Category Archives: Blog

Being a citizen professional or a professional citizen?

Two years ago, I launched a citizen initiative in a park close to where I live. My motivations were to act as a responsible and engaged citizen – as I had been working on this field for quite some time – and to experiment moving from a passive attitude to an active one: the park seemed to be abandoned from the City Council, it looked really dodgy and I became scared of going there to throw away my compost. After having read the book on the Incredible edible, I thought to myself that I could maybe become an actor of change. That was the beginning of a personal transformation, learning about what makes citizen activism possible and pushing city administrations to evolve.

Faider_MaisonettePhase 1: incremental step, first learnings

In August 2015, when I shyly shared my ideas about changes to be brought to the part with my fellows from the compost, I was scared that they would laugh at me. The opposite happened: they all agreed, and had lots of ideas about changes for beautifying the park – which gave the name to our movement: “Embellissons le parc Faider”. That day I created a Facebook group. In the following weeks, with a neighbour, we managed to get in contact with the City Council, a sustainable development officer came to meet us in the park, got to understand our expectations, and promised to relay our requests.

We were quite naïve, I suppose: our original thought was to make things change, yes, but in co-creation and co-decision with the City administration. We did launch a movement, but not the one we expected.

Phase 2: waiting and feeling alone

Indeed, the sustainable development officer organised an internal meeting where our requests were dealt with: accepted or rejected, without the possibility to negotiate. Especially where we asked for a communication and feedback mechanism with the administration… More than that, we waited a few months without any news or answers to our emails. Worst, the sustainable development officer left, as he was there for a maternity leave replacement…

We were left with no news about the next steps, nor contact person, we did not know what would happen to our requests, the validated as well as non-validated ones.

Faider_Fêtes de voisinsPhase 3: knowing the politicians makes the difference

In March 2016, by chance, a colleague of mine informed me about meetings organised for local elected representatives to meet with the citizens. I went there to ask for a particular point that we got refused: installing a community garden in the park. It appeared that there was a newly elected Deputy Mayor with this competence. He totally approved our request. We chatted and it appeared we had done the same studies and that we had friends in common. Brussels is small and this easily happens. After this meeting, his head of cabinet went to meet us in the park and promised to make a few reparations. Some of these reparations took more than a year to happen… But then, we gained visibility. We also organised a Neighbours’ day – which the Deputy Mayor attended – , which made our group grow from… 2 to a couple more actives, a dozen of interested and quite quickly up to 100 on our Facebook group. By then I created a blog to centralise some important information about us and our activities.

There was a lot of energy and many ideas during the Neighbour’s day, a community was emerging…

Phase 4: waiting and feeling alone (again)

Yet, the motivation dropped quickly: the enthusiasm that we had around a festive event did not follow. Also we did not have any news from the City Administration on the various reparations that were to take place. The physical interactions work best than virtual ones: for politicians and neighbours it is the same.

I learnt for myself that the original plan was welcomed by many neighbours, that they were happy to follow but not to lead. They did not have any comments nor suggestions. I started feeling lonely and lacking motivation to this whole process – to which, obviously, nobody forced me.

Faider_New playgroundPhase 5: highlights of the year

After this general drop of energy, in September 2016, we managed to get a group of 5 motivated people to launch a community garden: we got the authorisation and funding to do so. A small group of citizens therefore became active around it. In parallel, we obtained a new playground for children – the previous one was destroyed and dangerous: families and children were highly enthusiastic about it. We organised a party to celebrate it – and the deputy mayor came.

We got new promises and hopes from the Deputy Mayor. We felt we started a real collaboration with the City Administration.

Phase 6: waiting and feeling alone (again)

Yet, some important issues remains unsolved (reparation of fences, regular cleaning of the park, access to water, ….)… We were not receiving any news from the City Administration… I was suggested by the “educateurs de rue” (sort of “neighbourhood managers”) to write a registered letter to the City Council. That was the only possibility to make the politicians accountable – it was said to me. When the following meeting for local elected representatives to meet with the citizens was organised in March 2017, I made a speech for greater co-creation of the city, also asking for – at least – answers. It appeared the Deputy Mayor had never received my registered letter. It got lost in the administration. He then asked me why I had not written to him directly.

I learnt that communication with the City Administration is tricky and as its own modalities. That the politicians have the decision power and should be the ones I should be in contact with directly -not the adminsitration. At least in this City Council. But that I should meet them and not write to them if I wanted a clear information and follow-up.

Phase 7: where it becomes a political project

The following months saw unexpected changes in the movement. After the March meeting, we organised a “to attack!” gathering to decide what we would and could do without the approval of the City Administration: we did not want to wait anymore and we knew we were more effective and efficient. In parallel, a neighbour with a project in the street opposite to the park started to develop his own projects. He wanted to be associated by name to our movement but was doing his own activities against the ideas of the original movement – in values, scope and governance models. We had by then became a group of a dozen motivated people. Yet, he came to me to have a strong, personal and aggressive argument. Which got me scared.

My neighbours gave me a role of representative, leader, of the movement, whereas I thought I was merely “coordinating their ideas and projects”. They were doing many more things than me and I did not feel legitimate for that.

Faider_IdéesPhase 8: the question of institutionalisation

We discussed that with the Deputy Mayor who suggested we would set up an NGO to have more power. I shared the idea. Everybody was happy for me to set it up and run it, not to be responsible for it. But it is only at this point I realised the expectations I had given voice to while being the initiator of this project. I was naively thinking that I could launch an idea, coordinate it and that it would run smoothly. I should I have left this position earlier or taken a clear leading role.

There were many active citizens, doing many small and big things on a daily basis. Yet, what they wanted was an official voice and representative, somebody to fight for them.

Phase 6: a new order

I have now left. My neighbours understand it and support me. This has created a community against the opposing neighbour– and for some shared values. One of my neighbours took over the “communication and coordination” role, as she said there was too much to fight for. Now, I am curious to see how it is going to evolve.

This project took a lot of my energy. I had some stressful moments and got scared. What saved me emotionally was to take some distance from it via the analysis of what was going on for my own reflexions and work on city governance and collaboration between public authorities and city administrations. I am more than ever admirable for the active citizens and what they go through. As for the way city administrations can further collaborate with citizens, I have some further thoughts and ideas to share and experiment :).

Faider_CNRIEN Faider_GardenFaider_Deputy Mayor

Que pensent les acteurs publics et les initiative citoyennes des moyens d’améliorer leur collaboration ?

La collaboration entre autorités publiques et initiatives citoyennes ne fonctionne pas bien. Pourtant, elle peut s’améliorer. D’entrée de jeu, le ton de l’atelier « gouvernance » organisé par l’équipe du projet VILCO dans cadre des Rencontres des initiatives citoyennes durables à Bruxelles du 13 mai 2017 au BEL est donné.

Pensez-vous que cette collaboration puisse s’améliorer?

Pensez-vous que cette collaboration puisse s’améliorer?

Pensez-vous que la collaboration entre acteurs publics et initiatives citoyennes fonctionne bien?

Pensez-vous que la collaboration entre acteurs publics et initiatives citoyennes fonctionne bien?

C’est à travers des dynamiques locales que les autorités publiques, régionales et communales, et les initiatives citoyennes établissent des modalités de coopération qui cherchent à augmenter la résilience de la ville. Malgré le score sévère du premier baromètre, les participants présents ont d’abord présenté de nombreux exemples de modalités de collaboration qui fonctionnent.

« Certaines communes sont très proactives vis-à-vis des initiatives citoyennes. Elles sont ouvertes et progressistes». 

En effet, les participants sont convaincus que les initiatives sont indispensables au fonctionnement des autorités publiques, et une telle implication prend déjà plusieurs formes notables :

Pensez-vous que les autorités publiques puissent agir sans les initiatives citoyennes ?

Pensez-vous que les autorités publiques puissent agir sans les initiatives citoyennes ?

  • L’amélioration des services publics par la participation citoyenne : par exemple pour l’infrastructure cycliste à Watermael-Boitsfort ou un audit participatif à Ixelles sur la mobilité ;
  • Le relais et la centralisation d’information: en rencontrant les différents acteurs de manière régulière (Jette), en libérant des subsides, en proposant un accompagnement professionnel (dans le cadre du Contrat de quartier Bockstael,  une équipe professionnelle agit en tant qu’« activateurs de développement » depuis des années).
  • « Les appels à projets de Bruxelles environnement boostent le lancement de nouvelles initiatives et les aident à mieux se structurer. » Les Quartier Durable Citoyens sont un bel exemple d’une formule qui marche avec un accompagnement individuel, personnalisé et ciblé. Grâce à une telle dynamique, ces quartiers permettent de créer du lien et de la vie dans le quartier.

Globalement, plus les dynamiques ont impliqué les communes avec les citoyens, meilleurs ont été les résultats, bien que les contacts entre l’administration et le pouvoir politique ne soient pas comparables…

« Nous avons installé un compost dans un parc de la Commune. C’était une nécessité d’être en contact avec elle, nous n’avions pas le choix. L’initiative venait des citoyens vers la Commune qui s’est d’ailleurs réapproprié le projet par la suite… »

Ces exemples ne sauraient cacher les possibilités d’amélioration, mais surtout les difficultés auxquelles les uns et les autres font face dans la nécessité de la  collaboration quotidienne, comme par exemple:

  • « La multiplicité de messages qui émanent de différents niveaux de pouvoir en Belgique (Fédéral, régional, communal, etc.) présente un risque de confusion pour le public, voire de contradiction dans les conseils, consignes émis. » La complexité des structures administratives, le manque de transversalité, pourtant inhérente aux thématiques des projets des dynamiques en place, le cloisonnement des compétences et le manque de guichet unique rend les contacts avec la Commune parfois difficiles, notamment quand un projet touche à divers services. Sans parler de la dominance francophone qui limite les interactions néerlandophones.
  • « Comment catégoriser des initiatives hybrides? »: Parfois, c’est dans la structuration même des groupes que les interactions posent problèmes, de la difficulté de collaborer avec des collectifs (groupes non conventionnels) et enfin, le passage d’un mode de gouvernance à un autre au sein d’une même entité, puis d’une même dynamique.
  • « Les administrations ne sont pas toujours au fait de toutes les initiatives qui voient le jour sur leur territoire. » Dans certaines communes, les administrations ne sont pas au courant des initiatives qui existent. Dans d’autres cas, les Communes soutiennent mais ne sont pas proactives.
  • « Nous avons des contacts avec la Commune pour le matériel. Elle n’est pas forcément contre, mais il y a des blocages administratifs. Il y a des formulaires à remplir, des délais à respecter, des freins… » Les complexités administratives ne sauraient combler la bonne volonté de ceux impliqués.
Pensez-vous que les initiatives citoyennes puissent agir sans les autorités publiques?

Pensez-vous que les initiatives citoyennes puissent agir sans les autorités publiques?

Au final la bonne volonté est freinée d’une telle manière que les citoyens songent à agir sans les autorités publiques. Pourtant, les autorités publiques ne peuvent pas agir sans les initiatives citoyennes.

 « Il faut développer d’autres formes de financement »

Comment, dès lors, rendre les dynamiques locales plus résilientes ? Le financement des dynamiques locales est une question récurrente, qui, au-delà de la simple ressource directement injectée, touche tant aux modes de gouvernances, qu’aux relations entre les acteurs de la dynamiques.  Dès lors, en établir de nouvelles modalités permettrait de réajuster la collaboration entre autorités publiques et initiatives citoyennes.

« Bruxelles Environnement a proposé un budget « participatif » global dont les différentes associations concernées décident elles même de la clé de répartition entre elle. Cela a généré plus d’indépendance, de consensus, de responsabilisation, de transparence, et de partage d’expériences »

Et les participants n’ont pas manqué d’idées pour améliorer d’autres formes de financement existant :

  • Remplacer la sélection sur base de dossiers de candidature par une co-construction du projet en tandem citoyens et pouvoirs publics. Cela permet d’ouvrir les horizons sur les ressources nécessaires et disponibles, et de limiter la déformation du projet en l’insérant dans le cadre administratif de la demande
  • Envisager de financer structurellement les initiatives ou de redistribuer les financements par activités, tout en cherchant une simplification des procédures.
  • Intégrer d’anciens lauréats dans les jurys qui sélectionnent les dossiers de candidature. Cela permet de varier les points de vue et de responsabiliser tant les décideurs que les bénéficiaires.

En améliorant le système de financement existant, la répartition des responsabilités permet de renforcer le lien et la confiance entre les acteurs de la dynamique. Pourtant, se connaître s’apprend et prend du temps. Cela demande d’une part que les communes comprennent le côté organique des initiatives mais aussi que les communes appréhendent le côté bureaucratique et politique. Cela est notamment un enjeu crucial en cas de changement de majorité politique au sein de la Commune même si/surtout s’il existe une volonté politique.

 « Dans le cadre d’un récent projet, nous avons mutualisé nos ressources. Plusieurs personnes ont apporté des matériaux de récupération et en fin de compte le subside a financé l’achat d’un projecteur lequel est régulièrement prêté à d’autres associations ou projets. »

C’est un des points centraux des manières alternatives de soutenir les projets : diversifier les sources de ressources hors du pur financement à travers le partage de matériaux de récupération, de compétences, de lieux, d’outils pédagogiques et de mise à disposition des experts techniques spécialisés (ex: construction, formation des collectifs d’habitants ponctuellement).

« Un mode de fonctionnement de type coopératif permet de faire des économies, d’utiliser au mieux les ressources. On peut aussi faire appel à d’autres sources de financement comme le crowdfunding »

Enfin, les financements peuvent aussi être extérieurs à la dynamique en faisant appel à la communauté, l’autofinancement, au secteur privé, ou encore, aux micro-banques.

« C’est la mise en réseau en réseau aussi qui permet de renforcer des activités des dynamiques, identifier des solutions et possibilité de co-ressources, créer de nouveaux liens et interactions. Le Journal de la Commune dans certains cas donne de la visibilité aux dynamiques, les plateformes existantes mais aussi ce premier Forum des initiatives citoyennes ! »

Pour renforcer la mise en réseau, les participants pointent du doigt le rôle des autorités publiques pour centraliser de l’information utile et nécessaire aux initiatives, que ce soit pour des ressources disponibles et échangeables/prêtables (une forme de mariage d’offre et demande) ou d’information générique sur les dynamiques locales, accessible à toute personne intéressée. Au-delà d’un simple listing, ce serait un pôle d’accompagnement et soutien qui est demandé, à la manière d’un format type Quartiers Durables Citoyens, au sein même des administrations communales.

« Les autorités publiques et les initiatives citoyennes doivent adopter une approche win/win de complémentarité dans le travail sur le terrain ».

Cette collaboration ne pourrait être renforcée que dans un travail commun sur la manière de partager des valeurs et objectifs, et en cherchant la convergence des objectifs des acteurs concernés. Les participants ont en effet jugé que les autorités publiques ne reconnaissaient pas suffisamment la plus-value des initiatives citoyennes, d’autant plus que la confiance les uns dans les autres est mitigée. Les participants à l’atelier ont aussi mis en avant le rôle des autorités publiques à fédérer et en susciter et aider à la diffusion des activités, à la mobilisation du public.

Pensez-vous que l’acteur public reconnaisse suffisamment la plus-value des initiatives citoyennes ?

Pensez-vous que l’acteur public reconnaisse suffisamment la plus-value des initiatives citoyennes ?

Pensez-vous que les autorités publiques fassent confiance aux initiatives citoyennes ?

Pensez-vous que les autorités publiques fassent confiance aux initiatives citoyennes ?

Pensez-vous que les initiatives citoyennes fassent confiance aux autorités publiques ?

Pensez-vous que les initiatives citoyennes fassent confiance aux autorités publiques ?


Comment intégrer les autres citoyens?

Enfin, au-delà de la réflexion sur l’amélioration de la collaboration entre autorités publiques et initiatives citoyennes, la question s’est posée de l’ouverture des dynamiques vers les citoyens précarisés et à tout public non encore intégré. Les propositions émises ont montré le besoin de garder des dynamiques ouvertes et qui se remettent en question de manière critique et sur ce qui fait une initiative citoyenne, l’importance de donner la parole à d’autres, de s’ouvrir par la convivialité, de communiquer à travers des histoires et de activités concrètes, tout en favorisant les liens entre associations et acteurs de terrains variés.

« Qui organise les événements comme aujourd’hui? »

C’était une des questions de conclusion : au vu de la nécessité de fédérer, partager et échanger, mais aussi de co-construire des modes de gouvernance plus adaptés aux besoins des acteurs concernés, ce sont justement ces moments de travail que les participants sollicitent. Cela pourrait aussi prendre la forme de colloques, ou, différemment,  de speed dating. En tout état de cause, les rassemblements pourraient aussi être plus petits, mais pour permettre d’avancer vers une meilleur collaboration entre autorités publiques et initiatives citoyennes pour augmenter la résilience de la ville.

C’est aussi un des objectifs du projet VILCO, lancé en mars 2017 pour une durée de trois ans, dans lequel une phase de recherche et d’analyse réalisera un état des lieux sur la manière dont les autorités publiques et initiatives citoyennes peuvent mieux collaboration dans des dynamiques locales en faveur de l’environnement. Une phase d’expérimentation permettra ensuite de tester des solutions envisagées. Nous vous invitons à suivre notre projet et y participer sur son site.

IMG_3437 IMG_3438



Exploring the conditions for shared urban spaces with high human value

This was the topic of the first Forum Camping organised by Yes We Camp , as a deep immersion at les Grands Voisins in Paris from 14th to 15th June 2017, day and night. Project holders, makers, artists, researchers, experts, public institutions from all around France and beyond exchanged on what makes a space move from being “public” to being “common”.

How come some spaces bring about a sense of legitimacy, welcoming feeling and invitation? Which systems can combining freedom and trust, to provide space where we are allowed to test, expand and open ourselves to others? What are the ingredients enabling to learn from one another and reduce the boundaries between social groups? These were some of the questions that guided our exchanges during those two days.

The lower floors are dedicated to emergency housing, the upper ones to working spaces

The lower floors are dedicated to emergency housing, the upper ones to working spaces

“Doing by the narrative and not with millions of euros” (Nicolas Détrie, Yes We Camp)

That is what les Grands Voisins has been doing for a year and a half: the site of the former Saint Vincent de Paul hospital was meant to remain empty during 5 years before an econeighbourhood would be built. It became a bedtest for social integration, urban experimentation, and new business models. Altogether, these are 20 000 squared meters of outdoor space and 15 000 of indoor space that nested and inspired this prototype. A consortium of three organisations agreed with the Local City Council to implement this project: Aurore refurbished indoor spaces creating 300 beds for emergency housing and 300 for workers’ dorms; Plateau Urbain re-affected some other interior spaces to offices and co-working areas; Yes We Camp created outdoor activities: a camping, a bar, a restaurant. The site also hosts some artists’ shops, a ressourcerie, urban gardens, chicken…

”It’s as if it were done the hoof, but actually it follows very strictly the rules” (Prune Gasnault, Cabanon vertical)

At first sight, a visitor would be unsure about the way Les Grands Voisins reclaim the space. Yet, the project is going on following very strict rules, notably ensuring the safety and security of the site. More generally, it ensures (good) cooperation with public authorities. Indeed, participants to the Forum Camping underlined the importance of taking into account the legal and material risks, getting access to an insurance, ensuring political support,… Nevertheless, for many, fitting to the legal framework often remains a DIY process: you need to identify the space in the law and existing regulations for such use. Fair enough, the French experiences witnesses many possibilities: “authorisation d’occupation temporaire”, “bail”, “prêt à usage”, … [1] That is the reason participants claimed for the creation of “Code of the Common” that could support cooperation with public authorities in addition to the identification of useful legal resources…

The messy aspect of some parts of the site does not preclude the fact that it is safe and secure.

The messy aspect of some parts of the site does not preclude the fact that it is safe and secure.

Reaching the end of the experimentation, a street art festival is organised at les Grand Voisins.

Reaching the end of the experimentation, a street art festival is organised at les Grand Voisins.




“Our project worked out because we knew how to communicate” (Aurélien Gaucherand, Darwin)

Indeed, communication is key to make the message visible – first step – and then come across to the right stakeholders – second step. The team in charge of the Darwin project in Bordeaux actually used its own skills as a communication agency. More than that, they used the local agenda and timing (elections) to arrange press conferences when in need of public reactions. In terms of visibility, Les Grands Voisins were also very cautious: no graffiti were tolerated on the site. They could easily get rid of the first ones they would identify (one graffiti quickly leads to a bunch of them) and the fact that there was always animation helped it out. The site had to remain clean, with the feeling that someone was in charge. Only at the end of June, they organised a street art festival on the buildings that would be destroyed.

Consultation is the Vaseline of permanent project (Philemon Gravel, Entremise)

The statement is harsh. Yet, this is what happened with the experimentation of Les Grands Voisins: although a consultation for the site was carried out before the project of the econeighbourhood on the site was agreed, the project was launched after this agreement. The room for inputs from the two-year experimentation is now limited as the urban plan already is fixed. Beyond the temporary experimentation of Les Grands Voisins, couldn’t such projects contribute to the actual making of the space? Shouldn’t consultation become “consult’action”…?

 One building currently used for emergency housing which will be renovated and will remain in the econeighbourhood.

One building currently used for emergency housing which will be renovated and will remain in the econeighbourhood.

“The State vouches for the commons” (Regis Ursini, Urbios)

Beyond this plain and quite obvious statement, it appeared that the “commons” are being understood at two levels. At the first one, this is about defining a common space. The exercise carried out during the Forum Camping identified the following characteristics: there is a space with an inside and an outside; it proposes activities that are free and open to the public; experimentation is easy: there is room for unexpected effects; it reveals what there is already; it enables sharing and capitalising on know-hows; it works on the basis of collective governance; it is independent from public and private actors. In addition, it can be the ground for local micro economic experimentation and host artists and residences.

At the second level, we reached a more conceptual exchange on the operationalisation of such a paradigmatic shift. Participants were certainly abiding by the new societal models based on Hardin’s, Ostrom’s, Laval’s or Bauwen’s writings on the Commons. Yet, how can the work on public space reshape the relationship between all actors of society and readjusts the responsibilities borne by each, under the responsibility of the State? How to tackle the tragedy of the commons? One of the answer to this question was to start agreeing on a definition and ensuring that new concepts are made mainstream without losing their initial meaning… Not an easy task…

The real life is here, it is not just a temporary use

The local currency based on quarters of an hour.

The local currency based on quarters of an hour.

One of the emblematic project of Les Grands Voisins has been the creation of a local currency based on quarters of an hour: the people living on the site can receive them in exchange of some service they deliver. They can use this currency in some specific shops on the site. The experimentation is altogether economic (assessing the value of money and time), social (valorising time and individual skills), and environmental (through circularity). More than that, it has been a societal experimentation: about the way collective and individual needs, interests and potentiality can come together in a complimentary way. The major side effect was the creation a micro society bound by this currency, creating a new local urban ecosystem.

And that is one of the landmark reflexions of these two days: les Grands Voisins and other projects which were present at the Forum Camping  are all concerned with fluid processes, social experimentations, which should be open and leave room for creativity. They underline the role we, citizens, all have of being space makers. In doing so, personally, professionally, we develop a new urban value which is liquid: it can spread to all spheres of public policies and society not only in a transitory manner but for long-term effects as well.



[1] For more examples throughout Europe, check out the  Issue of the REFILL magazine:

How can city administrations better cooperate with citizens?: A case for in-house intermediaries*

European, regional and local public administrations are increasingly facing budget cuts. Yet, these concern mostly their internal budgets and affect in particular their human resources: the pool of employees decreases whereas the amount of work remains the same or increases. This is particularly the case with the rise of citizens’ initiatives, transition processes and movements, and new (co-creation and participatory) governance methods, be they top-down – inscribed in strategies – or bottom-up – led by spontaneous grassroots movements. At the same time, the financial package available for contracting increases: it is not so much for questions of legitimacy or transparency that authorities contract more and more some tasks of public service delivery. Rather, it is due to the fact that certain tasks cannot be carried out internally: either because of a lack of internal capacity or the fact that these (new) tasks are not inscribed (yet) in new strategies and cannot be managed by someone from the administration. What are some of the consequences of contracting service providers for such projects?

  • The administration is becoming increasingly distant from the ground and does not have hands on the street-level experience;
  • The administration relies on contractual arrangements whereby the flow of information is provided through reporting, but misses out the immersion in the reality;
  • Changes in project coordinators in the administration break the trust and continuity in the conduct of the projects – notwithstanding the efforts to ensure a relevant transfer;
  • The administration remains an administrator of data and people, with a “checklist approach” but not of knowledge and skills; and,
  • In some instances, the administration gets in a dependent position where the contractor – with its local knowledge and skills – leverages on its own agenda, leaving the administrator in an undermined position with a loss of control of the process.
Local administration seeking intermediation with projects on the ground ©Marcelline Bonneau

Local administration seeking intermediation with projects on the ground ©Marcelline Bonneau

The organisation being contracted also – and generally – tends to behave as a “contractor”:

  • The project is not his/hers and as such the empathy towards the beneficiaries of the project can be limited, while they might feel a gap between the object of the project and the support they receive;
  • The project is carried out within a strict contract whose working conditions can limit and frame firmly the amount of time spent on a project: this limits the capacity to go beyond, reflect and experiment on new and innovative developments of projects – usually taking place in constantly evolving environments;
  • The project is bound by the rules of public procurement which might downgrade the quality of services for a lower price; and,
  • The project might suffer from changes of contractors and loss of information, even deeper than in the changes in the administration, as the information goes from one organisation to another.

However, another approach is increasingly used by public authorities: that is to internalise the public service delivery related to the implementation of projects. It is borne by the neighbourhood managers in Ghent (BE) and Amersfoort (NL), or to some extent by street educators in Brussels (BE), is sometimes referred to “Street level bureaucrats” in the literature (Agger and Poulsen 2017). We will call them “in-house intermediaries”. Who are they? Administration’s employees who deal on daily basis with target groups (e.g. citizens) and their projects. They have various professional and personal profiles: they can be with or without prior working experience in the administration, they are of a wide range of ages, they have a university or vocational background and/or an experience as grassroots activists. Their selection, and way of working, is based on their individuality and personality. They have to be open and curious; to be able to network, moderate, mediate and negotiate; to possess a political sensitivity; to act fast and be creative in identifying (human, financial, technical) solutions; to stimulate and lead processes (URBACT REFILL Network 2017). They work partially on the ground, partially in the offices of the administrations. They are the key connection between what is happening on the ground and in the administration. They benefit from the insight from the field work, with empathy and in-depth knowledge and understanding. At the same time, they know the rules and functions of the administration and provide the immediate feedback for making the public services evolve. In sum, they are “inside out” as François Jégou would say.

Adopting such an approach implies for the administration to face directly the –non-evitable- issue of conflict: of interests, agendas, strategies, priorities, or emotions. The in-house intermediary is at the heart of these clashes, which is a hard task. Yet, as such a role exists, it forces the administration to identify a solution. Such conflict which is part of the daily life of the in-house intermediary therefore provides the energy for progressive forms of collaboration (Agger and Poulsen 2017).The administration also gains in efficiency as the information is available in-house and dealing with a problem is done within its own structure.

At first sight, such in-house intermediaries are however not a panacea. Installing such a scheme might depend on the geographical scope of the area covered. Their role might be dedicated to specific topics, or one employee could be affected to such a role in each relevant unit. Their recruitment and the way they operate can be very evolving: even though they operate under a strict framework from the administration, their autonomy is their freedom as well as their main constraint: they need to operate very independently and to find their way through. In some instances, this might create a difficult balance between the different hats they possess and the legitimacy they possess towards both their employer and their target group. Yet, this requires a change of posture in the role that the administration plays in delivering public services, as it forces the administration to go beyond its traditional neutrality and to act as full societal stakeholders, involved in public agenda setting and implementation.

How can a city move towards a more engaged and direct way of delivering such public services? One low-risk approach is to start by testing out this scheme. To go on the ground and experiment some ways of interacting at the same time as collecting feedback on the needs, perceptions and expectations. Such an approach can go along with the lines of testing out new ways for solving problems with local actors (Agger and Poulsen 2017). This can “easily” be done for example with the recruitment of a skilled and well-briefed trainee. Another approach is to recruit a sort of “experienced community manager” who would work closely with the administration, not as a provider with a client, but in a partnership mode. This second option though might trigger issues of public procurement as mentioned above. Finally, a lot of such public service delivery goes hand in hand with a good communication and transparency: for all the parties to be honest and straight to the point, to express wishes and fears, limits and possibilities but also to look for solutions together. This should be the basis for a more advanced and integrated form of implementation of public service delivery.

*This article is based on:

Agger, Annika, and Brigitte Poulsen. 2017. “Street-Level Bureaucrats Coping with Conflicts in Area-Based Initiatives in Copenhagen and Malmö.” Scandinavian Political Studies, March.

URBACT REFILL Network. 2017. “REFILL Magazine #2.” To Be Published Soon…

What can cities learn from the participatory democracy experience of Saillans?

Saillans'City Council building ©Marcelline Bonneau

Saillans’City Council building ©Marcelline Bonneau

In 2014, a group of citizens of Saillans – 1 200 inhabitants in Drôme, France – concerned about acting directly for their city, and in the light of increased well-being, presented themselves, apolitically, for the mayorship of the city. They won the elections and paved the way for a new type of city governance. They particularly sought to address two main caveats in the traditional way city councils and city governance in general work: on the one hand the Mayor and the deputy mayors’ appropriation of all the city power;  on the other, the low participants of inhabitants,  merely asked to express themselves through elections once every 6 years.




The city governance focuses on three main pillars: Continue reading

Les membres des paniers bio sont-ils tous des « bobos » ?

1.      Introduction

Panier bio de la productrice Cécile Anciant-Grigoryev, Piegros la Clastte, France ©Marcelline Bonneau

Panier bio de la productrice Cécile Anciant-Grigoryev, Piegros la Clastte, France ©Marcelline Bonneau

En réponse aux pressions économiques, sociales et environnementales du système alimentaire actuel, de nouvelles formes d’achat en vente directe de produits alimentaires auprès du producteur émergent depuis les 15 dernières années. Ces systèmes en circuit court proposent un rapprochement de la consommation alimentaire vers la production, tout recréant un lien personnel, direct et de confiance, entre le consommateur et le producteur (Herault-Fournier, Merle, Prigent-Simonin 2012).  Ces alternatives prônent une production plus respectueuse de l’environnement, du producteur, dans un souci de développement de l’économie locale, et d’un rapport à taille humaine (Maréchal 2008). Elles proposent de diversifier les points de vente et d’achats de produits alimentaires, et par là-même les choix de produits. Les paniers bio sont un de ces systèmes qui permet à des clients de bénéficier de produits, bio et de saison,  provenant directement d’un producteur, de proximité, ou avec un minimum d’intermédiaires. L’origine des produits y est clairement identifiée et transparente et différentes formules d’abonnement et de choix de paniers sont disponibles (Bioguide 2013).

Les membres des paniers bio sont des « bobos ». Ce postulat résume souvent une série de freins qui empêcheraient toute une catégorie de consommateurs de passer à une alimentation plus durable ainsi que, plus largement, des modes de vie prenant en compte l’impact de chaque individu. Bien que «bobo» ne soit par un terme scientifique et que les écrits les caractérisant soient largement décriés (Clerval 2005), c’est une caractéristique courantes dans le discours politique et médiatique. Selon le journaliste David Brooks, les  «bourgeois et bohèmes», ou « bobo » sont une catégorie de la population, se positionnant entre les mouvements hippies des années 1960 et yuppies des années 1980, combinant les ambitions consuméristes des deuxièmes aux ambitions écologiques et éthiques des premiers (Brooks 2002). D’un point de vue ethnologique, Sophie Corbillé définit le «bobo» comme se reconnaissant «aux espaces de vie qu’il habite (notamment des lofts), à des manières particulières de manger (les épiceries fines, le vin biodynamique) ou aux objets de décoration qui meublent sont intérieur (la «récup chic») » (Corbillé 2013).

Qu’en est-il des membres des paniers bio à Bruxelles ? Quelles sont leurs profils et motivation ? Les indicateurs socio-économique à eux-seuls permettent-ils de définir le passage ou non à une alimentation plus durable ? Continue reading

Goodwill as a vector of social innovations

tod-cover-for-web-pagesPam Warhurst and Joanna Dobson’s book on the Incredible Edible was my holiday book last summer. The wealth and details accounting for stages, encountered difficulties and envisaged solutions soon appeared to be a crucial case to analyse and try and understand the dynamics behind citizens’ movements which seek to improve the world.

Throughout the world, the Incredible Edible movement  represents groups of citizens planting in towns and in walking areas, giving free access to herbs and plants to all. These are sometimes rich and beautiful gardens, inviting walker to help themselves, sometimes they seems abandoned. Some people complain about the fact that planting next to the road or in wheels is unpretty and worst for health than products from (conventional) agriculture.  All in all, it launches debate and acts for (re) action.

Graines à partager Incroyables Comestibles CabourgThe book on the birth and raise of Incredible Edible in Todmorden reflects on the (sometimes lack of) strategies, long-term visions, the dynamics between people organisations… In short, all that make a bottom-up citizens’ initiatives movement work – or not – but at least worth giving it a try. The value of this insight is to get a few learnings, amongst which: Continue reading

It’s always cold and snowy in Central and Eastern Europe…

KRK snow_2

Rynek in Cracow, Poland © Marcelline Bonneau

Just look at some TV news on any Central or Eastern European-related event broadcasted in Western Europe during the summer (whether it relates to financial issues, to market or stock of a given product, to youth or elderly people…) : you will always see people in padded coats, wearing fur hats and clapping their hands (carefully wrapped in thick woolen gloves), breathing white frozen air … As if these images extracted from the news’ stock were reflecting the piping hot and sunny reality of these countries in summer….

What about social innovation developments in those countries? Can we actually observe that there are indeed some striking differences between East and West or do we have more similarities than differences? Aren’t we biased by what already seems a long distance, and related gap, between the different parts of Europe? Continue reading

Upscaling social innovation or the process of maintaining grassroots initiatives


The Spiral of Innovation ©R. Murray, J. Caulier-Grice, and G. Mulgan.

“Upscaling social innovation” is the main concern of all those dealing with the need to operate a transition towards a more sustainable society. How do we ensure that social innovations are maintained and do not fade in time? How can they be supported in their expansion? Should they grow? Should they be replicated? How can new initiatives emerge while learning from the others, but without reinventing the wheel? Continue reading

What is your “Sustainable city”? (at SPF Justice)

I recently led a workshop on “Sustainable city” at SPF Justice (the Federal Ministry of Justice in Belgium) as part of its “Day of Sustainable Development”. This workshop was a mixture of a lecture on the concepts and concrete examples relate to “sustainable city”; interaction and discussion; as well as a role game on “what sustainable city are you”.

The participants came up with their own understanding of this concept, and “sustainable city” to them in particular meant:

SustCity_1 Continue reading

Social innovation is also a ‘process’ worth researching

On the 8 July, we were at the out centered French Business School ESSEC talking about Social innovation and civic engagement. More precisely, the aim of the Mid-Term Conference of the FP7-funded project ITSSOIN , which we attended, was to present intermediary results on the way it was seeking to investigating the impact of the Third Sector and civic engagement on society (going beyond their economic benefits or the natural virtue of caring for others).

ITSSOIN_WP-Sustainable-cities_V21 Continue reading

Cities using their purchasing power to facilitate social innovation

Gdańsk 2030 Plus Strategy© Żaneta Kucharska and Jacek Zabłotny, UMG

Some cities are developing new approaches to ensure that resources are available to experiment with new solutions to their problems. They are using their buying power to orientate, speed up, amplify and sometimes systematise the development of these social innovations. The experiments show that social innovation is not only for wealthy communities, which can free up the necessary time, financial resources, human resources and interest, but is accessible to all cities that want to take risks and experiment.

Continue reading