aim to better articulate the co-creation processes that
shape the implementation of NBS in its most effective way. The guidance efficiency
3see and
Co-creation Pathway for Urban Nature-Based Solutions … 267
for the cities is currently being monitored through online surveys and face-to-face
workshops with local cities teams. The co-creation pathway and guidance in Clever
Cities projects are intended as a support methodological tool for open innovation,
in which ideas are shared, closely connected to user-generated content and actively
communicated to the wider public in order to embed originality and achieve effective
4 Discussion: A Comparative Study of Nine Action Labs
in Three Cities
Since June 2018, three cities (Hamburg, London and Milan) have been on the fore-
front of implementing NBS by applying the co-creation pathway, through up-running
nine urban living labs as part of diverse urban-regeneration processes. The main
involvement of stakeholders in the co-creation process occurs through the phases
of co-design and co-implementation. From July 2019 until June 2020, the cities
are conducting local workshops with citizens where they work hand-in-hand with
local administrations and facilitators to raise awareness of NBS, co-produce inter-
ventions and identify the expected co-benefits in a specific CAL context. During the
co-implementation phase, they work more on synthetizing and merging stakeholder
capacities, funds and overcoming limitations in the CAL-specific status quo and
check with specialists the feasibility of the NBS in place.
In this section, an overview analysis of the CALs’ experience has been elaborated
based our analysis on a comparative study mainly from the official deliverables of
the project, such as D2.1: Urban Innovation Partnership establishment (December
2018); D2.2: co-creation planning, and co-design of solutions (June 2019); and D2.3:
co-implementation planning (November 2019). To complement the data acquisition,
we conducted multiple site visits, regular monthly teleconference calls with cities
leaders, bimonthly steering group meetings and interviews with the main local cluster
Grounded in a comparative analysis of these three cities and nine living labs, the
key characterization of the NBS implementation framework could be categorized
into several key topics as follows:
Firstly, all the three greening strategies target social challenges in neighborhoods
contexts with social cohesion problems and undergoing urban regeneration. Hence,
NBS are intended as a medium to catalyze attention and interest by citizens, to test
collaboration and to build local identity. According to project partners’ co-creation
workshops, the envisioned measures have been selected to have an impact mainly
on human-centered aspects, such as social inclusion, safety and security and well-
being and only to a lesser extent on environmental quality, biodiversity and climate-
change mitigation since they are considered as NBS spillovers in place. In partic-
ular, to respond to the situated challenges, each city applies an NBS of different
types and at different scales. For instance, Hamburg opted for a green corridor with
268 I. Mahmoud and E. Morello
spots-scaled interventions on a cross-neighborhoods ULL; London is working on a
water-body intervention in Thamesmead Lake on a whole neighborhood ULL; and
Milan promotes punctual interventions along a railway infrastructure and a green
roofs and walls in the southern transect of the city. Secondly, most of the selected
NBS are small- to medium-scale applications, cheap or of medium cost and poten-
tially easy to implement and be managed by local people within existing community
initiatives. Among the most diffused NBS to be co-developed with citizens, we can
list raised-bed gardens, nano-gardens to be installed in private balconies and small-
scale aquaponics solutions in school yards. More technically demanding NBS from
a financial and construction point of view, like green walls and noise barriers, green
roofs and phytoremediation, are instead implemented by public or private actors, in
the quality of the owners of the NBS measures while co-management is given to
citizens. Henceforth, opening the co-creation of these cost-intensive solutions to the
wide public is a way to increase their social local acceptance, sense of belonging to
the measures in place, and shared outcomes achievement.
Thirdly, it was important to recognize the specific room for maneuver in promoting
co-creation as part of the collaborative pathway within each CAL and for each
proposed NBS: for instance, some measures cover the complete co-creation pathway,
including citizens from ideation to construction and co-management; other NBS, on
the contrary, can only allow consulting citizens in the early stage of ideation and
engage them in the maintenance at the end. Based on the NBS types and the corre-
sponding co-creation potential, different custom-made governance models have to be
established. In fact, in Hamburg, the large-scale green corridor foreseeing multiple
NBS in schools and public-owned spaces, requires a strong public authority-driven
coordination; in London, the role of Peabody, the social housing property manager is
crucial to engage residents, facilitate the collaboration, and provide the right instru-
ments to achieve implementations; in Milan, the variety of the three CALs’ objectives
require very different governance models, some led at the city level for promoting the
engagement of private property owners to install green roofs and walls, some others
led by co-creation facilitators at the community level to cope with the complexity
and priorities of local people, also in relation to the specific financing mechanisms
and co-management options of the proposed NBS.
Grounded in this overview of the local contexts, the following analysis summa-
rized in Table 1, specifically addresses spatial, governance, and financial challenges
occurring in the various contexts.
The most connoted differences between the three cities are the urban spatial
domains embedding the NBS interventions and the CALs. In fact, some CALs refer
to local areal interventions (a new park, a public square, a schoolyard), while some
are small-scale measures and diffused over the district (nano-gardens on balconies)
or even the whole city (green roofs and walls). Moreover, within the same CAL,
several NBS can be co-created and put in place, for instance, within the same public
Therefore, depending on the scale of the NBS, the involvement of the citizens
in ideation, construction and maintenance can vary significantly, thus impacting the
shared-governance potential. Moreover, the target users and stakeholders involved
Co-creation Pathway for Urban Nature-Based Solutions … 269
Tabl e 1 Summary of the spatial, governance, and financial challenges addressed by the CLEVER
Action Labs
Topics Strong influences Weak/negative influences
Spatial challenges
Urban scale of intervention Hamburg: opted for a single district
green corridor, unifying efforts on
stakeholder’s engagement and
London: used a “hybrid solutions”
model for a classic district
urban-regeneration process for
testing the co-creation of NBS
methodology feasibility and
economic viability
Milan has fragmented ULLs
of interventions which
require more “diversity” of
stakeholders and further
collaboration beyond one
CAL-specific scale
All: large-scale
interventions require
long-term maintenance; the
co-implementation plans of
developed to include
sections on long-term
Type of interventions Hamburg: a diversity of solutions in
school yards and green roofs enable
a variety of co-benefits spreading
Milan: a new train stop embedding
green walls and noise barriers and a
green public living space as an
open-air waiting room for
Milan: a variety of types of
interventions, which makes
the prioritization of specific
NBS in place a hard process
in co-design
All: Integration of CALs in
existing urban contexts is
noticeably slow because
citizen engagement is
happening in a gradual
involvement process
Maintenance and upscaling All: Possible success stories in EU
contexts due to citizens’
stewardships (e.g., in London)
Hamburg: educational aspects and
awareness raised for school
students and possible future
All: Lack of financial
resources due to long-term
feasibility models that
require return of investment
in sustainable planning
All: Citizen stewardship
tested against the
co-creation process and
requires long-term
involvement of stakeholders
Environmental benefits London: The lake to be regenerated
and reclaimed, hence enhancing
Hamburg: Social cohesion with
schoolyards project and raised-bed
Milan: less noise pollution and a
new community garden in
Giambellino area
Milan: possible green
gentrification from green
roofs and walls lab
Hamburg: low impact from
green roofs labs due to
small-scale intervention
London: possible green
gentrification from lake
cleaning and NBS social
270 I. Mahmoud and E. Morello
Tabl e 1 (continued)
Topics Strong influences Weak/negative influences
Governance challenges
Urban policies and
Hamburg opted for digital
participation for citizen
engagement in the process
London: overcome the low
participation from local citizens
with school students
Milan: CAL 1 embedding
co-creation procedure involving
stakeholders (municipality,
professionals and citizens) as part
of the public bid for green roofs
and facades as a prerequisite to
access funding
All: many assessment
frameworks and procedural
inequalities that a specific
pathway for implementation
does not necessarily work
- No specific guidelines on
how NBS should be
co-created and up-scaled in
urban contexts; the
co-creation guidance was
the first experience to guide
the process development
Urban Innovation
London: inclusive process by
bringing on board citizens,
residents, environmental agencies,
and local government authorities.
Milan: innovation to embed
co-creation in a municipal
governance process
Milan: fragmentation of
resources between public
and private authorities
which requires longer times
to overcome the breaking-
siloes process, defined as
path-dependency processes
Management and
London: potential usage of smart
applications already in the market
to measure the success of social
cohesion in the area, safety and
Hamburg: Lack of adequate
framework for assessment
of NBS impacts of social
cohesion (in general) and
specific measures to
Communication and
Milan: periodic newsletter sent to a
network of stakeholders for events
and participation
All: cross-cutting collaboration and
information circulation between
PM and all involved partners due to
shared digital platforms
Different Language in
Hamburg and Milan made
the communication with the
public harder due to
translation of NBS materials
All: benchmarking
challenging to communicate
in the same way to local
agencies and citizens
Financial challenges
Installation, maintenance,
and type of intervention
All: the difference in spatial scales
of NBS interventions make the
financial investment vary by
consequences. In other words, the
commitment to co-maintain the
solution varies by the type of social
responsibility, as well
All: risk of lack of wider
citizen engagement in ULLs
and co-design processes.
Engagement through
volunteering or in-kind
compensations in general
Co-creation Pathway for Urban Nature-Based Solutions … 271
Tabl e 1 (continued)
Topics Strong influences Weak/negative influences
Securing long-term funds Milan: public and private funding
opportunities on a public bid for
promoting green roofs and walls,
with extra 10% on-top increment in
case of implementing innovative
Milan: difficulties to
implement a financing
scheme in public tenders
that enables embedding
co-designed interventions
the co-creation (e.g., citizens in general, school pupils, social housing residents)
affect the medium of the CALs, ranging from a variety of in-presence activities
(focus groups, public events, contests) to online participatory tools (surveys, social
media groups, and debates). In addition to the modalities to engage stakeholders,
collaborative decision-making requires public authorities to incorporate the shared-
governance attitude into routine planning procedures, breaking the silos of traditional
decision making. Moreover, co-creation of NBS requires robust maintenance and
a monitoring cultural approach, particularly essential when dealing with evolving
living green features.
Finally, financial challenges also depend on the scale of intervention, the type of
stakeholders involved and the owners of NBS, either public or private. For instance, a
hard infrastructure like a green noise barrier or a lake-wide phytoremediation requires
concentrated investment, often based on consolidated procedures, like public tenders.
In fact, embedding co-design interventions in public procurement procedures has
turned out to be one of the most crucial challenges that requires the implementation of
innovative financing schemes. On the other hand, diffusing small-scale NBS among
citizens can be based on public incentives (e.g., a public tender for funding green
roofs) or happen at no cost, when exclusively relying on people voluntarycontribution
(i.e., nano-gardens on balconies).
5 Conclusions and Bottlenecks: Lesson Learned
from Experiences of Implementing Co-created NBS
in Cities
Relying on real on field experience carried out in the aforementioned European cities,
this paper investigates the major challenges encountered during the implementation
of a co-creation pathway for embedding NBS in urban-regeneration processes in the
three front-runner cities. Beyond these three cities, the project has six fellow cities
that follow the co-creation pathway and are setting up their ULLs at a later stage.
The evidence about experimental indicators for success of the co-creation process
is the knowledge transfer between cities and lessons learned during the process.
However, the project is still in its first two years, which gives space to iterate on the
process and periodically inform the lessons learnt. The ultimate goal of this study
272 I. Mahmoud and E. Morello
is to understand if it is possible to move from siloes thinking and decision-making
routines to experimental co-creation experiences, adopting more consolidated and
shared-governance routines and participatory practices in urban policies at city level.
Since the integration of NBS in the urban context comprises a variety of typologies,
scales of applications and sizes, ULL types and actors involved, the question is if it
is possible providing a universal, comprehensive and at the same time flexible co-
creation approach to meet all these conditions under the bigger umbrella of a holistic
urban-greening strategy. Elaborating on these questions, the study investigates the
current ongoing co-creation experiences of nine living labs, resulting on the major
issues and challenges, as summarized below.
(1) Localizing NBS into urban-regeneration context of ongoing processes: exploring
how NBS interventions enter the narrative of urban-planning strategies at city
and local level; how cities are providing a solid vision and mission for main-
streaming urban-greening projects. Most of the times, NBS projects overlap
with ongoing urban dynamics. In some cases, NBS are assumed to be an occa-
sion to accelerate urban transition; in other cases, NBS do not meet societal
priorities in specific contexts, whereby urban greening is not always recognized
as a key topic when it comes to allocating limited economic resources.
The lesson learned is to introduce NBS as a key city-wide urban-regeneration
priority action from the very beginning, hence ensuring that the co-benefits are
highlighted to stakeholders and end-users during the whole decision-making
process and not just as the result of a greening intervention. This will ensure a
wider sense of belonging and ownership.
(2) Communicating NBS to wider society public: by definition, NBS should aim to
address specific environmental and social challenges that are place-based. We
examined if this is always the case, and if people perceive the role of NBS effect
in providing those expected co-benefits. For instance, it is not easy to communi-
cate and acquire evidence of the wider role NBS can play. The translation of the
technical term of NBS into practice, i.e., its common use as a concept in partic-
ipatory activities, is questionable. In fact, the term, originated in academic and
research domains, is hardly transferable to the wider public during engagement
The lessons learned is hence to build a strong network that can diffuse NBS
culture to a wider audience through a consolidated partnership, whereas the
supply and demand for greening services are dialoging, communicating and
constantly collaborating and simplifying its dissemination.
(3) Homogenizing approaches for different NBS interventions: NBS have revealed
to be extremely varied terms of typologies and operation at different scales. This
variety makes a universal approach to co-creation rather uncertain. For instance,
stressing participatory approaches and the involvement of a multitude of actors,
in the implementation of very small-scale interventions, might waste resources,
especially in fragile urban contexts. On the contrary, high-impact large-scale
NBS infrastructure can only hardy be shared with the wider public.
Co-creation Pathway for Urban Nature-Based Solutions … 273
The lesson learned is to use innovative tools of co-creation (like co-design by
immersion, personas simulation and digital participation tools) to facilitate and
speed-up the implementation of complex large-scale NBS with limited timespan
and flexibility.
(4) Attracting investments: The attraction of financial investment around NBS
follows very complex patterns. Interpreting actors’ constraints in the absence
of a direct and tangible return of investment and investigating how cities try to
provide effective stimuli are crucial aspects of successful NBS implementation.
Financial issues refer in particular to both the implementation and the long-term
co-management of NBS and the need for new business models in urban nature
The lessons learned is that incurring multiple stakeholders’ involvement through
an urban partnership and the establishment of a strong city-wide vision and
narrative of NBS role in the overall greening strategy is crucial, in order to
support the consolidation of a strong economic long-term investment.
(5) Enabling shared governance in public authorities’ routines: Finally, the overall
capacity of a city administration to provide a reliable and consolidated frame-
work for enabling a shared governance and an effective and continuous partic-
ipation process consistent with the NBS co-creation pathway remains the main
challenge in the background of this study. This work examined: if cities are
able to translate experimental processes into policies; if cities are gearing up to
make co-creation practices a routine into all urban-greening interventions; and
if cities are embedding co-creation sleeve tools and updating urban-planning
policies and bureaucratic procedures to make co-creation easier.
The lessons learned is that embedding co-creation into decision-making routines is
still a challenge and requires to overcome practical obstacles, among others: breaking
siloes in decision-making procedures, managing the costs of continuous day-to-day
activity of back-and-forth dialogue between owners, authorities, and stakeholders,
which is demanding in terms of effort, time and money. People responsible for NBS
implementation tend to avoid sharing decisions with the public to reduce conflicts and
delays. If applied from the very beginning and with all the stakeholders, co-creation
can give a boost to regeneration processes, but it requires skills in facilitation public
participation and co-creation.
To sum up, although NBS are lately gaining a widespread consensus among
researchers and are supported by the European Commission funding schemes with a
remarkable outreach, there is a further need to formalize their impacts and potentials
with a multitude of actors and implementation mechanisms, taking into account the
variety of NBS types, scales and applications situations. Bringing the process inside
local authorities’ headquarters, municipality seats and public or private organiza-
tions was shown to be rather challenging. Nonetheless, it is doubtless that citizen
engagement in urban-planning processes has become more diffused, structured, and
institutionalized, especially through these pilot projects. However, co-creation of
NBS is still perceived—and often applied—as a fuzzy concept and time-consuming
274 I. Mahmoud and E. Morello
task. More research is needed to enable co-creation to be embedded deeper into
ordinary planning processes.
Acknowledgements This document has been prepared in the framework of the European project
CLEVER Cities. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020
innovation action program under grant agreement no. 776604. The sole responsibility for the content
of this publication lies with the authors. The authors would like to thank Dr. Carolina Cantergiani De
Carvalho from Tecnalia team; the project coordinator, Dr. Martin Krekeler, from HWWI; Emilia
Barone, Nicola-Murphy Evans and Jan Pastoors, city project managers of Milan, London, and
Hamburg, respectively, for their work on the coordination of the co-creation process in cities and
the provision of documents and project deliverables.
The authors would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and
contribution to improve the quality of the manuscript in its final form.
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In the last years, the idea of using natural elements or nature-based solutions (NbS) to mitigate the impacts of cities on climate, biodiversity and citizens' health became more popular in research and practice. Nevertheless, there are currently uncertainties in finding and selecting appropriate criteria and indicators for monitoring and evaluating the impact and performance of NbS and its co-creation processes. This paper proposes an easy-to-use and structured procedure for selecting appropriate criteria and indicators for monitoring and evaluating any kind of NbS project. The user is guided step by step in selecting meaningful metrics. The procedure is tested using a real case study from the Horizon 2020 research project CLEVER Cities as an example. The test shows that by following the indicated procedure, the criteria and indicator selection process is speeded up and reproducible.
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Increasingly complex challenges and systemic risks in urban development and planning require systems methods and solutions. This policy brief summarizes the experience of a collaborative systems modelling workshop on the health co-benefits of urban green spaces in Guangzhou, China. The workshop shows that collaborative systems modelling has the potential to surface new, integrated, and sustainable solutions for complex problems, such as urban development, spatial planning, governance, and climate change. For the collaborative systems modelling approach to succeed, it is critical to have the participation of diverse interdisciplinary stakeholders for the co-creation of solutions. Further, while noting that collective learning and capacity building take time, we recommend policymakers apply this method where and when possible, for example in urban planning projects, to address complex problems in cities while at the same time ensuring the representation of the needs and visions of stakeholders in the modelling process. Collaborative systems modelling can be considered a contribution to intelligent urban systems governance.
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Citizen’s engagement in NBS and urban biodiversity observations in Milan: Experience from CLEVER Cities project: The European strategy for Biodiversity 2030 recognizes the fundamental role of urban green infrastructures in maintaining biodiversity and ecological connection in our cities. The Nature based Solutions (NBS) should be systematically integrated in the urban planning policies of public spaces, urban infrastructures and buildings. The H2020 – CLEVER Cities project is experimenting a co-creation process for the co-design, co-implementation, co-maintenance and co-monitoring of customized ecological solutions, in order to maximize their environmental and social impacts within urban regeneration processes. In this article, we bring the attention to the experience of engaging citizens in monitoring the co-benefits of nature in the city of Milan.
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Developing urban and peri-urban ecosystem services with nature-based solutions (NBS) and participatory approaches can help achieve more resilient and sustainable environments for cities and urban areas in the face of climate change. The co-creation process is increasingly recognised as the way forward to deal with environmental issues in cities, allowing the development of associated methods and tools that have been described and published for specific stages. It is argued that the co-creation process comprises various interlinked stages, corresponding stakeholders, and subsequent methods and tools that need to be mapped and integrated across all stages. In this study, a Life Cycle Co-Creation Process (LCCCP) for NBS is developed, building on continuous improvement cycles and Design Thinking methodologies, and for which the stages and substages, involved stakeholders and engagement methods and tools are mapped and defined. For stakeholders, the actors of an Urban Living Lab (ULL) are adapted to the LCCCP; for the engagement methods and tools, the goals of stakeholder engagement are used as a guide to select examples of co-creation methods and tools. The developed LCCCP comprises five stages, i.e., CoExplore, CoDesign, CoExperiment, CoImplement and CoManagement, creating a unique path that can be followed by practitioners for NBS co-creation.
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Nature-based solutions (NBSs) have been on the forefront of the urban regeneration processes in a later fashion; that direction fundamentally intertwines with the European Commission framework of Research and Innovation policy on “Re-Naturing cities and Green Infrastructure” aiming towards positioning the EU as leader in ‘Innovating with nature’. This research paper exploits the originality of using Co-Creation as Pathway for cities to better implement NBSs, and achieve flexible, open, equitable urban resilience, and adapt climate change strategies. Co-Creation dynamic processes build on involving stakeholders and engaging local community at every stage; moreover, account on collective governance and outputting social, economic and environmental ‘Co-benefits’. Primitively, the aim of this paper is to highlight the innovation of Co-Creation tools towards addressing NBS challenges, as well as, the assessment of front-runner cities’ governmental approaches in facilitations or deficiency towards the accomplishment of Co-creation processes. The case-study application of this work refers to the NBS Co-creation guidance -under development- for the H2020 project ‘Clever Cities’ under GA776604, specifically tailored for the cities of London, Hamburg and Milan.
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Despite substantial increases in the scope and magnitude of biodiversity conservation and ecological restoration, there remains ongoing degradation of natural resources that adversely affects both biodiversity and human well-being. Nature-based Solutions (NbS) can be an effective framework for reversing this trend, by increasing the alignment between conservation and sustainable development objectives. However, unless there is clarity on its evolution, definition and principles, and relationship with related approaches, it will not be possible to develop evidence-based standards and guidelines, or to implement, assess, improve and upscale NbS interventions globally. In order to address this gap, we present the definition and principles underpinning the NbS framework, recently adopted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and compare it to (1) the Ecosystem Approach that was the foundation for developing the NbS definitional framework, and (2) four specific ecosystem based approaches (Forest Landscape Restoration, Ecosystem-based Adaptation, Ecological Restoration and Protected Areas) that can be considered as falling under the NbS framework. Although we found substantial alignment between NbS principles and the principles of the other frameworks, three of the eight NbS principles stand out from other approaches: NbS can be implemented alone or in an integrated manner with other solutions ; NbS should be applied at a landscape scale; and, NbS are integral to the overall design of policies, measures and actions, to address societal challenges. Reversely, concepts such as adaptive management/governance, effectiveness , uncertainty, multi-stakeholder participation, and temporal scale are present in other frameworks but not captured at all or detailed enough in the NbS principles. This critical analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the NbS principles can inform the review and revision of principles supporting specific types of NbS (such as the approaches reviewed here), as well as serve as the foundation for the development of standards for the successful implementation of NbS.
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Nature-based solutions are proliferating in European cities over the past years as viable solutions to urban challenges such as climate change, urban degeneration and aging infrastructures. With evidence amounting about nature-based solutions, there is a need to translate knowledge about nature-based solutions to future policy and planning. In this paper, we analysed fifteen cases of nature-based solutions’ experiments across 11 European cities. What makes our case studies stand out is the balanced focus between ecosystem and social benefits in contrast to many published cases on nature-based solutions that have a weighted focus on the climate benefits. From a cross-case comparative analysis we draw seven overarching lessons related to all stages of proof-of-concept and implementation of nature-based solutions in cities: (a) nature-based solutions need to be aesthetically appealing to citizens, (b) nature-based solutions create new green urban commons, (c) experimenting with nature-based solutions requires trust in the local government and in experimentation process itself, (d) co-creation of nature-based solutions requires diversity and learning from social innovation, (e) nature-based solutions require collaborative governance, (f) an inclusive narrative of mission for nature-based solutions can enable integration to many urban agendas and (g) design nature-based solutions so as to learn and replicate them on the long-term. The lessons we draw show that nature-based solutions require multiple disciplines for their design, diversity (of settings) for co-creation and recognition of the place-based transformative potential of nature-based solutions as ‘superior’ to grey infrastructure. We further discern that urban planners need to have an open approach to collaborative governance of nature-based solutions that allows learning with and about new appealing designs, perceptions and images of nature from different urban actors, allows forming of new institutions for operating and maintaining nature-based solutions to ensure inclusivity, livability and resilience.
Conference Paper
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Nature-based solutions (NBSs) have been on the forefront of the urban regeneration processes in a later fashion; that direction fundamentally intertwines with the European Commission framework of Research and Innovation policy on “Re-Naturing cities and Green Infrastructure” aiming towards positioning the EU as leader in ‘Innovating with nature’. This research paper exploits the originality of using Co-Creation as Pathway for cities to better implement NBSs, and achieve flexible, open, equitable urban resilience, and adapt climate change strategies. Co-Creation dynamic processes build on involving stakeholders and engaging local community at every stage; moreover, account on collective governance and outputting social, economic and environmental ‘Co-benefits’. Primitively, the aim of this paper is to highlight the innovation of Co-Creation tools towards addressing NBS challenges, as well as, the assessment of front-runner cities’ governmental approaches in facilitations or deficiency towards the accomplishment of Co-creation processes. The case-study application of this work refers to the NBS Co-creation guidance -under development- for the H2020 project ‘Clever Cities’ under GA776604, specifically tailored for the cities of London, Hamburg and Milan. Keywords: co-creation; CLEVER Cities; nature-based solutions; Urban Innovation Partnership; CLEVER Action Labs.
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This review article explores some of the key concepts, trends, and approaches in contemporary urban governance research. Based on a horizon scan of recent literature and a survey of local government officials, it provides a big picture on the topic and identifies areas for future research. Bridging the gap between the scholarly research focus and the perceptions and requirements of city administrators represents a major challenge for the field. Furthermore, because global and comparative research on urban governance is confronted with an absence of systematically collected, comparable data, the article argues that future efforts will require experimenting with methodologies that can generate new empirical insights.
Rapid urbanization presents one of the most urgent challenges of our times. Cities must cope with poor air quality, heat island effects, increased flood risk and the frequency/severity of extreme events (e.g., droughts and heat waves), increasing crime and social inequity, poverty and degraded urban environments, amongst other negative consequences. Climate change adaptation and mitigation as well as sustainable management are therefore key challenges for cities in Europe and around the world. What must be developed therefore is a robust, wide evidence-base and reference framework of nature-based solutions (NBS) – measures that mimic the complex features and processes of natural ecosystems – for local/regional city authorities and other policy and decision makers to increase climate resilience and address inclusive urban regeneration in cities. In response to this need, we propose an applicative framework for NBS using the structure of the DPSIR (Driving force–Pressure–State–Impact–Response) model, in conformity with European Community standards. Indeed, under the umbrella of the EC's Framework Program – Horizon 2020 – international institutions, scientific experts and policy makers worldwide are seeking to increase collaboration with cities to enhance ecosystem services and develop the evidence-base for the economic, social and environmental benefits of nature-based solutions. They are eager to exchange knowledge and inspire positive action for nature in urban areas to meet their growing social and environmental challenges. The time has come to acknowledge NBS as the most fitting response to the numerous challenges posed by our changing climate and for the realization of sustainable and healthy cities. It is hoped that this article will pioneer others in settling the issue for NBS as the undisputable answer to challenged urban landscapes and societies globally.
Raising interest in ‘nature-based solutions’ (NBS) has inspired attempts to organise their principles and qualities within comprehensive and internally consistent evaluation frameworks, so as to demonstrate the superior performance of ‘working with nature’. However, the proposed frameworks stop short of taking into account the changing conditions in which NBS are set to operate. Climate change, in particular, can alter ecosystems and their services, and may undermine the performance of green solutions that rely on them. We present here a ‘dynamic’ assessment framework that explicitly accounts for the impact of climate change on the effectiveness of the proposed NBS. The framework is based on an innovative approach that integrates system analysis and backcasting. Although it has not yet been applied to the NBS context, backcasting is well-suited to seize the transformational character of NBS, as it encourages ‘breakthrough’ leaps rather than incremental improvements. Our framework factors in the multifunctional character of NBS and is designed to capture associated direct benefits/costs and co-benefits/costs. It is meant to be applied ex ante to ideally support the choice between innovative NBS and traditional options, in an effort to respond to the societal challenges identified by the EU Research & Innovation agenda on the environment.
Nature-based solutions (NBS) in river landscapes, such as restoring floodplains, can not only decrease flood risks for downstream communities but also provide co-benefits in terms of habitat creation for numerous species and enhanced delivery of diverse ecosystem services. This paper aims to explore how landscape planning and governance research can contribute to the identification, design and implementation of NBS, using the example of water-related challenges in the landscape of the Lahn river in Germany. The objectives are (i) to introduce the NBS concept and to provide a concise definition for application in planning research, (ii) to explore how landscape planning and governance research might support a targeted use and implementation of NBS, and (iii) to propose an agenda for further research and practical experimentation. Our methods include a focused literature review and conceptual framework development. We define NBS as actions that alleviate a well-defined societal challenge (challenge-orientation), employ ecosystem processes of spatial, blue and green infrastructure networks (ecosystem processes utilization), and are embedded within viable governance or business models for implementation (practical viability). Our conceptual framework illustrates the functions of NBS in social-ecological landscape systems, and highlights the complementary contributions of landscape planning and governance research in developing and implementing NBS. Finally, a research and experimentation agenda is proposed, focusing on knowledge gaps in the effectiveness of NBS, useful approaches for informed co-design of NBS, and options for implementation. Insights from this paper can guide further studies and support testing of the NBS concept in practice.