Fostering research collaborations on co-creation for sustainability

Fostering research collaborations on co-creation for sustainability

by Wai-Fung Lam and Vivian H Y Chu


The studies of co-creation and commoning emphasise the value of bottom-up initiatives for sustainability.  Co-creation research examines cross-sector collaboration with a focus on bottom-up innovation.  Since 2022, the Centre for Civil Society and Governance (CCSG) at the University of Hong Kong embarked on an exciting journey to study co-creation with the “GOGREEN” project ( led by Professor Jacob Torfing at Roskilde University.  The project involves researchers from across the world, altogether contributing thirty-six case reports for comparative analysis driven by the mission to better understand the governance factors supporting co-creation for local sustainability problems.

Earlier in May, we met with forty scholars in Sorø, Denmark during the GOGREEN Partner Conference organised by the Roskilde team.  Writing workshops were filled with insightful discussions about cross-case findings as we begin to work on a series of papers for a special issue in Policy & Politics and book chapters for an edited volume.  Our team is working on a paper that focuses on comparing the characteristics of facilitative leadership across co-creation processes that are led by different types of actors.

The conference ended with a discussion of the prospect of developing a global platform for researchers and practitioners interested in local partnerships and co-creation for sustainability which sparked much excitement amongst all partners.

If you are passionate about the potential of co-creation, check out the GOGREEN research protocol and theoretical framework at


Researchers flew to Denmark from different parts of the world to attend the GOGREEN Partner Conference.

Governance for co-creating sustainable solutions

Governance for co-creating sustainable solutions

by Prof. Lam Wai-Fung and Dr. Vivian H Y Chu, Centre for Civil Society and Governance,

The University of Hong Kong


Studying the governance of institutional arrangements for collective action, the literature on commoning and co-creation both build on the premise that local partnerships are important levers for change.  While research on commoning examines the ongoing process of the governance of commons and identifies principles of institutional design for robust governance of commons, research on co-creation focuses more specifically on a form of collaborative governance which facilitates bottom-up innovation.

In many parts of the world, different actors have engaged in co-creation to develop and implement green transition solutions.  The Centre for Civil Society and Governance at the University of Hong Kong has been invited to be a research partner in a collective effort to study co-creation projects from a global comparative perspective led by Roskilde University, called the GOGREEN project.  Alongside research partners from 28 countries, we have traced the impact of different governance factors on the co-creation process and its outputs and outcomes based on the analysis of policy documents, interviews, on-site observations and mini-surveys.

The Centre for Civil Society and Governance contributes a case study examining the co-creation process for the revitalization of Hong Kong’s Northeastern New Territories (NENT) spanning a ten-year period (2013-2023).  The most important governance factors for the co-creation process identified in this case were inclusion and empowerment, interdependence between the various stakeholders and facilitative leadership that was played by different representative figures.

In relation to the Centre’s research on co-creation, a seminar titled “Leadership and Governance for Co-creating Sustainable Solutions” was organized in March featuring Professor Rosemary O’Leary from University of Kansas, Professor Jacob Torfing and Professor Eva Sørensen, both lead researchers of the GOGREEN project from Roskilde University.


A seminar on “Leadership and Governance for Co-creating Sustainable Solutions” was held at The University of Hong Kong on 22nd March.


As the first speaker, Professor Torfing opened with the importance of robust governance for co-creation to address ‘super-wicked’ problems.  Professor Sørensen then shared her research on interactive leadership, arguing for the need to understand the influence of political culture on political leadership styles.  This is followed by Professor O’Leary’s presentation of her findings on why local government managers collaborate and the common personal attributes of those who do.

Professor Lam Wai-Fung, Director of Centre for Civil Society and Governance, moderated an inspiring panel discussion between the speakers and discussants.


Professor He Shenjing and Professor Andrew Wong, from the University of Hong Kong were inspired by the presentations and shared the challenges they have identified in governing co-creation initiatives and for government managers to work across organizational boundaries in the local context.  The case study of collaborative rural revitalization in Hong Kong was also discussed as an example of how some of these challenges could be overcome by different actors assuming leadership roles at different stages of the co-creation process.


Professor Rosemary O’Leary, Professor Jacob Torfing and Professor Eva Sørensen visited Lai Chi Wo village in Hong Kong which was heavily featured in the collaborative rural revitalisation case study in the GOGREEN project.

Lessons in experimentalism and collaboration from rural communities: building sustainable urban-rural social-ecological systems

Lessons in experimentalism and collaboration from rural communities: building sustainable urban-rural social-ecological systems

By Dr Winnie Law and Dr Jessica M. Williams


Rural decline is a pressing matter for rural communities and for the continued strength and vibrancy of urban areas.  Building sustainable and resilient urban-rural systems requires increasing collaborative approaches between communities and finding innovative solutions to maintain functional and mutually-beneficial connectivity.  The APAC Initiative for Regional Impact (AIRI), initiated by the Centre for Civil Society and Governance at The University of Hong Kong, the HKU Hong Kong Lab, has adopted the “network of networks” collaborative approach and established a regional consortium of university intermediaries to create ties and facilitate revitalisation actions within and between communities at the local through to regional levels.

As part of this initiative, the university intermediaries and change fellows, recruited from civil society, conducted a knowledge exchange tour in January 2024.   They witnessed inspirational examples in Bangkok of rural communities coming together to co-create and innovate to restore, revitalise and safeguard their communities and values.  The Organic Farming Group, in Nong Bua Sub-district, established community rules between farming groups to enable standard- and protocol-setting for participatory and green production.  This facilitates the group in experimenting to create their own markets and products and build long-term relationships with their broader community.  The Thaiberng Folk Museum demonstrates a socio-economic revival model of traditional cultural practices, providing an alternative source of revenue and social support for the community, whose land was repossessed due to a nearby dam, and a retreat for urban dwellers.  In another example, the Hua Takhe community, using a local school as the hub, has organised to proactively revive their town, which was destroyed in a fire, in an environmentally conscious manner while re-instating itself as a culturally attractive and sustainable alternative to over-crowded and resource-intensive floating markets for the wider community.  These examples helped inspire the AIRI fellows and the university intermediaries, providing lessons into how communities can converge, overcome adversity and innovate, creating more sustainable and resilient rural societies, while also contributing to broader rural/urban systems.


Demonstration of traditional weaving practices at Thaiberng Folk Museum.


The HKU team and change fellows from civil society in Hong Kong, part of the HKU Hong Kong Lab, undertook a knowledge exchange trip to Bangkok to learn how communities can collaborate to co-create and innovative solutions to rural decline and so support resilient rural/urban systems.

Building collaborations at the peri-urban interface: brokering to support community-led revitalisation

Building collaborations at the peri-urban interface: brokering to support community-led revitalisation

By Williams, J.M., Chu, V.H.Y., Lam. W.F., and Law, W.W.Y.

The Centre for Civil Society and Governance, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, China


Worldwide, rural areas are experiencing significant changes due to urbanisation and globalisation.  Many rural areas have experienced, often drastic, decline of populations and farmlands, the abandonment of rural housing and the degradation of public infrastructure and other services (Walser & Anderlik, 2004; Bjorna & Aarsaether, 2009; Stead, 2011; McGreevy, 2012; Li et al., 2014; Williams et al., 2021).  It is only more recently that the importance of revitalising rural areas due to their role in underpinning the development of sustainability models and ability to support societal health and wellbeing has been recognised (Williams et al. 2021).

Concurrent to the widespread decline of rural areas, rural spaces are becoming increasingly connected with urban areas due to the increasingly interconnected and globalised contemporary world.  The result is peri-urban space, which benefits from improved public infrastructure and access to a larger pool of skilled workers.  Meanwhile, however, the area’s natural resources and traditional livelihoods maybe eroded alongside its traditional governance systems, leaving rural resources vulnerable to pressures from urban processes (Singh & Narain 2019).

Revitalisation in this context is posited as a way to reverse rural decline through focusing on the creation and stimulation of opportunities to generate local rural incomes and jobs, while preserving and sustaining the dynamics and features that characterise rural life (Kenyon, 2008; Meyer, 2014).  This involves the maintenance, revival or transformation of traditional institutions that manage shared resource through improved management (Steiner & Fan 2019).  Consequently, these areas can be transformed into productive and sustainable localities, with communities able to collaboratively engage to leverage their position at the peri-urban interface.

To achieve sustainability in the peri-urban context, the challenges embedded within interactions between shifting social and economic processes and local contexts requires collaborative forms of governance.  In many cases, and as exemplified in our case study of the Lai Chi Wo (LCW) village in Hong Kong SAR, misconceptions regarding what revitalisation entails can impede progress.  Institutions, such as scientific, knowledge and educational institutions, have been identified as having the potential to act as a broker to safeguard and protect community interests, particularly in situations of power asymmetries (Foster & Iaione 2022).  In the LCW case, misconceptions were able to be addressed and dissolved through the actions of such a broker in the facilitation of collaborative governance and movement towards community self-governance.

Here, previous government policies relating to village zoning and country park boundaries failed to support the long-term development of rural villages.  The Small House Policy (1972), which is an open-ended policy that upholds the right of male Indigenous villages to build a house on land within their village at a concessionary premium once they reach 18 years old.  The increasing number of applicants and lack of planning permission, resulting in haphazard development and sprawl, have been the subject of increasing concerns (Hopkinson & Lei 2003).  The Country Parks Ordinance (1995) excludes village and agricultural land from country park boundaries, creating unprotected enclaves.  These are at risk from private development and the consequential loss of ecology and biodiversity (WWF 2014).  The LCW village is one such enclave, and so was the subject of arguments from green groups and conservationists wanting greater (environmental) zoning protection and villagers upholding their traditional rights.  In sum, nature conservation and human activities were perceived as conflicting agendas, making collaborative governance arrangements a challenge.

Consequently, for years the lack of consensus stymied attempts to restore or rejuvenate LCW.  LCW is a traditional Hakka village, with a 400yr long history, and once generated enough produce to sustain its few hundred villagers (Chick 2017).  The village upheld principles of sustainable and wise-use of natural resources for self-sufficiency and so possessed a close interdependent relationship with the environment.  This equilibrium broke down over the 1960s-70s, alongside the decline in the agricultural sector.  Its villagers emigrated overseas or to urban areas, leaving agricultural lands overgrown and buildings crumbling.  Notably, the social capital and cultural commons inherent to the village were at risk of being lost altogether.

In 2013, Sustainable Lai Chi Wo Programmes[1] (the programme) was launched.  The programme, led by The Centre for Civil Society and Governance at The University of Hong Kong (the programme team), provided an innovative model to break the development/conservation impasse and initiate community led collaborative governance.  In addition to replenishing social, cultural and ecological capital of the rural areas, the programme team took on the role of a broker, providing mediation and facilitated learning across the disparate groups (Jenkins-Smith & Sabatier 1994, Jenkins-Smith et al. 2014).  Arenas were co-created by the programme team and relevant stakeholders to foster trust-building, knowledge generation, collaborative learning and conflicts resolution (Hahn et al., 2006).  In particular, the programme team employed strategies of venue creation, issue (re)framing and knowledge co-production to build trust, align goals, mediate conflicts and balance power relations.  This allowed collaborations to form and progress, resulting in the community-led revitalisation of LCW (Chu et al. 2022).

During the programmes development, a period of scope (re-) definition was required to capture the differing objectives of the villages, green groups and government.  This was essential for establishing the basis of collaborations.  Through an iterative process of stakeholder meetings and engagement processes, issue re-framing was able to occur.  The programme reframed the differing visions so that they could all fall under the one co-created, comprehensive vision, with many participants reporting that such reframing positively changed their perception of sustainable living and rural community.  One villager stated that the “Programme has helped me appreciate the interdependence between human beings and the natural environment” (2017:29 in Chu et al. 2022).  Through oral history interviews and curation of art programmes that celebrate rural capital, the reframing emphasised the relationships between land and people embedded in the village.  As an example, statements expressed the desire to ‘revive the relationship between the land and the people’ by enhancing the pride and sense of belonging of the villagers, to maintain a ‘self-sustaining economy’ (Chang 2016).

The programme also built trust and joint understandings through creating and managing new venues in the form of new festive events, capacity building sessions and liaison meetings, alongside informal daily communications.  These venues provided neutral grounds for discussion between experts and those active on-the-ground, which contributes to knowledge exchange and learning (Hysing & Olsson 2008).  By allowing stakeholders to engage in constructive dialogue regarding the programme, the wider community become involved, providing them a voice in the programmes development.

Progress was also made in building a more integrated, self-sustaining village community through working to dissipate the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ beliefs commonly held by Indigenous villagers and those in urban areas.  Through constructive dialogue and co-developing social innovative solutions to rural issues, a neutral venue was created for the co-creation of a broader community of interest involved in rural revitalisation.  Alongside this shift, the villagers’ perception about the direction of development changed.  The previous imagination of an urbanisation-style development was supplanted by support for a collaborative approach to sustainable community development.  This was significant as previously some villagers believed developer-led development was the only alternative to desertion (Chu et al. 2022).

As a result of the broker, the LCW programme took a community-led and collaborative governance approach to revitalisation.  The result was the revival of agricultural land, a vibrant village and policy change that now embraces such projects, with the introduction of a new fund and organisation dedicated to rural revitalisation projects (Williams et al. 2020).  The broker was able to facilitate collaborations through its various strategies, resulting in the creation of new community co-governing the sustainable management of the village’s resources in a manner compatible with the modern world.


[1] Sustainable Lai Chi Wo: Living Water & Community Revitalization- An Agricultural-led Action, Engagement and Incubation Programme at Lai Chi Wo was initiated in 2013, followed by the HSBC Rural Sustainability programme in 2017.



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