Bologna Lab

Schermata 2014-12-18 alle 19.06.26


CO-Bologna is the main field of experimentation of the CO-Cities project, a research project aimed at developing, testing and adapting to the urban environment the design principles for the governance of the commons located by the Economics’ Nobel prize Elinor Ostrom to the urban context.

Since 2011, the City of Bologna initiated a policy process to introduce collaboration as amethodology for governing the urban commons. After two years of field experimentation in three city neighborhoods, in the context of the “City as a commons”1 project supported by the Fondazione del Monte di Bologna and Ravenna, the City of Bologna adopted a regulatory framework, the Bologna Regulation on civic collaboration for the urban commons, in February. The central regulatory tool of the Bologna Regulation on Public Collaboration for the Urban Commons is the pact of collaboration, through which the city and citizens (informal groups, NGO’s, private entities) agree on an intervention of care and regeneration of an urban commons (green space, abandoned buildings, squares). Since the approval of the Regulation, 280 pacts of collaboration have been signed.

The second phase of the Bologna Collaborative City program, the CO-Bologna process, aiming at applying the same design principles of the governance of the urban commons to other local public policies started in 2015. CO-Bologna, an open pact of collaboration between the City of Bologna and the  Foundation Del  Monte  of  Bologna  and Ravenna  and operated under the scientific coordination of LabGov (The  Laboratory for the  Governance  of  the  Commons) builds  upon the experience of the Regulation for the urban commons and intends to transform City government into an institutional  ecosystem  based on public-commons/people/community partnerships  through the quintuple  helix approach (which implies  the  involvement  through loosely coupled systems  of  the local  private  entrepreneurs, the  knowledge  institutions, the  civil  society organizations) to enable collective action in the city and the birth of institutions based on the three dimensions of urban co-governance: sharing, collaboration and polycentricity.

The CO-Bologna project consists in the experimentation of co-design of governance institutions in three fieldworks, corresponding to three  city area  that  mirrors  the  pillars  of  a  CO-city;  Pilastro (making together, urban commons)  Bolognina  (living together, social  innovation) and Croce del Biacco (growing together, collaborative economy district).

Another core pillar of the CO-Bologna process is the establishment of an Office for Civic Imagination. The Office for Civic Imagination is a policy innovation lab, structured as a co-working area internal to the  municipal  administration, through which the civil servants can work together in order to find innovative solution to common problems and implement the principle of civic collaboration. Finally, the CO-Bologna process also includes the evaluation of the Bologna Regulation, in order to understand the impact of the public policy on the urban democracy. The evaluation is indeed one of the crucial phase of the CO-city protocol, that  describe the cycle of a collaborative public policy to implement  the city as a commons. Evaluation is conceived as an intermediate phase between prototyping and modeling, that is realized in order to enrich the understanding of the evolving of  the  policy process  and introduce  appropriates  corrections. This  methodology is  coherent  with the  principles  of experimentation and adaptiveness  as  crucial  characteristic  of  an innovative  collaborative  policy making at the urban level.

The field experimentations 

The experimentations share a commitment to the idea of the city as a commons and are rooted in the  belief  that  a  paradigm  shift  in the  way we  think about  cities  is  needed. Instead of  law  and bureaucratic  programs  being independent  of  the  urban culture  within a  city constructed on the principle of separation, it is fundamental to develop a culture of cooperation based on communing. This policy has the double ambition of coordinating different projects of urban regeneration, social innovation and collaborative economy while also working on the creation prototypes that will allow to strengthen the dialogue between all the collaborative forces active in the city. The CO-Bologna process intends to transform city government into an institutional ecosystem based and on the three dimensions of urban co-governance: sharing, collaboration and polycentricity5.

The engine of the CO-Bologna process is the technical unit for civic imagination, the “Polytechnic of the commons” composed by civil servants from the City of Bologna and other cities and experts of  collaborative  governance    and urban commons  This  technical  unit  in addition to having taken part in the process of mapping the collaborative energies and urban communities already existing had  also the  fundamental  role  of  guiding  and overseeing  the  experimentation processes. Such processes have been structured around three sites, each one representing one of the three pillars of the  CO-City  and corresponding to area  of  the  neighborhoods selected:   making together (collaborative city making), living together (social innovation) and growing together (collaborative economy). Bolognina, Pilastro  and Croce  del  Biacco, that  consists  in conducting co-design processes  in three  Bologna  neighborhoods  in order to develop prototypes  of  local/neighborhood- based institutions, characterized by adaptiveness  and diversity, to enable  collective  action for the urban commons.


The Bolognina experimentation field, supported by Federcasa, is located in an area characterized by exemplar experiences in the care and regeneration of the commons and in the field of social and cultural innovation, and sets for itself the objective of generating connections between the already existing projects, increasing their potential and offering new occasions of collaboration in the use of space. The ultimate goal is the creation of a neighborhood direction, on the model of the French Règies  des  quartiers  et  des  territoire,  based on a  public-private-  community partnership formula, and the path will be modelled on the successful experience of Pilastro 2016. The next action will address the living spaces and will activate a co-design path involving two typologies of apartment buildings  (public  and private) with the  aim  of  locating collaborative  forms  of  management  of common spaces and services. The  reflection on private  spaces  will  be  followed by one  on public  spaces, thanks  to the involvement of businessmen and subjects who are active in the innovation field. This process will aim at sharing common initiatives to promote the area, presenting new proposals for the care of the community and identifying actions  that  can answer to the  needs  expressed by the  locals. The process  enjoys  the  support  of  Federcasa, that  considers  it  an  experimentation useful  to bring innovation in housing policies at national level. It is coordinated by LabGov and benefits from the collaboration of ACER Bologna, ASPPI, the neighborhood Navile and from the competences of Kilowatt e CBS-Abito.

Thus far CO-Bologna had contributed to the creation of a Community Association composed by the businessmen from the artists’ streets of Bolognina, while in the long run it aims at supporting the local actors in the construction of a Urban District for the Improvement of Bolognina (DUMBO). The  text  of  the  bylaws  of  the  community association, named “Committee  of  Bolognan’s  Artists streets” is available here.

A detailed account of the process, including the lab’s report and the governance outputs available here.



In Pilastro the  CO-Bologna  experimentation built  on the  strategic  plan “Pilastro  2016”,  a  project promoted  by  Bologna’s  municipality  within  the  framework  of  the  public  policy  “Collaborare  Ë Bologna,” supported by the Emilia Romagna Region and the Fondazione del Monte di Bologna e Ravenna and is coordinated by the cooperative Camelot – Officine Cooperative.  The main goal of the Pilastro fieldwork is to constitute a public private commons partnership for the community led commons  –  based  neighborhood  development.  This  result  might  be  achieved  also  through  the constitution of a neighborhood institution, a community cooperative that includes all the actors of the quintuple  helix  of  innovation,  involving  social  institutional  and  economic  local  actors.  The community cooperative  will  be  the  ground of  a  public-private-commons  partnership  for the neighborhood development. Other local  agencies  are  going to be  built  to do the  same  work in almost every neighborhood or district of the city with the help of the Office for civic imagination.

The  objective  of  Pilastro  2016  is  to  generate  a  connection  between  the  high  social  and  cultural capital existing in the area and the economic needs emerging in the North-Eastern part of the city. Within the framework of Pilastro 2016 the group “Mastro Pilastro” was created. The group offers neighborhood services to the residents and is composed by inhabitants of Pilastro aged between 18 and 30 and selected between those who are in search for a job. The project aims at bringing together the social, cultural and entrepreneurial capital and at matching it with the economic vocation of the neighborhood.  Within  this  field  CO-Bologna  has  contributed  to  the  birth  of  the  first neighborhood  actor  based  on  the  public-private-community  institutionalized  partnership,  which takes  the  name  of  local  development  agency  “Pilastro  Nord-Est  District  Local  Development Agency“,  constituted in  March  2016,  as a  new  local  agency for local  development. The  founding member are  the  City of  Bologna, the  San Donato Neighborhood, ACER Bologna, the  bank Emil Banca, the Agricultural  Center of  Bologna, the  Meraville  Mall  Consortium  and Unipol Foundation. The Agency is an Open association, constituted as the result of the path paved by the Pilastro 2016 process  and it  will  also be  a  founding member of  the  Pilastro Neighborhood Community Cooperative. The  Statute  of  the  Agency is  available  here

CO-Bologna  has  also  activated  a  co-design  process,  from  January  through  June  2016,  organized with  the  supervision  of  professional  facilitators  from  the  social  enterprise  Social  Seed  and  the support of the Camelot Cooperative. The aim of the  laboratory was to facilitate the Mastro Pilastro group  to  achieve  the  construction  of  an urban  community  cooperative.  Through  CO-Bologna  the Mastro Pilastro group has organized itself in the new “Urban Community Association”. The output of this process are the bylaws and a business plan model of the Urban Community Association. A detailed account of the co-design process and the outputs, are available here.

Croce del Biacco

Croce  del  Biacco is  a  public  housing cluster with a  high percentage  of  foreigners  inhabitants. In close proximity to Croce del Biacco there is the Bologna main migrants’ first hospitality center, the Mattei Regional Hub. So, there is a FabLab and a network of cultural and creative spaces in Piazza dei  Colori, as  well  as  a  pact  of  collaboration in a  nearby area. The  CO-Bologna  project  is  now leveraging both the Incredibol policy and the Bologna Regulation to involve the migrants and the people from the public housing compound and the Hub of the migrants in creating a collaborative economy district in which they can all manage the public space through the pact of collaboration and at  the  same  time  produce, manage, and manufacture  by working in the  FabLab or in those spaces. Croce del Biacco was already the object of an urban development city plan, “Bella Fuori 3”, supported by Fondazione  del  Monte  and focused on the  regeneration of  a  central  square  for the public housing cluster, Piazza dei Colori.

The  CO-Bologna experimentation that took place in Croce del Biacco was focused on providing the community with the support needed to design a form of governance that could allow to manage a  collaborative  economy and social  innovation district. The  process  that  CO-Bologna  activated intended to involve a wide range of actors in a co-design path regarding Piazza dei Colori. Among the actors we can find the local associations and the residents that signed the Collaboration pact of Croce del Biacco, the social innovator selected through the Incredibol call (a project promoted by the city of Bologna, Incredibol is a public call for grant to support cultural and creative enterprises) the migrants hosted in the Via Mattei hub. The main output of the co-design laboratory, conducted with the support of a professional facilitator that took place between June and October 2016, is the Preliminary Protocol  of  Collaboration, that  unifies  the  community of  the  lab participants  around common objectives, values, timing and actions.

A  detailed report  of  the  process  and the  full  text  of  the  Preliminary Protocol  of  Collaboration is available here.


Scientific research and dissemination

The  field experimentation conducted in different  urban areas  and the  efforts  done  to support  the public  administration in implementing the  regulation and in establishing civic  collaboration as  a design principles  for local  public  policies  are  only a  component  of  the  CO-Bologna  project. Co- Bologna is, as a matter of fact, a scientific research project characterized by the ambitious goal of contributing to the definition of international standards for the creation of tools for the governance of the urban commons.

Because of its scientific vocation CO-Bologna has devoted countless energies to the creation anddiffusion of  knowledge  on the  urban commons  and on the  governance  principles  envisaged to regulate them. This cognitive acceleration process generated a series of conferences and seminars aimed at producing broader knowledge of these topics and at stimulating a confrontation between all actors involved in the field.

It is within this framework that the first international conference on the urban commons, titled The city as a commons, which took place in November 2015. The event, organized under the aegis of IASC  (International  Association for the  Study of  the  Commons), brought  together around 200 participants coming from all over the world and sharing a deep commitment to the study and active and advocacy of the urban commons.  Within this continuous research process CO-Bologna has also generated important seminars for the dissemination of  the  project  outputs  and to promote  further discussion on the  project’s  topic between experts  (academics, professionals, practitioners, policy makers, civil  servants), which allowed for a  deeper exploration of  the  role  of  collaboration and urban cooperativism. The first dissemination event was organized in November 2015, with the above mentioned IASC Conference “The city as a Commons”.

During the following year other  dissemination events have been organized at national level. On March 22th 2016 the  seminar Bologna collaborative  city  –  The  Regulation on Public Collaboration for  the  Urban Commonstook place in Bologna and allowed for an important moment of reflection on the Regulation and on its consequences. The event aimed at assessing the state of the art of the Regulation’s implementation from a juridical-administrative point of view. On April the 26th 2016 a second the  conference  The cooperative  city  for  peripheries’ development”  took place, an event which brought different experts to reflect on the role that commons and collaboration can play in processes of urban regeneration, in fighting inequalities, in social innovation and in community development.




Regulation on collaboration between citizens and the city for the care and regeneration of urban commons


Patto di collaborazione aperto tra Comune di Bologna e Fondazione del Monte di Bologna e Ravenna “PROGRAMMA CO-BOLOGNA”


Pacte de collaboration ouvert entre Commune de Bologne et Fondazione del Monte di Bologna e Ravenna “PROGRAMME CO-BOLOGNA”