Urbanisation as a driver for civil society innovation and impact
The accelerating population shift from rural areas to urban areas, and accompanying social and economic changes, is one of the most critical global trends influencing the trajectory of other major megatrends. Cities are increasingly likely to be on the frontlines of climate and humanitarian crises as populations are displaced there seeking more secure lives. This fast-moving phenomenon will increasingly impact global sustainable development efforts, and the work of international and national civil society organisations (CSOs) for decades ahead.
These organisations have made important contributions towards implementing the UN New Urban Agenda and supporting progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11, making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Acting as bridges between community capital and prioritised needs, and linking urban dwellers to duty bearers, CSOs both create and build on new opportunities to improve the inclusion, prosperity and resilience of urban communities, in particular of marginalised, excluded or vulnerable groups and key populations. These include: informal settlers and workers, homeless people, indigenous groups, refugees, migrants and displaced people (both international and internal), women, children, youth and adolescents, older persons and people with disabilities.
However, the complex system of powerful stakeholders and rapid speed of change in urban contexts pose a number of unique innovation drivers for CSOs, with their traditional programming experience in rural settings and typical advocacy focus at national level. Powerful city administrations are becoming as important as or even starting to outpace national governments, and play a growing role in pursuing responses to climate change, SDG activities and emerging technologies.
To maximise their urban impact potential, CSOs need to strengthen the roles they can play, including policy-making, organisational training and skills building, and facilitating learning for and between cities. These factors drive the need for internal disruption and new operational models, partnerships, skills and capacities to strengthen impact for and inclusion of key marginalised, excluded or vulnerable groups, and whole urban communities.
Urban Inclusion and Innovation: Definitions
How we define inclusion
For this report, our case study approaches, programmes or projects exemplify four different dimensions of inclusion:
a) integrated sector/systems-level intervention
b) multi-stakeholder engagement and/or delivery
c) process, including active community leadership and engagement
d) successful contributions to SDG-linked outcomes, for better equity and justice
These are defined more specifically as follows:
1) Either horizontal integration (multi-sectoral) and/or vertical (multi-level/system-wide):
- the approach is multi-sectoral and not siloed to a particular sector (such as housing, education, health, WASH or livelihoods), but identifies and responds to multiple complex needs (horizontal integration), and/or
- engages at or influences multiple levels of the urban system – from neighbourhood/municipality, to city-wide, sector, market, policy and institutional capacity levels (vertical integration).
2) Stakeholder engagement/delivery: the approach creates, expands or leverages connections or partnerships with multiple stakeholders as a critical element of inclusive design and delivery, including many of the following actors:
- diverse urban resident grassroots, neighbourhood or community-based organisations (CBOs), associations or groups (including faith groups), representing key stakeholder populations in particular;
- religious institutions such as churches;
- other local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or CSOs;
- international NGOs or CSOs;
- public actors, city governments and representatives, municipal authorities or urban planners;
- other authorities/service or utility providers – such as police, water companies, etc.;
- state/federal actors, or non-state actors with public legitimacy;
- academia or other educational establishments or institutions such as schools;
- professional associations and/or labour unions;
- private sector, including local small business;
- international, multilateral or inter-governmental organisations.
3) Process: The approach or programme/project:
- shows evidence of mobilising or leveraging urban resident-led engagement and social/cultural capital as a fundamental approach to inclusion;
- creates, expands or leverages inclusive whole-neighbourhood or –municipality approaches and/or participation of particularly marginalised, excluded or vulnerable urban key populations – in plans, policies and decision-making processes, listening to and learning about their needs and preferences and enabling their direct agency and engagement in implementation;
- supports whole neighbourhoods and/or particularly marginalised, excluded or vulnerable urban key populations to articulate their needs and advocate for their rights at city, national and/or international levels e.g. by strengthening social and public accountability mechanisms;
- (wherever data or technology is involved as an enabler), leverages or generates democratic and ethical use of tools and data for urban planning, policy- or decision-making.
4) Results/outcomes: The approach or programme/project demonstrates success in inclusive SDG-linked contributions (towards better equity and justice) in the relevant urban context by delivering services, outcomes or impacts and/or systemic and sustainable changes in market or social or policy environments which, for example:
- increase social cohesion;
- reduce or remove barriers that keep particularly marginalised, excluded or vulnerable urban key populations from achieving their full rights, or improves service access and rights opportunities for these groups;
- create new or enhance or extend existing neighbourhood- or municipality-wide services/opportunities as needed;
- build inclusive resilience efforts for neighbourhoods, municipalities or cities to quickly recover from environmental- and conflict-related hazards and risks;
- combat geographic marginality by ensuring impoverished neighborhoods are better served.
 Please note, where the term ‘resident’ is used, it is simply as a reference to people physically living there, regardless of formally documented or recognised resident status by the relevant city or state.
How we define innovation
For this report, we have defined innovation as ‘‘an iterative learning process which identifies, adapts/adjusts and shares novel ideas for improving civil society action, impact, and operating space.” All of the approaches implement new ideas or ways of working, foster novelty and creativity, idea exchange, and enterprise in finding solutions that respond to the relevant urban contextual challenges.
More specifically, when we assess the degree of innovation across a hugely diverse set of contexts and approaches for this theme, we have categorised how the case studies compare and contrast in the following ways:
- 1) What level of disruption to the sector or system and/or the city or cities in which the approach is targeted or operating can it be shown to have already reached (at the time of writing)?
- 2) What level of scaleability – city-wide, national or international – can the approach itself, or applied lessons from or informed by it, be shown to have already reached (at the time of writing)?
This disruption could be to a range of areas and ways of both conceptualising, doing and organising things, including but not limited to: traditional ideologies, assumptions, mindsets, skillsets, ways of engaging communities, using data and technology, policy, planning and other decision-making processes, stakeholder co-ordination models and structures, etc. Alternatively, the approach has established convincing evidence or identified effective new models and practices to help influence change or wider transformation in the civil society sector itself.
This scaleability includes transfer and adaptation to different locations and contexts either directly by the organisation itself, or indirectly by other actors.
These are defined more specifically as follows:
|Level of disruption|
|Sector||The wider sector within which the approach is targeted or operating has been transformed to such a significant or sustainable extent, as a result of this intervention, that it is extremely unlikely the sector will try, want, or be able, to reassert or revert back to the previous status quo/ways of doing things.
The catalysed changes and more inclusive outcomes are now embedded in the sector or system.
|City||The city (or cities) where the approach is targeted or operating has been transformed to such a significant or sustainable extent, as a result of this intervention, that it is extremely unlikely the city will try, want, or be able, to reassert or revert back to the previous status quo/ways of doing things.
The catalysed changes and more inclusive outcomes are now embedded in the city (or cities).
|Both||The approach demonstrates both of the above.|
|Level of scaleability|
|City-wide||The approach – or its defining elements – have been successfully introduced and implemented to more than one neighbourhood or district or municipal area in the same city or metropolitan area.
Alternatively, this includes demonstrably influencing policies or practices at the city-wide level.
|National||The approach – or its defining elements – have been successfully introduced and implemented to more than one city or metropolitan area in the same country either by the originating organisation(s) directly, or through partners.
Alternatively, this includes demonstrably influencing policies or practices at the national level.
|International||The approach – or its defining elements – have been successfully introduced and implemented to cities or metropolitan areas in different countries around the world, either by the originating organisation(s) directly, or through partners.
Alternatively, this includes demonstrably influencing policies or practices at the global level, such as at or through multilateral or inter-governmental organisations, forums or processes.
Unlike our 2019 report on ‘Civil Society Innovation and Populism in a Digital Era’, in which we also adopted a secondary set of maturity definitions (below) to indicate the stage of each innovation, the urban case studies this year are – aside from a few emerging pilots – otherwise nearly all already well established. This reflects the extended length of time typically needed to develop effective partnerships and approaches and demonstrate emerging impact in urban contexts.
|Level of maturity|
|Emerging||The innovation is in the process of being implemented.
Some evidence or lessons may be generated to inform iteration or adaptation of the innovation and to assess if it is demonstrating effectiveness, influence or impact.
|Established||The innovation has been fully implemented.
Evidence is available to assess if and how it has been effective or achieved influence or impact. Wider lessons or conclusions can be shared with others.