Seven proven ways city leaders can work together to create resilient cities

New findings by ICLEI Africa’s research team reveal practical ways to collaborate – online and in-person – across levels of government and between the public and private sector to make planning decisions that are responsive to the new urban normal.

Cities are complex and the sustainability challenges they face are multi-dimensional, made significantly trickier by ‘wicked problems’, such as climate change and other global or development shocks. Local officials, often responsible for several mandates, need to find cross-cutting responses that meet their service delivery mandates and solve problems at hand. However, as certain parts of the picture are not visible to them and they cannot possibly understand the rippling implications of every decision, finding truly sustainable solutions require collaboration across levels of government and sectors, and between public and private stakeholders.

This integrative collaboration is referred to as multi-level governance (MLG) and has been proven to lead to better outcomes for climate resilient development. Yet when authorities work within different sectors and departments, each with their own never-ending list of tasks and deliverables, mandates and agendas, this is easier said than done. To help the process, we undertook the Improved Municipal Planning for African CiTies (IMPACT) project (funded by the IDRC) – a research project that specifically focuses on exploring locally relevant barriers and opportunities to the implementation and maintenance of collaboration mechanisms that facilitate climate resilient development in African cities.

Practical ways to collaborate better

Recent findings from the IMPACT project have revealed a set of practical factors that enable successful collaboration. This poster is the culmination of these findings, which are already proving useful, especially in the current COVID-19 pandemic.



1. Create an inclusive environment

Ensure equal and fair participation by taking steps to overcome gender, age, socio-economic and job title inequalities. Inclusivity makes for a more legitimate process. The focus here is on mobilising less well-represented partners that are relevant and have the capacity to act (skills, experience, knowledge and mandate), for example the ‘right person’ from a relevant organisation or someone with indigenous knowledge who deeply understands the problem. 

2. Enable those working in different disciplines to co-create and co-produce together

Engage with all tiers of government, researchers, communities and the private sector to harness the diverse ideas, energy and skills that stakeholders with different backgrounds bring. Bring together people with different values, norms and cultures, but make sure they share the same goals, as they will collaborate better if they do. Commitment to the process (i.e. political will/buy-in) is crucial to the success of collaboration, especially across multiple tiers of government, and across multiple sectors and disciplines.



3. Embrace tension areas

In collaborative processes amongst many stakeholders, tension and possibly even conflict may happen, so taking steps to mitigate tension, power imbalances or conflict upfront, is essential. For example, instilling clear, fair and transparent processes, including decision-making rules or guidelines from the outset. Ensuring the facilitator remains objective and open-minded to diverse opinions and is able to maintain positive group dynamics is also important. If managed well, tension can lead to wonderful breakthroughs for enhanced collaboration.

4. Identify new areas to align city level work with national and regional strategies

Identify both gaps and overlaps in mandates and responsibilities across sectors and tiers of government. For example, our IMPACT research has revealed the importance of aligning Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) with local climate change targets, increasing the chances of achieving NDCs and raising their ambition. Often city officials are already implementing activities that will help meet NDC targets.

5. Ensure roles and responsibilities are clear

 Set clear objectives amongst stakeholders at the outset of collaboration and clearly articulate agreed upon individual and group roles and responsibilities. It is important that leadership is spread across a number of different actors. Making roles and responsibilities clear ensures ownership and accountability, which balances out power dynamics and empowers individuals with differentiated skillsets and competencies to execute the collaboration.

6. Maximise cooperation by choosing an unbiased location

A cooperative. For in-person collaboration, this would mean finding venues that are not linked specifically to any of the stakeholders present. IMPACT often chooses hotels or lodges to break from the more formal setting often associated with government. As many engagements are moving online, remote convening of meetings is a great way to neutralise the location; however, the facilitator needs to ensure that stakeholders are not burdened by high or expensive data requirements that may prevent them from partaking in collaborative processes.

7. Evaluate existing collaboration mechanisms and strategies

Upscale those collaboration strategies that have already proved successful for your city and institutionalise them within municipal processes. In Malawi, for example, we are implementing a collaboration mechanism that was called for by both city officials and national government. It focuses on better integrating local voices within national decision making, via adequate and equal communication flow between local councils themselves, and then between these local councils and national government.

IMPACT (funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC)) or in full the Improved Municipal Planning in African CiTies project, is a research collaboration which investigates how enhanced collaboration in African cities can enable climate resilient development. IMPACT is undertaken in partnership with the African Climate & Development Initiative (ACDI) South Africa; Chinhoyi University of Technology, Zimbabwe; and University of Malawi.