The Co-City Cycle

The Co-City Cycle

The observation and analysis of more than 400 policies and projects enabling co-creation, co- production, and co-governance of urban assets and services in more than 130 cities ( led us to identify five design principles and a legal and financial toolbox to create partnerships between the urban commons and the public, private, knowledge, social sectors (the so-called quintuple helix). These examples include institutional commons-based arrangements from the scale of the individual resource to the entire city as the resource, and consequently the policies and platforms that enable those experiments become more complex. All in all, our observations and study of the examples show that there are emerging new ways of innovating and supporting new ways to co-create, co-produce and co-manage urban shared resources at various scales.

However, the process used to arrive at some of these experiments and ways that they can be replicated within a particular local context differ greatly. Based on our experiences working in Italian cities and observing work carried out in other cities developing experiments through similar approaches and policies, we codified a project/policy cycle by which interested cities or single actors can collectively undertake to experiment a commons-based approach to face any urban challenge and to apply it to a range of urban assets and services. We call this the Co-City Cycle.

The Co-City Cycle is composed of six phases: knowing, mapping, practicing, prototyping, testing and modeling.

Figure 1 Infographic Co City process (or policy cycle)

The first phase of the protocol, knowing, is aimed at fostering through cheap talking the identification of potential urban commons and the emerging of an active community through dialogues with key interlocutors in the city (scholars, activists, experts, practitioners). Findings on cheap talk in the study of the commons (Ostrom 2009; Poteete et al. 2010) show that it favors cooperation. The act of listening and acquiring knowledge from local actors through face-to-face, informal and pressures-free communication activity is the key activity of this phase. In the Co-City cycle, the cheap talking is realized through discussions and co-working sessions organized in informal settings with experts, key testimonials of NGOs or social enterprises, activists and practitioners active in the city for the urban commons, experts and scholars of relevant areas (urban planning, service design, communication, economic sustainability, governance). The output is the identification of existing or potential urban commons and communities active in the city to realize an overview/picture of the existing practices and start stressing the attention on specific urban areas that could be potentially object of the experimentation.

Next is the mapping/calling phase which develops in a twofold direction: analogic (or offline) and digital (online or e-mapping). The main tools of this phase include fieldwork activities in the relevant area from which information gleaned in the cheap talking phase is employed to begin to map potential urban commons. Starting from them, the mapping process goes deeply in order to understand the characteristics of the urban context in order to design and prototype appropriate governance tools later on in the process and to select an area of experimentation. This phase might also include the use of tools developed in previous applied and experimental research on the urban commons, such as ethnographic work, as well as active field observation and exploratory interviews or surveys. It can also include the creation of a collaborative digital platform as a tool for disseminating information and engaging the community. The mapping phase provides a visualization of urban commons through relevant civic initiatives and self-organization experiences and the output is the identification of the most appropriate areas where to conduct the experimentation.

The third phase, the practicing phase, is experimental in nature. At the heart of this phase there is a “collaboration camp” where synergies are created between emerging commons projects and local authorities. Collaborative actors are identified from various sectors from the quintuple helix who are willing to participate in co-working sessions organized to identify possible synergies and alignment between projects and relevant actors that might culminate in a “collaboration day” which might take the form of placemaking events—e.g. micro-regeneration interventions, creation of a neighborhood community garden – as a leverage to make the proactive communities emerge and start test and prepare the actions for start of the co-design process.

The fourth phase, the prototyping phase, focuses on governance innovation. In this phase, participants and policymakers reflect on the mapping and practicing phases to extract the specific characteristics and needs of the community served. This phase also foresees the realization of co- design prototypes to solve the problems identified in the previous phases.

The fifth phase is the testing phase, that also includes evaluation. In this phase, the governance/policy prototype is tested through implementation, monitored and evaluated. The evaluation has both qualitative and quantitative metrics to assess. The evaluation is mainly aimed at measuring whether the implementation of the prototype is consistent with the design principles and objectives identified throughout the process by the different participants, similar to the ex post policy analysis that is aimed at determining to what extent it has performed as expected. (Wu & al. 2018, 124/128). Of course, evaluation methods cannot be copied and pasted uncritically. It is important to adopt the evaluation methods and techniques to the local conditions and the peculiarities of policy tools for urban co-governance. The evaluation was first tested in the Co-Bologna process. The evaluation was focused on the implementation of the Bologna Regulation, that indeed has to be considered a prototype also according to its article 35. The evaluation was carried from October 2016 until May 2017. The unit of analysis are 280 pacts of collaboration signed under the Regulation from March 2014 to December 2016. It was based on both quantitative and qualitative methods and consisted of three steps: 1) qualitative and quantitative coding of the pacts’ text 2) Survey for analyzing democratic responsiveness of the Regulation, addressing the civic signatories of the pacts 3) confirmation of the results and deepening of analysis through group interviews/focus groups with a respondents’ sample. On the basis of the results of this evaluation the City of Bologna as well as any other city which adopted a similar piece of regulation could transform the 2014 prototype regulation into a model regulation. Therefore, the utilization of the evaluation in the Co City cycle is that of policy learning (Dunlop, 2017) of two types: social learning, involving different types of actors from inside and outside governments and existing policy subsystem, in this case the actors of the quintuple helix of urban governance of innovation) and government learning, that involves reviews of program behavior by government actors and is aimed at improving the means by which certain policies are administered (Wu & al. 2018, 132-135).

Finally, the modeling phase, where the governance output prototyped and evaluated in light of the first implementation adapted to the legal and institutional framework of the city in order to ensure the balance with the institutional and legal urban ecosystem. This phase is realized through the study of urban norms and relevant regulations and administrative acts and through dialogue with civil servants and policy makers. This is an experimental phase involving perhaps the suspension of previous regulatory rules, the altering of bureaucratic processes, and the drafting of new policies which might also have a sunset clause and then a re-evaluation period. It can also involve the establishment of external or internal offices or support infrastructure in the city to support the policies and the “commoning” across the city.

The Right to the Co-City

Christian Iaione, LabGov Faculty Director, published a new study “The Right To the Co-city” on the Italian Journal of Public Law, Volume 9, Issue 1, 2017, p. 80.

This study is an effort to contribute to the current urban studies debate on the way to conceptualize the city by advancing a rights-based approach and to suggest that to build such vision one needs to reconceive the city as a commons, which is to say that the city serves as an infrastructure enabling the “pooling” of city inhabitants actions, energies, resources and the cooperation between city inhabitants and other four urban actors thereby embedding a “quintuple helix” or “pentahelix” approach in the governance design of the city. Part I articulates the most prominent visions or paradigms of the city of the 21st century and the “metaphors” that are currently used to conceptualize the city. From an interdisciplinary perspective, this part then discusses some complications and emerging key points that deserve further reflection. In Part II, the article argues that a rights-based paradigm or vision in the conceptualization of the city is emerging. It does so through the analysis of urban laws and policies adopted in exemplary case studies such as Naples and Barcelona, on one side, and Bologna and Turin, on the other side. Two main rights-based approaches seem to emerge: the rebel city model and the co-city model. In Part III, to better define this fourth urban paradigm and in particular the second approach, a focus on the key concept of commons and a review of the main bodies of literature is provided which are key to carve out the concept of “pooling” as a form of cooperation that encompasses both sharing of congestible resources to avoid scarcity and collaboration around non congestible, constructed resources to generate abundance. Building on the existing literature of a particular subset of studies on infrastructure commons, the concept of pooling is extracted from the observation of how pooling as a demand-side strategy can both expand or leverage the idle “capacity” of an infrastructure to avoid congestion and at the same time generate abundance. Pooling is particular effective in explaining the main features of a peculiar vision of the rights-based city, the co-city approach, ultimately envisioning the city as an enabling infrastructure for social and economic pooling. Part IV offers concluding remarks and proposes the idea of the “right to the co-city” to build a body of urban law and policies advancing “urban rights to pooling” as a key legal tool to structure a commons-oriented interpretation of the fourth vision of the city, the rights-based approach.


The full-text article is available at 

Commons in the political space, for a post capitalist transition – The Interviews

What are relations between commons and politics?

In the last few years, the commons have enriched themselves with their entry into political institutions at the level of states, large cities or regions, whether in Bolivia, Ecuador, Spain, Britain, France, Italy, and elsewhere in the world. How can this encounter inspire us? How does the commons paradigm fit with other proposals for a post-capitalist alternative, such as de-growth, social and solidarity economy, political ecology, open cooperativism, and much more? How to avoid the “commons washing” and recovery of the project and the values ​​of the commons in the dominant discourse?

The video “Les communes dans l’espace politique”, produced by Remix The Commons, is based on workshops and interviews conducted at the World Social Forum and at the GSEF World Forum on Social Economy in Montreal August and September 2016.

Professor Christian Iaione, LabGov coordinator, was between the experts and practitioners interviewed in this occasion. In his speech he touches on different topics: from the experiences that are taking place in numerous Italian cities around the urban commons to the importance of creating a stronger network of cities committed to addressing emerging urban issues; from the understanding of the value of experimentation to development of the capacity to address failure; from the importance to involve all local actors in the care and regeneration of the urban commons to the exigency of rethinking the role of the State and of the local administration.

Listen to the complete interview here:

The videos originally appeared on the Remix the Commons website.

Agenda RE-CYCLE – Proposte per reinventare la città

Agenda RE-CYCLE – Proposte per reinventare la città

Between 1999 and 2012 around 300 million cubic meters of new constructions have been created in Italy. Following the crash of the real estate market in 2007, this construction boom resulted in the presence of an enormous amount of unfinished and unused building in the territories which were hit by the economic crisis. We can count at least 6 million empty houses and 10 million vacant properties; 20 million square meters of railways areas fallen (or falling) into disuse and around 5 thousand kilometers of unused railways; around 20 thousand kilometers of roads laying in abandonment, out of which 2600 are not used; and additionally, we can’t even begin count the number of abandoned stores and industrial hangars.

Such numbers call for a serious reflection. This is exactly what the book “Agenda RE-CYCLE, Proposte per reinventare la città”, published by Il Mulino, does. Based on a research developed at national level and involving legal experts, economists and city planners, the book aims to study the possibility to reduce the normative obstacles that prevent or make the regeneration of architectural and urban resources difficult. This contributes to the creation of an agenda of policies and actions which could foster new life-cycles for real estate and urban vacant assets.

Professor Christian Iaione, LabGov co-founder, contributed to this knowledge creation process through the article “La città collaborative: la governance dei beni comuni per l’urbanistica collaborata e collaborativa”, in which he speaks about the possibility of transforming urban governance and creating collaborative cities through collaborative city planning and collaborative governance of the urban commons.

The book can be purchased here in its Italian version.



“Tra il 1999 e il 2012, e poi con minore intensità fino a oggi, sono stati realizzati in Italia circa trecento milioni di metri cubi all’anno di nuove costruzioni: un boom edilizio che, dopo il crollo del mercato immobiliare del 2007, ha lasciato sui territori investiti dalla crisi economica un’enorme quantità di opere incompiute o inutilizzate. Si contano almeno sei milioni di case vuote su più di dieci milioni di immobili sfitti; venti milioni di metri quadrati di aree ferroviarie dismesse o in dismissione; circa cinquemila chilometri di linee ferroviarie non in uso; ventimila chilometri di strade in abbandono, di cui duemilaseicento inutilizzati; non si conta, infine, il numero degli esercizi commerciali e dei capannoni industriali abbandonati. Sono numeri che impongono una riflessione seria. Ce la propone questo libro, frutto di una ricerca nazionale che ha coinvolto giuristi, economisti e urbanisti, con l’obiettivo di studiare le effettive possibilità di ridurre gli ostacoli di carattere normativo che impediscono o rendono difficoltose le azioni tese a favorire il riciclo dei beni architettonici e urbani: un utile contributo per la costruzione di un’agenda di politiche e azioni che favoriscano nuovi cicli di vita del patrimonio immobiliare e urbano abbandonato”.

All’interno del libro è possibile trovare il contributo del Professor Christian Iaione, co-fondatore di LabGov, che con l’articolo “La città collaborative: la governance dei beni comuni per l’urbanistica collaborata e collaborativa”, propone una nuova visione della città e della governance urbana basata su collaborazione e cura dei beni comuni.

Il libro può essere acquistato qui.

“Value in the Commons Economy” Report

“Value in the Commons Economy” Report

“What is at the heart of the problems erupting worldwide? Is anything good emerging from these multiple crises? Can a new system grow from within the old one? Is it already here, visible and thriving? These questions are addressed by Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Niaros in the report, “Value in the Commons Economy”, co-published by Heinrich Böll Foundation and the P2PFoundation. The authors’ main thesis describes the ‘value crisis’ affecting our current world as a sign of an underlying transformation in our ‘value system’. Society is shifting from a system based on value created in a market system (through labor and capital) to one which recognizes broader value streams. These streams are experienced as ‘contributions’ to structures based on the co-construction of shared resources, also known as ‘commons’. While this new system of value creation and distribution still operates within the mainstream value orthodoxy today, the Value in the Commons Economy report emphasizes how pioneering communities are working on expanding the new system from within, and building the potential to eventually break free of those confines.”

The complete report is available here.

La quintupla elica come approccio alla governance dell’innovazione sociale

The article La quintupla elica come approccio alla governance dell’innovazione sociale, written by Professor Christian Iaione together with Elena De Nictolis, was published by the Brodolini Foundation within their research and studies publication “I luoghi dell’Innovazione Aperta: Modelli di Sviluppo Territoriale ed Inclusione Sociale”. The complete publication is available here (in Italian).

In this article Iaione and De Nictolis present the “Collaborative City” (CO-City) urban co-governance framework as a way to facilitate collaborative and open knowledge production and social innovation processes within the city. A paradigm change is in fact needed if we want living labs or open innovation spaces to truly function as instruments of local social and economical innovation.

The CO-City paradigm is a co-governance model based on three levels: sharing, pooling and polycentrism (Iaione, 2016; Iaione e Cannavò, 2015). This model incorporates a vision of the city as a place of material and immaterial production that, following the principles and the method drawn by the Economics Nobel Prize Elinor Ostrom, functions through local knowledge and through cooperation between the different actors around a common resource – which in our case is not anymore a natural or cognitive resource, as envisaged by Ostrom, but becomes instead the city as a whole and all the resources it contains. Therefore the CO-city model builds on Ostrom’s teaching while also giving space to a inter and supra-local dimension and while accounting for a major social and regulatory complexity”.

This generates an approach which aims at building a “urban institutional and productive ecosystem composed by co-governance platforms built around the city’s commons goods”. Furthermore, the CO-City approach further elaborates on the triple helix governance model and develops a more complex and precise version, defined as quintuple helix model, which identifies the five actors of polycentric governance. These actors are public institutions, cognitive institutions, the private sector, civil society organizations and  active citizens (what we can call the un-organized public).


L’articolo La quintupla elica come approccio alla governance dell’innovazione sociale, scritto dal Professor Christian Iaione assieme a Elena De Nictolis, è stato pubblicato all’interno della pubblicazione “I luoghi dell’Innovazione Aperta: Modelli di Sviluppo Territoriale ed Inclusione Sociale” della Fondazione Brodolini. La pubblicazione è disponibile qui nella sua forma completa.

In questo articolo si evidenzia la necessità di un cambio di paradigma nella governance urbana, fondamentale se vogliamo facilitare processi di innovazione sociale e di co-produzione di conoscenza all’interno della città. “L’approccio della “Città Collaborativa” (o, per brevità, “CO- Città”) tende a realizzare questo obiettivo ed è basato su un modello di co-governance urbana a tre livelli: condivisione, collaborazione e policentricità (Iaione, 2016; Iaione e Cannavò, 2015)”. Questo approccio costruisce sulla lezione del premio Nobel per l’economia Elinor Ostrom, la cui visione fa leva sulla conoscenza locale e sulla cooperazione fra diversi attori o utenti di una risorsa comune, ma arriva a prendere in considerazione non solo i beni naturali e cognitivi, su cui la Ostrom si concentrava, ma anche la città in quanto tale e tutte le risorse in essa presenti. Per questo il modello CO-Città, sviluppato tenendo conto della maggiore complessità che caratterizza l’ambiente urbano, identifica cinque diversi attori fondamentali per generare forme di “governance a quintupla elica”. Tali attori sono le istituzioni pubbliche, le istituzioni cognitive e il privato, già previsti dal modello a tripla elica, a cui si aggiunge l’importante componente della società civile, organizzata (associazioni) e non (cittadini attivi, innovatori sociali, city makers). L’aggiunta di questi attori  fa si che l’innovazione generi imprese e istituzioni più inclusive e sostenibili anche dal punto di vista sociale, ambientale e culturale.