CO-Mantova as the trigger for a co-cities movement

In Mantua what can become a “Co-Cities” movement moved its first steps.

CO-cities as a new urban and local governance model

Co-Mantova is a prototype of an institutionalizing process to run cities as a collaborative commons (see Jeremy Rifkin‘s definition) and therefore as “co-cities“. Co-cities should be based on collaborative governance of the commons (inspired by Elinor Ostrom‘s work) whereby urban, environmental, cultural, knowledge and digital commons are co-managed by the five actors of the collaborative governance – social innovators (i.e. active citizens, makers, digital innovators, urban regenerators, rurban innovators, etc.), public authorities, businesses, civil society organizations, knowledge institutions (i.e. schools, universities, cultural academies, etc.) – through an institutionalized public-private-people/community partnership. This partnership will give birth to a local p2p physical, digital and institutional platform with three main aims: living together (collaborative services), growing together (co-ventures), making together (co-production). The project is supported by the local Chamber of Commerce, the City, the Province, local ONGs, SMEs and knowledge institutions, such as the Mantua University Foundation and some local schools.

CO-Mantova builds on the experience developed by LabGov through the “City as a Commons project and the “Regolamento sulla collaborazione per i beni comuni urbani” (i.e. Regulation on collaboration for Urban Commons which greatly benefited from Sheila Foster’s work on urban commons) that LabGov contributed to draft for the City of Bologna at the end of that project. Principles and rules embedded in the regulation inspired the drafting of the CO-Mantova Collaborative Governance Pact (which is soon going to be translated into English), a “patto di collaborazione” for the territory.

Methodological process of creation of Co-Mantova as a co-city

The first action has been seeding social innovation through the launch of ideas seeding callCulture as a commons” to make the social innovators in Mantua emerge. Second step has been the co-design laboratory “Enterprises for the Commons“, an ideas camp where the seven main projects emerged through the call were cultivated and helped create synergies with each other and the city. The third phase has been the governance camp, a collaborative governance scheme prototyping stage which led to the drafting of the collaborative governance pact, the collaboration toolkit and the sustainability plan. Fourth and final phase is the governance testing and modeling through the launch of a public consultation in the city on the text of the Pact and a roadshow generating interest in CO-Mantova among possible signatories belonging to the 5 categories of collaborative governance actors.

The code of the Pact

The CO-Mantova Collaborative Governance Pact provides a code of definitions, values and principles:

Definitions contemplated by the Pact are among other:

– “commons”

“Commons are goods, tangible, intangible and digital, that citizens and the Administration, also through participative and deliberative procedures, recognize to be functional to the individual and collective wellbeing, activating themselves towards them pursuant to article 118, par. 4, of the Italian Constitution, to share the responsibility with the Administration to cure or regenerate them in order to improve their public use[1]”

– “social innovation”

“social innovations are new ideas (products, services and models) that simultaneously meet social needs (more effectively than alternatives) and create new social relationships or collaborations[2]”;

– “collaborative governance of the commons”

“collaborative governance” of the commons is a legal/institutional device whereby the five actors of the collaborative governance – social innovators, public authorities, businesses, civil society organizations, knowledge institutions – co-manage urban, environmental, cultural, knowledge and digital commons of a city through an institutionalized public-private-people/community partnership.

Values and principles of the Pact are:

–       Mutual trust: based on the public prerogatives regarding supervision, planning and control, the Administration and the active citizens shape their relationships to the mutual trust and they presuppose that the respective will of collaboration is oriented to the pursuit of purposes of general interest;

–       Publicity and transparency: the Administration guarantees the largest knowledge of the partnership opportunities, of the proposals received, of the forms of aid assigned, of the decisions taken, of the results and of the valuations made. It recognizes in the transparency the main tool to ensure fairness in the relationship with the active citizens and verifiability of the actions made and the results obtained;

–       Responsibility: the Administration values its responsibility and the citizens’ responsibility as a key factor in the relationship with the citizens, as well as a necessary prerequisite in order  for the partnership to be effectively oriented to the production of useful and measurable outcomes;

–       Inclusiveness and openness: the interventions of care and regeneration of the commons must be organized in order to allow any interested citizens  to join the activities at any time;

–       Sustainability: the Administration, in the exercise of discretion in making decisions, verifies that the collaboration with citizens does not cause greater costs than benefits, and that it does not determine negative consequences on the environmental equilibrium;

–       Proportionality: the Administration ensure that the administrative requirements, the guarantees and the quality standards required for the proposal, the preliminary investigation and the execution of the collaborative interventions, are commensurate with the real needs of protection of the public interests involved;

–       Adequacy and differentiation: the forms of collaboration among citizens and the Administration are adequate to the needs of care and regeneration of the urban commons  and they are differentiated depending on the type or on the nature of the urban common and on the people whose well-being it is functional to;

–       Informality: the Administration demands that the partnership with the citizens takes place in accordance with the requested formalities only when it is provided for by law. In the rest of the cases it ensures flexibility and simplicity in the relationship, as long as it is possible to guarantee the respect of the public ethic, as it is regulated by the code of conduct of the public sector employees, and the respect of the principles of impartiality, efficiency, transparency and judicial certainty;

–       Local democracy: the pact guarantees equality between parties and subscribers and the attribution of reciprocal rights and duties. The pact pursues the improvement of the quality of local democracy;

–       Public autonomy: the pact signatories act as “public actors”, holding the ability to take care of the general interest;

–       Horizontal subsidiarity: the pact was made possible thanks to the participation of all the parties, which got activated in a collaborative and mutually supportive way, even delegating specific functions if acquitted by others more effectively, in the pursuit of the common good. According to this principle the care of collective needs and the activities of general interest are provided directly by private citizens (both as individuals and as members) and the entities involved in ‘subsidiary’ function, programming, coordinating and possibly managing;

–       Legality: the compliance with the principles and rules dictated or accepted in the legal system is the cornerstone on which the entry and stay in the pact is based. The law is intended not only as a means of guarantee for civil coexistence within and outside of the pact, but also as a fundamental tool of cultivation of social cohesion and competitiveness of the territory.

Internal and external governance

Beyond the pact, CO-Mantova led to two governance outputs. One is the Pact itself as an external governance tool that whoever wants to join the Pact has to agree upon. The other  is the creation of a Collaboration Handbook or Toolkit overseeing the day-by-day collaborative life within the Pact. In general terms, the actors of Co-Mantova are going to be divided in three groups; social innovators, the technical unit, and the collaboration community. The collaboration toolkit of Co-Mantova is a fundamental instrument to shape the collaborative process among the actors. Some of the contents of the collaboration toolkit are, for instance, rules to inform the collaboration among social innovators (meeting with community and creative youth, citizen’s involvement, new members, personalised pacts), rules for the use of Co-Mantova as a physical and economic collaborative services platform, rules of collaboration for partners and external entities.

Sustainability plan

Another outputs of the co-design process that led to the creation of CO-Mantova is the sustainability plan, realized in order to ensure to the platform Co-Mantova a long-term financial and economic sustainability. From a first analysis of data we can say that even the Mantua area is affected by the same peculiarities of the Italian system, in the presence of a high number of SMEs, but unlike the Italian trend, these SMEs, account for a larger proportion of working population. On the one hand, this could make it more vulnerable to the business system of Mantua, because the population involved in the instability of these companies is representative of a greater number of people than the national average. On the other hand this morphology of the business system is a feature that could be maximized through networking and collaboration tools, such as the initiative to CO-Mantova aims to do.

Communication Plan

The last outcome springing out of co-design process that led to the creation of CO-Mantova is the communication Plan. website is the centerpiece. So is the public consultation process we launched on the whole CO-Mantova process/pact and all other initiatives on the ground and through traditional and social media that CO-Mantova has carried out so far and will be carrying out in the next future.

Stay tuned, participate and join in CO-Mantova and the co-cities movement (email to!


[1] The definition of urban commons is provided by the “Bologna Regulation on collaboration between citizens and the city for the cure and regeneration of urban commons“.
[2] Murray, Calulier-Grice and Mulgan, Open Book of Social Innovation, March 2010.

A coordination center for the commons

A coordination center for the commons

The approval of the so-called Bologna Regulation on the collaboration between citizens and public administrations for the care and regeneration of urban commons has given impulse to a local regulatory movement. Having greatly contributed to the drafting of this regulation I could not be less happy to see public collaboration ideas spreading. Unfortunately to elaborate and pass a reform is not sufficient in order to recognize and protect the commons.This subject requires a cultural change in the administration of public and private goods and implies the shift from government logic, centered on the bipolar paradigm, to governance logic (1) based on the circular subsidiarity paradigm (2). Moreover it requires also a shift of methodological approach, from theoretical to experimental. The cultural leap needed by the commons highlights the necessity to create several kinds of initiatives to persuade, train, follow and assist public administrations and its officials in the concrete application of the model of shared administration of the commons. By doing so it will be possible to promote the paradigm of the governance in which the practice of the shared care of the commons is part.

The “institutional communication” of the commons

This means that for promoting the spread of a culture of the governance of the commons is necessary to restart from the tools of the “institutional communication” intended as public policy centered on the one hand on the sharing of a common worldview, on the other hand on the governance of the networks and the valorization of the energies of the society.This proposal requires the creation of a “space” or “hub” in which the public administration that intend to be involved could get techniques of governance of the commons. This in the perspective to provide activities of “learning-intervention” based on the alternation between class and field to their employees.The educational method adopted aims to combine: a) dispensation, also via computer, of lessons of technical/operational kind and high professional level; b) support in the project management and practical experimentation of the models of governance of the commons; c) elaboration and spread of the results of the activities, research and analysis made within these experimentations.The final objective is the establishment of a coordination center for the governance of the commons. A public-private institution able to promote and support, mainly the public administration, in the achievement of experiences of governance of the commons. It will be necessary a cultural dissemination within public administration in order to raise the general competences for involving citizens in the implementation, maintenance and financing of the commons.

The coordination center for the commons.

The initiative of the creation of a coordination center should be taken at national level by an institution, preferably with the financial support of the private sector for complying better with the governance spirit. The principal partners of the coordination center should be, on the one hand national, regional and local administrations; on the other hand citizens and operators committed in their everyday life in the research of shared solutions and economic-financial sustainability of the commons, elements inseparable for the survival of the shared care of the commons.

The main objective of the coordination center should be to promote dialog, sharing of competences, information and experiences among all persons interested in the creation of al real partnership between institutions and community, for the protection, recovery, maintenance and management of the commons.

The “learning-intervention” of the commons 

Besides traditional learning activities, the coordination center should be also the instrument for allowing the public administration interested to know and share best practices with other administration.

Moreover the public administrations could use the coordination center for obtaining the necessary assistance from professor/tutors that place side by side in the learning activities and in the experimentation on field with methods and tools of governance. Thus the professor/tutor could test the competences given during the period of education.

In other words, it will be not a traditional education in class. The “learning-intervention” as well as planned, requires training activities based on the mentoring in the daily life of the project for the careful to the need of each administrations (3).

The public operators would be prepared both to “think” theoretically about operations of governance of the commons and to “act” as professional of the governance of the commons. They would be able to be a public counterpart technically equipped to establish a partnership with the private counterpart, to create relations with all institutional levels and finally to manage network of alliance between institutions and civil society.

Toolkits and continuous mentoring

Moreover, the training and cultural mentoring should not finish in the phase of the dispensation of the learning- intervention. This should be continuous. One of the most important activities for spreading this cultural model would consist in the elaboration, starting from the weaknesses found during the learning and experimental activities, of handbooks of instructions to apply the reforms and follow the constant evolution of technical, juridical and financial-economic instruments that carachterized the governance of the commons.

Starting from the weaknesses that emerge in the relation between professor-tutor and participants to the activities of learning and experimentation, it will be possible to elaborate documents that shall be used as guidelines. These documents should be as “tool chests” where inside there are the necessary instruments for planning, building and replicating a project of governance of the commons. Among the instrument there should be practical instructions, strategies, turning-point, methods applied, collection of rules (partnership agreements, business plan, and regulation), best practices, methods used by the administration and results.

Finally should be planned all the actions and measures necessary to support the public officials in their everyday life use of the tool chests. One possible solution could be the tutoring at distance in the development and implementation of the practice of governance. The tutoring at distance is useful on the one hand to foster the public officials and shore up his/her motives in the management of a project of governance of the commons. On the other hand to improve the tool chests updating them continuously according to the various administrative and market issues.

A story that never ends, as the commons.

To sum up, the cycle of the activities of the  coordination center for the governance of the commons would be a continuous process and would be articulated in three phases.

The first phase would be the traditional learning process, also with the support of telematics. The second phase would consist in the experimentation on field of the models of the governance of the commons, in order to make in conjunction with participants and administrations, pilot cases that may become laboratories for the governance of the commons. The third phase should be devoted to the elaboration of the handbook of instructions and the continuous assistance and mentoring on how to use them. The aim is to infuse the culture of the governance into the care of the commons and in the relative decisional process. In the everyday life application of the reform he public officials have to be supported in the resolution of the problems that could emerge within a project of governance of the commons.

In a second moment for consolidating the results of the learning-intervention could be created a format through the best practices on national level applying the principles and the models of the governance of the commons.

The experimentation of these ideas is yet started in the LabGov – Laboratory for the Governance of the Commons. It is open for all those who want to contribute to the narration of this good story, a story that could never ends, because it is about the commons.

Christian Iaione, director of Labsus, the Laboratory for subsidiarity and coordinator of Labgov.


(1) Contrary to government thecniques, those of the governance are characterized by parity, horizontality and openness towards territorial community, civic society and private sector, and are based on the collaboration among several actors (institutional, social and entrepreneurial) in order to create partnership devoted to the shared realization of common ends. The partnership permits to abandon the logic of contraposition between public and private, national and loca interests with the final aim to create a network of alliance about the public choice. Broadly to apply the principles and thechniques of the governance to the issue of the commons. M.R. FERRARESE, La governance tra politica e diritto, Bologna, 2010, p. 149 ss.; also C. IAIONE, La localizzazione delle infrastrutture localmente indesiderate: da soluzioni di government a soluzioni di governance, in G. ARENA, F. CORTESE, Per governare insieme: il federalismo come metodo, Padova, 2011, p. 203 e ss.

(2) G. ARENA, Cittadini attivi, Roma-Bari, 2006, p. 6.

(3) G. VETRITTO, Per una nuova professione pubblica: il broker istituzionale, in Risorse umane, 2009, p. 19