Designing Participatory Processes for Just and Climate-Neutral Cities

Methodological Guidelines for Transition Management



Tessa de Geus (DRIFT)
Giorgia Silvestri (DRIFT)
Julia Wittmayer (DRIFT)

Publication year


In July 2019, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen declared she wants Europe to become “the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050”. In 2020, ambitions were raised, by presenting plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. Today, the urgency to accelerate energy transitions is more pressing than ever. Efforts have intensified, as illustrated by the Commission’s launch of the Mission for 100 climate-neutral and smart cities by 2030. While the Commission’s ambitions have been met with praise, its Green Deal has equally been criticised to be a mere ‘rhetorical commitment’. Actual, concrete plans for decarbonisation are often still opaque, while the Green Deal’s success will depend on how it will be implemented on national, regional and local levels. For this operationalisation, cities play a pivotal role in fleshing out how to deal with practical challenges on the road to climate neutrality.

This guide supports policy workers in (European) cities who want to design a transformative and participatory process for realising just and climate-neutral cities. Based on a three-year research project with six European cities (TOMORROW), this guide has been developed to address issues encountered in the practice of urban transitions: from redesigning municipal institutions to creating legitimacy for radicality and shaping co-creation.

The guide can be used to work towards developing a roadmap for decarbonisation in 2030 or 2050, but also to develop sustainability policies, trade agreements, or memoranda, and can be used by teams in public or private organisations, across organisations and/ or with support from a third party. Importantly, the process of transition management that this guide covers is more important than any anticipated outputs.

The guide describes processes of governing urban transitions along the metaphor of tending to a garden: Understanding the Conditions (Step 1), then Planting the Seeds (Step 2), Nurturing Growth (Step 3) and finally Harvesting Results and Continuing the Cycle (Step 4). Each chapter starts with ‘the basics’ – a recap of what transition management activities need to be conducted as part of that step. We then propose a ‘deep dives’ themes that have surfaced in practice that require particular care and attention. These issues concern identifying the radical core, developing transition legitimacy, co-creating knowledge with diverse actors, and setting up governance arrangements. Applying the steps requires flexibility, open-mindedness and the willingness to go back and forth between them. It is an invitation to observe: learning what supports the ecosystems in your garden (i.e. city), as well as what inhibits them, and to apply those lessons directly.

This guide has been designed in parallel with the TOMORROW Workbook Vol. I and Vol. II, which provide hands-on exercises to put the steps into practice.

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