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March 2, 2015

New Governance Not Easy, Swedes Find

New Governance Not Easy, Swedes Find Participatory "new governance" may be all the rage in urban sociology circles, but in practice, it's going through birth pangs and will be challenged to replace traditional government.

This was the conclusion of the first Swedish National Network meeting, held 27 January 2015 in Floda, 20 commuter minutes east of Gothenburg. Twenty-five participants met with the Swedish project team in a disused and converted tannery, with the focus of discussion on "new urban governance".

The discussion set off from a shift in how cities are managed: from a supposed top-down government to multilevel "governance". The latter includes partnerships between the public, private and civic sectors, and also implies that traditional modes of democratic influence are supplemented by citizens’ dialogues and similar techniques.

The first half of the day focused on the challenges confronting new governance. Participants also also discussed birth pangs of experiments in the field and wondered if society can really break free from traditional styles of government.

Participants discussed the development of Floda, where urban regeneration is driven by a partnership between small-scale entrepreneurs and local civil society organisations. The participants then focused on a large-scale project to regenerate the northern bank of the river that runs through Gothenburg. In contrast to Floda, this area is developed through a partnership structure, within which large-scale developers and the municipality – which owns the land – jointly decide on issues such as land pricing and building standards.

A key message from the meeting related to difficulties with governance. Some social innovators feel constrained by, on the one hand, legacies of the previous models of government, and, on the other, a newly-established layer of EU regulation. There is a mismatch between the official praise of social innovation and the legal conditions in which social innovators work.

In light of this, social entrepreneurs welcomed the opportunity to share knowledge and experiences with municipal representatives and academic experts on governance. The workshop facilitated transdisciplinary learning that the Swedish team will seek to replicate in upcoming NaNet meetings.
Read the full report from the meeting here.