From the Project Kick-off towards the Launch of the Fairville Labs
Introduction : the Fairville Project
Fairville is a new Research and Innovation Action (RIA) in the Cluster 2 – Democracy of Horizon Europe, the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation that aims to meet EU goals and priorities on enhancing democratic governance and citizens’ participation, on the safeguarding and promotion of cultural heritage, and to respond to and shape multifaceted social, economic, technological and cultural transformations.
The Fairville project intends to address embedded urban inequalities and the challenge this poses to democracy in large cities and urban regions. It will do so by intervening in low-income neighbourhoods that face a growing distance to the institutions and processes of representative democracy. Fairville reimagines the long-term impact of various inequalities (i.e. planning and housing, environmental, risk) on democratic participation, and will use knowledge co-production and participative democracy as strategies of spatial justice to address urban inequalities affecting cities in Europe, and two other mirror cases in Africa. Nine pilot cases (Fairville Labs), implemented in low-income urban areas, are launched worldwide to explore the capacity of co-production to tackle inequalities and reduce democratic gaps: Brussels, Berlin, London, Călărași, West Attica, Marseille, Giza and Dakar. The Fairville Labs will be places of reinvigorated local democratic engagement between four main kinds of partners: 1) civil-society organisations, CBOs and ordinary residents and users; 2) academics and researchers; 3) third party facilitators and advocacy organisations; 4) local authorities.
I. The Paris Kick-off Meeting: Project Ambition and Primary Reflections on Fairville Action Research
The kick-off meeting of Fairville - Research and Innovation Action n°101094991 Horizon Europe - took place on the sunny days of the 23rd and 24th of February 2023 in the premises of the UMR CNRS 7218 - Laboratoire Architecture, Ville, Urbanisme, Environnement (LAVUE) at the University of Paris Nanterre, in the department of Hauts-de-Seine in the Île-de-France region.
Participants from Egypt, Senegal, England, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Romania, South of France and Greece were welcomed with an opening speech by the President of the University of Paris Nanterre, Philippe Gervais-Lambony, followed by an introduction by Agnès Deboulet, the Scientific Coordinator of Fairville.
After many months of working together to set up the project, it was an opportunity for participants to meet again and sometimes for the first time to celebrate the success of the project in a studious yet cordial atmosphere. The aims of the meeting were to present and initiate the seven thematic project Work Packages, as well as to pose key questions and draw remarks laying the theoretical and practical foundations for the ambitious tasks ahead.
A) The Fairville Action: seven thematic Work Packages
During this first day of the Paris Kick-off meeting, the nine Fairville Labs (FVLabs) in Berlin, West Attica, Dakar, Calarasi, London, Brussels, Giza, Marseille and London presented themselves one after the other to the whole Consortium and to our Project Officer from the European Commission Jarkko Siren. Before closing the day with a conference by Papa Keita, founder of UrbaSen, our Senegalese partner and winner of the Habitat 2023 World Prize, the seven thematic project Work Packages were presented and officially launched.
The WP1 - Data collection for inequalities’ impact analysis on political participation and democratic quality aims to construct an initial information base to explain the impact of multiple inequalities (socio-economic, gender, disability, spatial, ethnic, etc.) on political participation, democratic quality and stability, as well as collating existing information on the various types of inequalities, both in diachronic terms (e.g. long-term trends) and spatial/territorial terms. WP1 tasks on documentation and data collection from literature are currently ongoing.
The WP2 - Theoretical Framework for the project - Local democracy, participation and inequality sets the intellectual framework for the overall research, aiming at (i) clarifying the theoretical debates around the key concepts (co-production, inequalities, epistemic justice, participation and democracy) and (ii) producing a shared vocabulary (glossary). WP2 tasks on literature critical review and practical framing of concepts are currently ongoing.
The WP3 - Fairville Labs pilots new and existing co-production methods and creates a sustainable network of local communities. Specific aims of the FVLabs are to collectively gather community knowledge, facilitate different participatory methods and co-produce local policies and plans. Their official launch took place in the Fairville Berlin workshop (see dedicated section of this output briefing).
The WP4 - Co-assessing co-production benefits to reduce inequalities aims to promote a learning process by engaging all parties and stakeholders, including the most excluded from democratic life, in reflecting back on outputs and benefits of co-production processes in the FVLabs.
The WP5 - Scaling co-production practices in, to and beyond the city aims (i) to improve understanding of innovative co-production to tackle the dual challenge of building urban democracy and people-oriented participation through scale; (ii) to work comparatively across the diverse urban contexts; (iii) to build a community of practice capable of scaling democratic practices in urban action at local and transnational level.
The WP6 - Communication, Dissemination and Exploitation aims (i) to develop and disseminate a set of outputs containing new co-produced knowledge; (ii) to strengthen and enlarge the coalitions of actors within FVLabs; (iii) to include local partners in a process of co-production of communication and dissemination outputs. The Fairville website, blog and social networks are already set up.
The WP7 - Project management and coordination ensures the proper scientific coordination of the project and its general management including monitoring of project progress and results.
B) Key questions and remarks for Fairville action research
The second day of the Paris kick-off meeting was marked by a stimulating theoretical part led around group discussions, followed by a practical part with an exciting field trip to Montreuil (Cité La Noue) organised by the project partner APPUII. During this visit, Fairville's academic and non-academic partners were able to exchange directly with inhabitants and activists of La Noue on their local issues.
Both theoretical and practical parts helped project partners to raise some key questions and remarks that will guide action research throughout the project.
What does co-production mean and for whom?
Co-production may have different meanings in different cases/labs/spaces. It may not be expressed directly as such in local contexts. Furthermore, co-production practices can have different configurations and entail divergent relations between involved actors and their knowledge (e.g. co-production with or without public institutions and agencies, co-production activating from conflicting or non-conflicting positions with the state, co-production mobilising varied types of knowledge) and be conceived as the starting or ending point of a participatory process. Making room for a deeper comprehension of how co-production is understood (and eventually used) in local situations emerges therefore as a fundamental remark for the Fairville action. In this regard, specific activities for the co-construction of a shared glossary have been activated in the project (see section of the briefing dedicated to the Berlin workshop).
Co-production as a means to re-engage citizens in the making of the city?
Besides the different meanings and types of relation between involved actors, a key interest in co-production, shared between kick-off participants, lies in the opportunity to re-engage citizens in the public making of the city. However, empowering communities to take charge of their own problems is not a straightforward process, particularly in environments often characterised by high levels of mistrust where citizen participation can easily decrease and many professionals/local authorities forget to clearly associate them at all levels. In this regard, remarks arising from the kick-off meeting point to the need to build strong bridges between communities within the FVLabs. Facilitating the establishment of co-production processes that strengthen local democracy therefore requires the elaboration of situated methodologies for each FVLab that are primarily grounded in a shared understanding of existing needs and inequalities and the co-definition of specific goals for the action. This is the initial point the Fairville project acknowledges towards the definition of operational plans for each FVLab (see section of the briefing dedicated to the Berlin workshop).
Who is the ‘community’ in the Fairville Labs?
The understanding of what can be considered as a ‘community’ in the specific cases/labs/spaces is a challenging task. A community can be determined around the expression of common needs and demands. It can emerge from citizens’ willingness to cooperate through building relationships and overcoming differences. Still, citizens can also self-define as a community. In this regard, giving a voice to minorities and involving them in community co-production emerges as a relevant remark for the Fairville project. The identification of the weakest and most marginalised citizens, through mapping stakeholders’ influence and power relations, is therefore central to understanding existing inequalities and to challenge them in each context. This will be part of the activities of each FVLab in the further course of the project.
What kind of relationship is needed between researchers and activists?
Given the different labs, practices and types of collaboration involved in Fairville, the relationship between researchers and activists can be sometimes challenging. For instance, the issue of differences in temporality between citizens’ and researchers’ actions may generate tensions, or even mistrust. As a general remark emerged from the kick-off, understanding the genesis of the different local organisations and partnerships, learning from the conditions of success (and failure) of previous mobilisations, and facilitating networking between FVLabs around common problems (without the ambition of comparing all FVLabs) can help closing the gap between researchers and activists/citizens.
What does scaling up co-production imply?
The notion of scaling up co-production is another question that requires careful consideration during the development of the project. Not all co-production practices are equal and suitable for scaling up, and in some contexts it may be necessary to scale down (e.g. widening participation and inclusion of all demands at local level) before scaling up. Remarks from the kick-off underline the importance of recognising potential inequalities within the co-production process before engaging in scaling up. Still, it is necessary to distinguish the local impacts sought in each context since the need for scaling up is often related to an external demand on local groups. Rather, it would be relevant to consider the meaning of scaling up in each local context and to reflect on who (e.g. FVLab, local community of practice, research) is driving the decision to scale up the practice. A central concern in the development of the project will therefore be to avoid offering simplistic toolboxes for scaling up that do not capture the politics involved in co-production. Indeed, Fairville wants to promote change on the ground without depoliticising local practices.
II. The Berlin Workshop: Launch of the Fairville Labs
The first workshop of the Fairville project took place on the 25th and 26th of May 2023 in the premises of the Faculty of Architecture of the TU Berlin, Germany. Twenty-five members of the partner institutions met, both in presence and online, with the aim of:
synthesising and drawing the preliminary results of a rich discussion initiated during the Paris Kick-off and continued in the following months via online sessions, concerning the meaning and implication of the use of the key terms of ‘co-production’, ‘inequalities’ and ‘local democracy’ in the different local contexts of the Fairville Labs;
coordinating the official launch of the 9 Fairville Labs (FVLabs), in London, Călărași, Marseille, Brussels, Giza, Dakar, Berlin and West Attica.
After two days of intense discussions in a round table, nourished by a field visit to the Berlin FVLab at the Rathausblock initiative, two specific outputs were achieved, as shown here below.
A) Towards a shared glossary
What does co-production mean? For whom? And what does inequality mean? For whom? These were the initial questions upon which the partners started to reflect with the objective of defining a shared glossary for the project.
An initial exploration of the notion of co-production from the viewpoint of communities, universities, facilitators and local governments revealed the existing numerous and often conflicting perspectives in conceiving the role and the meaning of co-production in urban processes and projects. On the one hand, the concept of co-production in its first definitions refers to the collaboration (often institutionally driven) between different actors – e.g. groups of citizens, public authorities – in the production of a certain urban service or initiative/project.
On the other hand, the notion of co-production has more recently been employed to refer to bottom-up and horizontal processes where claims to local authorities are produced by local groups or communities (often in coalition with facilitators and universities) with the aim to reduce specific injustices, address inequalities in power and knowledge or increase trust. Still, the notion of co-production has been used to refer to the merging of different types of knowledge, with a particular interest in emphasising the value that knowledge defined as experiential or practical, the citizens’ knowledge, can provide to decision-making. However, as underlined during the workshop, the word 'co-production' is rarely used in practice in local contexts, where the tendency is largely to refer to the various declinations of the concept of participation. Either it can be contested insofar as it is potentially perceived by communities as an expression of instrumental control of public authorities, especially in contexts where there is mutual mistrust.
Similarly, the concept of inequality is declined in various ways in the different local contexts. It can refer to multiple forms: inequality based on specific socio-economic status (e.g. income, gender, age, class, minority groups, migrants), spatial inequality (e.g. differential access to public services, mobility), environmental inequality, inequality based on cultural and social capital or on disproportionate impact of policies upon different groups of people. More importantly, different inequalities often tend to cumulate.
These multiple perspectives emerged during the Berlin workshop rendered evident the need, from both a scientific and an operational point of view, to deepen the understanding of the meaning of the notions of co-production, inequality and local democracy within each local context. For this purpose, not only the review of scientific or community literature is required, but also the gathering of the perceptions of the various actors involved in each FVLab. This evidence reinforces the conviction that the ongoing process of establishing a shared glossary for the Fairville project needs to be based, first, on the documentation of previous experiences of co-production in relation to the specific configuration (e.g. governmental institutions, political culture, participation regulations, and citizens’ trust) of the different contexts of each FVLab. Second, on the definition and implementation of a common methodology to grasp actors' perceptions and understanding about co-production practices, and to range cumulated inequalities across different sites. Those are the next steps that the Fairville project is moving towards.
B) Towards the definition of specific operational plans for each Farville Lab
Grounding on the previous reflections, the second part of the Berlin workshop was the occasion to officially launch the beginning of the FVLabs. In this regard, the project members started to co-define the structure and main elements of an operational plan for each FVLab. The definition of an operational plan aims to support and document the operations and development of each lab. Its preparation will be carried out in collaboration with local stakeholders and will be itself part of the co-production process underpinning the FVLabs.
The operational plan is intended to make explicit the goals of the FVLabs (e.g. practical / political / operational goals, research goals, participatory goals, learning goals), the role of each organisation and actor participating in the lab, the background of the FVLab (e.g. description of co-production experiences, existing inequalities and how to address them). It will also contain a stakeholder database and mapping at different levels (e.g. stakeholders / community / power mapping), as well as the description of participatory methods and tools, operational rules and communication plan that will be employed, and finally the documentation of the implementation process.
The central idea of adopting different operational plans that, while retaining their distinctiveness to the specific context of each FVLab, share a similar structure and elements, is connected with two specific objectives. First, to facilitate the common management of the Labs within the project. Second, to provide a shared framework for action research in the different contexts in order to ensure the comparability of processes and approaches among the different pilot cases. The ultimate goal is to facilitate a shared investigation of the general research questions framing the project, that is to understand how and under what conditions co-production can contribute to tackle some kind of inequalities and lead to democratisation of decision-making
III. Briefs from the Labs
LONDON FAIRVILLE LAB [Risk Inequalities]
This FVLab focuses on the recent co-production of a community-led post-pandemic recovery plan for London by the community planning network Just Space. More information
CALARASI FAIRVILLE LAB [Planning and Housing Inequalities]
This FVLab interrogates the potential of co-production for both supporting the inclusion of Roma communities, and addressing the material expressions of housing and urban service inequalities. More information
MARSEILLE (4-5 STUDIO) FAIRVILLE LAB [Environmental Inequalities]
This FVLab supports pedagogical and research initiatives to question political, social and urban change and to dialogue with the public in order to promote collective knowledge and action. More information
MARSEILLE (CVPT) FAIRVILLE LAB [Environmental Inequalities]
This FVLab observes to what extent the “Fringe of Euromed” operations reduce or reinforce inequalities and socio-spatial fractures, and its effects of the declared co-construction of the city. More information
BRUSSELS FAIRVILLE LAB [Risk Inequalities]
This FVLab federates and empowers a community of citizens who feel marginalised in order to propose co-creative solutions to flooding risks through participatory processes. More information
GIZA FAIRVILLE LAB [Environmental Inequalities]
This FVLab builds on the trust established with public authorities and local communities to co-produce an action plan to reduce water and solid waste pollution and enhance participatory initiatives. More information
DAKAR FAIRVILLE LAB [Risk Inequalities]
This FVLab focuses on co-production initiatives initiated by UrbanSEN around urban restructuring and flood control in disadvantaged areas, and the organisation and empowerment of citizen groups. More informatio
BERLIN FAIRVILLE LAB [Planning and Housing Inequalities]
This FVLab explores how the local spatial infrastructures along with specific community-driven programs created common good- and spatial justice-oriented planning practice for The Rathausblock. More information
WEST ATTICA FAIRVILLE LAB [Environmental Inequalities]
This FVLabs explores social, spatial, and environmental transformations towards a more just, democratic, and sustainable everyday life in West Attica. More information
Agnès Deboulet, Audrey Debargue, Catalina Dobre