Co-City Protocol

The Co-City Protocol comes out of the field-experiments designed, analysed and interpreted by LabGov in several Italian cities, together with 200+ global case studies and in-depth investigations run in more than 100 cities from different geopolitical contexts. From this multi-year research project known as Co-Cities LabGov extracted a methodology aimed at serving as guidance for urban policy makers, researchers, and urban communities involved in co-governance experiences. It focuses on urban (commons) transitions, including patterns, processes, and public policies where local communities committed to sustainable urban growth and fair resource management play a key role in partnership with other political, economic and institutional actors.

What is a Co-City?

The concept of the Co‐City situates the city as an infrastructure enabling cooperation, sharing, and participatory decision to‐peer production, supported by open data and guided by principles of distributive justice. A Co‐City is based on urban collaborative, polycentric governance of a variety of urban physical, environmental, cultural, knowledge, and digital resources, which are managed or co‐owned through contractual or institutionalized public‐community or public‐private‐community partnerships (the so‐called commons). 

The Co‐Cities research project and protocol defines the five design principles setting up conditions and factors necessary to rethink the city as a commons: the inclusive space where various initiatives of collective action for the urban commons emerge, relate and become sustainable. This Protocol is now in the process of being tested in cities of the Global South, including San Jose (Costa Rica), Mexico City, and Accra. LabGov believes that the Co-City methodological approach will constitute an effective tool to design and stimulate processes of urban justice and democracy for cities in Least Developed Countries too. It represents an original and proactive approach to implement and monitor the achievements of global policies such as the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals especially the goal 11 for inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities, and the subgoals aiming at fostering participatory and representative decision-making and effective public, public-private and civil society partnership (16.7, 17.17). The Co-City approach being experimental and adaptable to different types of social and geographical contexts, can contribute to cities prosperity enhancing the capacity of local authorities and leveraging value of collaboration with local communities.

What are the main factors behind the transition towards the Co-City?

The Protocol, which identifies the necessary conditions for the establishment of a polycentric governance of networked urban assets, is composed of the 5 design principles, the process the and the tools.

5 Design Principles

  1. Collective Governance
  2. Enabling State
  3. Pooling Economies
  4. Experimentalism
  5. Technological Justice


This dimension refers to the presence of a multi-stakeholder scheme where the community (organized or not) emerges and partners up with public institutions and the private sector in the management of the urban commons.


It expresses the role of the State supporting and making the collective urban management possible.


It reveals the presence of autonomous institutions, managed or owned by local communities, operating within non-mainstream economic systems, such as collaborative, cooperative, circular economies, for the creation of new opportunities and services.


This principle links to the presence of a site-specific and iterative bottom-up approach to design legal and policy innovations for the co-governance of the local urban commons.


Open access to technological and digital urban infrastructure and data is an enabling driver of cooperation and co-creation of urban commons.

The Co-City Cycle

The Co-City process (or policy cycle) is made of 6 phases:

  1. Cheap Talking
  2. Mapping
  3. Practicing
  4. Prototyping
  5. Testing
  6. Modeling


This first phase is about localizing urban commons and activating local actors (scholars, experts, practitioners) through dialogue interactions.


It is carried out both offline and online, resulting in an analog and digital mapping of urban commons through relevant civic initiatives and self-organization experiences. Fieldwork activities, ethnographic work, as well as exploratory interviews or surveys are required during this phase.


A core part is the collaboration camp where synergies are established between community-driven development projects and local authorities. The collaborative actors involved can be city residents, social innovators, knowledge-based institutions, nonprofit organizations, small and medium local enterprises or CSR programs, other public authorities, etc. This co-working session might be followed by a collaboration day with the objective of putting ideas into practice.


At this stage, participants and policymakers infer from the previous phases the community-specific characteristics and needs which will be taken into account when co-designing and eventually implementing commons-centric governance schemes.


Both qualitative and quantitative metrics are applied to assess whether the implementation of the policy prototype is consistent with the design principles and objectives. The evaluation methods need to fit local conditions and policy tools.


Finally, the governance output already prototyped and evaluated is tailored to the city legal and institutional framework, by deepening urban norms, relevant regulations, and administrative acts.


Consistent with the principles above, we have defined some of the recurring governance mechanisms that contribute to the collaborative management of the urban commons. These tools, grouped into 4 categories:

  1. Institutional tools
  2. Legal tools
  3. Financial tools
  4. Digital tools

need to fit the local environment and the specific needs of the community.


The meaning of the word commons exceeds the idea of a shared resource, or the related community. The commons is the institutional arrangement that allows the coordination and sharing of those resources, and helps to ensure their accessibility and sustainability for a wide variety of users. Our empirical research has demonstrated that the institutional ecosystem of a co-city involves several forms of co-governance at different scales, like:

  • Policy Innovation Labs
  • Collaborative Districts
  • Collaborative Working Hubs
  • Collaborative Housing


To regulate the process of resource pooling, urban innovators can count on a set of legal instruments, that can be either contractual or institutionalized, which are often represented by partnerships established between at least 3 to as many as 5 different actors (see helix). These collaboration mechanisms are designed as to make the resources more available, accessible, and affordable to a broader range of residents:

  • Public-Community Pacts
  • Urban Civic Uses
  • Land Trusts


The development of social project financing for collaborative forms of urban infrastructure and urban services is crucial to the success of a polycentric governance of the city. This kind of financing is an example of the so-called pooling economies, created by attracting funding from different actors or segments of society. They form around the collaborative economy and support the efforts of those city residents who partner with further stakeholders to cooperate for the general interest.

  • Crowdfunding and Civic Financing
  • Solidarity Funding
  • Social Bonds and Social Impact Investing


Technology lies at the heart of the commoning experiences, as digital devices and tools are heavily employed to connect actors and make their collaboration possible. Communication and connectivity stand here for an act of social participation. Reflecting the tech justice principle, digital means can help tackle inequalities and promote a broader access to urban goods and services.

  • Digital Platforms and
  • Local Networks & Connectivity