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Experimental Governance

Capacity and legitimacy in local governments

Time: Wed 2022-05-25 09.00

Location: Kollegiesalen, Brinellvägen 8, Stockholm

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Language: Swedish

Subject area: Planning and Decision Analysis, Urban and Regional Studies

Doctoral student: Erica Eneqvist , Urbana och regionala studier

Opponent: Professor Annica Kronsell,

Supervisor: Professor Andrew Karvonen, Urbana och regionala studier; Professor Hans Westlund, Urbana och regionala studier; Doktor Kersti Karltorp,

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Contemporary planning and governance of cities involves practices of experiments and trials in urban experiments, collaborative platforms, and urban development projects with high ambitions for sustainability and innovative solutions. These practices of experimental governance can be seen as new policy instruments that include actors from all sectors of society in collective problem-solving. The introduction of experimental governance establishes a new logic of public administration that results in multiple opportunities and challenges. Previous research has emphasised the importance of organisational development beyond a focus on single experimental projects and institutional designs to support experimentation. This thesis aims to examine the municipalities’ organisational capacity for experimental governance and the opportunities to ensure legitimacy.

The thesis involves a case study of the City of Stockholm and its innovative practices in general and experimental governance practices in particular. The focus is on the municipal organisation and how it has developed over the past decade, rather than single experiments, collaborations, and projects. Using a qualitative research approach, empirical data was collected by shadowing City of Stockholm staff members, while also conducting semi-structured interviews, participatory observations, and document studies. The thesis comprises four research articles: three using the City of Stockholm as an empirical case of a municipality engaged in experimental governance, and one that develops theoretical insights using examples from Stockholm. The first article provides a discussion of municipal innovation approaches and their influence of institutional logics. The second article is about municipal functions related to experiments, and how these functions challenge the local government. The third article examines the work of experiments and partnerships in policy and practice from a legitimacy perspective. The fourth article explores the institutional capacity for translating innovation actions from high-profile urban development projects into regular processes of the municipality.

The results provide new knowledge about public actors and urban experimentation, while also providing practical insights that are relevant to stakeholders who engage in urban experiments. Specifically, the thesis reveals the challenges that municipalities face in embracing experiments while also ensuring and developing procedures for legitimacy. It also highlights the tensions of introducing new logics and roles for public authorities in a changing governance environment. The findings point towards the need for a more nuanced understanding of practices of experimental governance, and the development of permanent organisational structures and cultures to support and steer these practices. There is also a need for organisational procedures to ensure legitimacy, related to both input in terms of transparency, accountability and equality, and output in terms of results and effectiveness, with a capacity to implement the results. By meeting these needs, municipalities can harness the opportunities of experimental governance to serve the public good.