Coproducing an urban equality agenda for local action:
KNOW involvement in the next United Cities and Local Governments GOLD Report
By Camila Cociña (KNOW Work Package 4 Research Fellow)
While reducing inequalities has been increasingly acknowledged as a global challenge shaped by structural conditions, local action is indispensable to tackle the territorial manifestations and many of the underlying causes of inequities. Global phenomena such as the climate emergency, the COVID-19 pandemic, increased housing insecurity, or the precarisation of working conditions have deepened existing inequalities and created new ones, which bring challenges that are locally experienced. Local knowledge and action are therefore crucial to articulate meaningful and effective responses.
For the last three years, we have been working from the KNOW programme to mobilise research and capacity building for urban equality through the coproduction of knowledge led by local teams in different urban contexts. Through this work, it has become evident that even if most inequalities demand collaboration at multiple scales, the actions of local governments are key to tackle them. This has been increasingly recognised by movements such as the New Municipalism, whose progressive politics has only gained relevance in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe that the role of Local and Regional Governments in reframing and responding to inequalities is fundamental for at least three reasons: local authorities are close to the territories, and therefore have better knowledge about how people are experiencing inequalities; they have the capacity to act and mobilise efforts and collaboration between public, private and civil society actors; and they have the potential to sustain action overtime, with closer opportunities for accountability.
As a team seeking to translate research into practice, we have looked for different spaces to expand KNOW’s legacy and to bring an urban equality lens to the forefront of urban debates. Among the many fora for agenda setting and urban debate at the international level, we believe that one that engages directly with those who are leading responses in the local arena can provide a fruitful space for collaboration. Thus, we have found in United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) a key and strategic partner for action, as a coalition that represents autonomous and democratic local governments on a global level, working side by side with local authorities.
Our first engagement with UCLG was in November 2019, when part of the KNOW team, including representatives from Freetown and Havana, participated in the 6th UCLG Congress in Durban, South Africa, with a panel session entitled ‘Partnerships for Urban Equality’. Since then, we have had several exchanges with UCLG, particularly with the Committee on Social Inclusion, Participatory Democracy and Human Rights. These led to our participation in the UCLG Retreat in Tangier, Morocco, in February 2020, in which we proposed that the next Global Observatory on Local Democracy and Decentralisation Report, GOLD VI, should focus on discussing Pathways to Urban and Territorial Equality. This proposal was debated, accepted and formalised with a partnership agreement last September
Figure 1: Alexandre Apsan Frediani presenting KNOW proposal for next GOLD Report during the UCLG Retreat in Tangier in February 2020. Pictures by UCLG Women
Since 2006, UCLG has published five Global Observatory on Local Democracy and Decentralisation (GOLD) reports, which seek to be “a major source of information on local self-government, local authorities and international solidarity”. The sixth version of the GOLD report will be jointly produced by KNOW and UCLG and launched in November 2022, under the title “Pathways to Urban and Territorial Equality: Addressing inequalities through local transformation strategies”.
GOLD VI has a series of strategic objectives. Initially, it seeks to reframe the notion of equality, recognising the drivers that perpetuate inequalities across different scales, as well as their context-specificity. It does so by addressing cross-sectorial and spatial performance principles (i.e., distribution, recognition, mutual care, and parity participation). The report also aims to centre equality and justice in the debates on global development agendas, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath; and to identify current policy and planning actions and coproduced interventions that recognise the agency of local and regional governments and civil society groups.
To these ends, we have proposed a collaborative methodology for the production of GOLD VI. This methodology aims not only to produce a rigorous and relevant report, but also to facilitate a process of coproduction, supporting and strengthening multi-stakeholder dialogues and ensuring the participation and involvement of UCLG members, civil society networks, and researchers and academics. We consider this methodology as relevant as the output itself, as it seeks to bring an equality lens to a process aimed at strengthening local learning and action alliances, facilitating translocal learning, and collaborating with international networks.
GOLD VI: An engaged international process to build pathways to urban and territorial equality
Early in 2020, we set up a GOLD VI Steering Committee, composed by four members of UCLG (Edgardo Bilsky, Ainara Fernández Tortosa and Anna Calvete Moreno from UCLG Research and Amanda Fléty Martínez from CSIPDHR), and four members of the KNOW team (Caren Levy, Adriana Allen and Camila Cociña from DPU and Alexandre Apsan Frediani from IIED). Our first task was to agree on a structure for GOLD VI. From the beginning, we visualised a report that goes beyond taking a snapshot of current inequalities, to offer a vehicle for transformative action. We have also tried to avoid the reproduction of sectoral and siloed approaches to equality. To this end, after presenting the state of inequalities, GOLD VI will be organised through a series of chapters that present pathways that local governments, in collaboration with other actors, are taking to advance towards equality: commoning, caring, connecting, re-naturing, prospering and democratising. The report will conclude in a discussion of some of the challenges to mobilise transformative change at scale and the presentation of final recommendations. Through the lens that each of these chapters offers, a diversity of themes will be addressed, such as issues related to informality, housing, land, basic services, education, urban health, migration, violence and discrimination, food security, sustainable transport, digital connectivity, decent livelihoods, resilience, energy transition, decarbonisation, culture, finance, regional inequalities, all within a framework of political participation and accountability.
Each of these chapters will be authored by one to three Chapter Curators. The process of inviting curators to join us in this journey has provided rich moments of exchange during the last six months. We are very happy that GOLD VI has now a complete list of curators with vast experience in their fields, coming from different geographies, disciplines and institutions (see diagram below).
There is a reason why we have called them “curators”, and not just “chapter authors”. While each of them brings their approach and experience, and they are in charge of building the central argument and writing up the chapter, there is a constellation of multiple actors who are contributing to each chapter with their experiences, visions, and knowledges. These contributions constitute a key element of the report, as they seek to provide not only information about grounded experiences, but key insights and messages that seek to shape future pathways for equality. Each chapter has contributions from four different kinds of sources: (1) UCLG Network, with contributions produced by seventeen Teams, Committees, Fora, Communities of Practice and partner networks, and with direct participation of its membership, drawing on grounded experiences from local governments that ensure a good balance of different geographies and territories; (2) civil society networks, which will draw from experiences of several members of five global coalitions: Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR), CoHabitat Network, Global Platform for the Right to the City (GPR2C), Habitat International Coalition (HIC), Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI), and Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO); (3) KNOW partners from twelve institutions, who will draw on experiences and lessons from their research in cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America; and (4) other academics working on issues particularly relevant for the report, from several universities and research institutions. This last category has allowed us to reach out and build collaborations and synergies with other GCRF programmes such as PEAK Urban, which will be participating with thematic contributions.
Figure 2: Constellation of institutions contributing to the coproduction of GOLD VI. Diagram by Camila Cociña
Between September 2020 and January 2021, the GOLD VI Steering Committee led a process of defining the scope, distribution and aims of these contributions. To this end, we hosted five workshops with different sets of actors, which sought to create safe spaces in which diverse stakeholders could share the motivations behind their involvement in the report, as well as the vision and key messages they want to put forward, and the experiences that they would like to capture to illustrate grounded efforts towards equality. While the drivers for each organisation to get involved are diverse, the workshops have allowed spaces for finding synergies and complementarities. On Monday 25th January, more than 100 representatives from local governments, civil society networks, activists and researcher institutions met virtually to finalise this first stage of producing the report. The virtual workshop was a space to discuss and exchange views, and to start the second stage of this ongoing coproduction process, in which 68 case-based contributions and 21 thematic contributions will be produced to feed into the report’s chapters.
Figure 3: Screenshots of digital tools used during the GOLD VI workshops
As we embark on the second stage of coproducing this report, there are many challenges ahead, particularly related to the coordination of diverse voices and experiences that GOLD VI aims to capture. In practical terms, there are important constraints for a project like this in the context of COVID-19, considering the limitations of not being able to be together during processes of coproduction (Osuteye, 2020) . However, even if we are aware that the dependency on online connectivity opens questions about new divisions and inequalities, we have managed to leverage available digital tools to engage with more actors and voices than we had originally envisioned and anticipated in a pre-COVID-19 time. Beyond the practical considerations, we are aware that the pandemic has exacerbated social injustices, exposing social weaknesses and widening inequalities, and therefore global efforts to articulate local actions that advance towards equality are more urgent than ever. Under the current circumstances, to be able to achieve the objective of leaving no-one and no-place behind outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it is crucial to have an equality lens when localising the SDGs. Otherwise, there is a risk of advancing SDG targets without challenging entrenched injustices. This report, as well as emerging out of a process of strengthening local and international action alliances, seeks to address this challenge and contribute to shaping pathways to urban equality.
Notes:  You can read more about it in: Osuteye, E. (2020) ‘Doing together’ when we can’t be together: co-producing actionable knowledge in a COVID-19 world. In the KNOW #4, 6-11, available here.
This blog post was written with crucial inputs from members of the GOLD VI Steering Committee.
Cover photo: Bangkok, 2019, by Camila Cociña