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Design Experiments and Co-governance for City Transitions: Vision Mapping image
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This paper explores enabling experiments for social innovation that can support cities as transition arenas. We review how the co-production of urban experiments takes place through collaborative mapping which enables communities to peer produce urban space for diverse economies and citizen-based visioning to engender inclusive images of the future. We evaluate Vision Mapping, a hybrid methodology to produce new urban imaginaries through a case study of the Future Economies Lab for the Future Melbourne 2026 public consultation. Vision Mapping uses collaborative mapping, strategic foresight and human-centred design within an appreciative inquiry framework to co-produce new urban imaginaries and prototypes of city futures. We consider how Vision Mapping could be democratized through co-governance for greater citizen empowerment and design for social innovation through platforms to enable ongoing experimentation in city-making.

Urban experiments, collaborative mapping, visioning, co-production, co-governance, Melbourne

By Darren Sharp and Jose Ramos

1 Introduction

Cities are in a state of transition and confront a range of ‘wicked problems’ arising from migration, climate change and rising inequality. These civilizational crises have pre-empted innovative governance responses to address these challenges through various forms of transition-oriented urban experimentation (Evans et al., 2016). In the sustainability field, participatory design and social innovation have been used to catalyse such experiments in areas of neighbourhood renewal (the Amplify project), urban farming (Dott07), and social integration (Malmö Living Labs) (Manzini and Rizzo, 2011).

Other forms of experimentation include collaborative mapping which enables communities to co-produce urban space through digital visualisation methods via open source infrastructure and data to support collective action in the social production of the city as a commons. Leading examples include OpenStreetMap and TransforMap which give citizens the ability to develop new economy maps for their regions, towns or local areas. Such maps have been developed in the context of Sharing Cities to document local shared resources for self-provisioning (Johnson, 2013) or for specific communities of practitioners such as the Maribyrnong Maker Map.[1] Visions of the future also play a key role in setting the context for bold urban experimentation and can guide cities as transition arenas.

Vision Mapping is a hybrid methodology to produce new urban imaginaries through the combined use of collaborative mapping, strategic foresight and human-centred design within an appreciative inquiry framework. This paper evaluates Vision Mapping through a case study of the Future Economies Lab (Sharp and Ramos, 2016a) for the Future Melbourne 2026 public consultation (City of Melbourne, 2016a) that supported participants to imagine changes to Melbourne’s economy over the coming decade. Vision Mapping is put forward as an ‘enabling experiment’ and process of ‘design for social innovation’ through socio-technical transformation oriented towards social change (Manzini, 2015).

This paper aims to both highlight and evaluate the potential for Vision Mapping to contribute to processes of experimentation for social innovation that can support cities as transition arenas. We argue that co-production via collaborative mapping and citizen-based visioning can be democratized through co-governance which enables power sharing at the local level and reframes citizens from ‘city users’ to ‘city makers’ (Foster and Iaione, 2016) and through design for social innovation platforms to support ongoing experimentation.

The paper is organised as follows. Section 2 reviews the literature on urban experimentation and co-production through citizen-based visioning to create new urban imaginaries and collaborative mapping for diverse economies. Section 3 describes the Vision Mapping case study including its background, method and outputs from the two workshops for Future Melbourne 2026 using secondary data from the public domain. Section 4 is a discussion of the case study where we consider how Vision Mapping could contribute towards a more systematic approach to the co-production of urban experiments through co-governance and design for social innovation. Section 5 concludes by reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of Vision Mapping and puts forward some directions for future research.

2 Experiments in City Transitions

Cities are crucibles for humanity to discover new transition pathways for the 21st century in the face of existential threats posed by the Anthropocene and fossil capitalism (Angus, 2016). The shift towards co-production in the public and social sectors has been used to foster participatory innovation that is more “experimental, iterative, concrete and citizen-centred” (Bason, 2010: 174). At the same time a profusion of transition-oriented urban experiments has emerged over the last two decades in cities around the world that attempt to create new political spaces for urban governance between municipal, NGO and community actors (Bulkeley and Castán Broto, 2013). With half the world’s population now living in urban areas, cities have become a logical ‘transition arena’ to envision alternative economies and trial new governance experiments through open innovation systems (Nevens et al., 2013).

There has also been an outpouring of community-led ‘grassroots innovation’ at the niche level that focus on self-provisioning in areas of local food, renewable energy, co-housing and community currencies (Seyfang and Smith, 2007). These projects are responsive to local needs and initiated by civil society actors like community groups and voluntary organisations with a mix of social and sustainability motives (Martiskainen, 2017). Municipal authorities are attempting to engage active citizens in urban renewal projects through maker spaces and FabLabs. However, aligning a city’s top-down vision for transformation with community expectations can be a fraught process with mixed results (Smith, 2015).

While there are thousands of grassroots initiatives in urban agriculture, the maker movement and community energy projects, they often lack visibility and a coherent approach for citizens and city authorities to come together, co-produce and co-govern the urban commons. As Smith (2014) has suggested, policy calls to “democratise innovation” are inadequate if they focus on the products of grassroots innovation over the processes of community development and fail to confront the political challenges in opening-up innovation systems to citizens.

Processes that support experimentation are therefore critical in helping steward cities through sustainability transitions. Experimentation processes are well established in the action research literature (Kolb, 1984; Reason and Bradbury, 2002), as well as the policy development space (Annala et al., 2015; Heilmann, 2008; Loorbach and Rotmans, 2010). Generally speaking experimentation entails the application of a new idea in constructed or real-world settings, where outcomes are uncertain or undefined. Experimentation processes seek to trial new ideas and learn from such experiences, and to iteratively build on this learning through subsequent re-interpretation and re-design.

Experiments may or may not ‘go to plan’, depending on the stage of an experiment and the openness with which an experiment is conducted. Some experiments are open ended and seek to learn from the application of a completely new design, while other experiments are verificatory and seek to confirm existing assumptions (Annala et al., 2015). Experimentation is driven by the creation of new ideas and visions, processes of ideation. How we experiment is therefore grounded in the images of the future and the visions we consciously and unconsciously hold, and the entailments of such futures.

2.1 Generative Urban Imaginaries

If we consider the city a transition arena, we need to ask the question ‘a transition to what’? In this regard, the image of the future is of fundamental importance. Guiding images of the future provide the normative context for bold experiments to be conducted in the service of transition. This ‘arena’ is more than just geo-graphic, it is constructed and bound by themes, issues, temporality and imagination. Compelling images of the future are a fundamental component to constructing the city as a transition arena for urban experimentation. Fred Polak, argued a half century ago that images of the future are not simply epiphenomenal by-products of society, but rather they are co-constituting and act as generative elements of what creates society. He argued, societies with powerful images of the future are ascendant, a compelling image of the future acts as an ‘attractor’, while those societies that lose vision are in societal decline (Polak, 1961).

Yet the issue is not just whether a society or city has an image of the future or not, but the nature of that image. The image of the future is a contested and politicized space. As Slaughter (1999) argued, images of the future are often mobilized to ensure political legitimacy, rather than authentically reflecting the desires of citizens. The image of the future can be a form of ‘cultural hegemony’, which ensures the reproduction of privilege, rather than an opening for social and ecological justice. Images of the future may also be ‘used futures’, images or ideas taken unconsciously or uncritically without regard to local context (Inayatullah, 2008). For example, the ‘smart city’ vision is fashionable and paints a picture of a high tech, automated, internet-of-everything city, however it has strong technocratic tendencies that may hamper real inclusion in city governance and participation.

What is needed is an approach that ‘democratizes the future’, allowing for the co-production of a city’s image of the future, informed by citizen needs and critical stakeholders, reflecting a grounded awareness of long-term challenges (Ramos, 2016). Citizen-based visioning processes were pioneered decades ago by Robert Jungk, Alvin Toffler and Clem Bezold. Jungk and Müllert (1987) created futures workshops as ways to challenge technocracy and extend agency to citizens to envision the alternative futures they really cared for. Toffler and Bezold (1978) similarly saw Anticipatory Democracy as providing grassroots agency, but they also believed that existing governance systems were not equipped to deal with accelerating and disruptive change, and believed that societies could only deal with this through democratizing the future-response processes of societal navigation.

Toffler argued: “representative government was the key political technology of the industrial era and…new forms must be invented in the face of the crushing decisional overload, or political future shock” (Bezold, 2006: 39). Grounded in new forms of participation and contribution and intelligent navigation of urban imaginaries, new visions of our cities can act as guides for experimentation that will lead to fundamental transitions – they provide a way to align strategic action in the present with the long term future, and can insure that experiments are qualitatively aligned with transition aims and goals.

2.2 Collaborative Mapping

Manzini developed the term ‘enabling experiment’ to describe the creation of “favourable environments to enable local actors to take active role as co-creators in the development and proliferation of social innovations” (Ceschin, 2014: 4). Design for social innovation engages active citizens in the development of experiments to “put on stage” visions of future lifestyles (Manzini and Jegou, 2003). It is a form of co-production aimed at the “construction of socio-material assemblies for and with the participants in the projects” (Manzini and Rizzo, 2011: 201). This approach produces artefacts known as ‘design devices’ that include prototypes, models and mock-ups as catalysts for new actions and events. (Ehn, 2008 in Manzini and Rizzo, 2011: 200).

City governments, citizens and communities all have a role to play in enabling new experiments in urban commoning through online and physical platforms that bring together different local actors to practice co-production in the service of social transformation. Collaborative mapping is one such approach that combines digital technologies with community development processes to create an “enabling environment” for co-production as a design intervention to amplify weak signals and make unseen dimensions of city life “visible and tangible” (Manzini, 2015: 121). It is also a form of “infrastructuring”, a continuous open-ended process with a flexible structure capable of attracting new participants (Hillgren et al., 2011).

The production of space through digital maps is not value neutral and works to reproduce socio-economic power dynamics. Zook and Graham (2007: 466) reveal how the “politics of code” determines the representation of place in “hybrid combinations of physical and virtual space” through their critical case analysis of GoogleMaps and its use of proprietary algorithms to determine search results for commercial profit. Kitchin and Dodge (2011: 16) argue that software creates space through their concept of “code/space”, a co-shaping process whereby spatial relations are constantly being remade “through the mutual constitution of software and sociospatial practices”.

Various collaborative mapping projects have developed in recent years using open source platforms to visualise, amplify and enact local social innovations and diverse economies including OpenStreetMap and Green Maps. These collaborative mapping initiatives are typically spearheaded by civil society actors and action researchers working toward sustainability transitions, and / or to co-produce new forms of urban spatial relations for post-capitalist systems of production, consumption and exchange (e.g. community gardens, tool libraries, repair cafes, platform co-operatives, open design and distributed manufacturing etc.; see Gibson-Graham et al., 2013; Shareable, 2017; Cohen, 2017).

The TransforMap collective emerged in Germany following the call by commons activist Silke Helfrich in 2013 to bring together the various alternative economy mapping initiatives that were until that point disconnected and developed in isolation as closed data silos (Lebaeye and Richter, 2015). TransforMap has since developed an atlas of 226 maps from around the world and is working to make these resources more visible, accessible and interoperable on a single mapping system. Shareable, the action hub for the sharing economy, launched the Sharing Cities Network in 2013 with the use of MapJams as a core strategy for community building (Johnson, 2013). MapJams use collaborative mapping to legitimate commons and solidarity economy initiatives in local communities and convene city stakeholders for collaboration and community building.

The Vision Mapping method presented in this paper was shaped by this context and emerging practices of collaborative mapping. It is a form of enabling experiment informed by design for social innovation toward the co-production of new urban imaginaries and follows in the footsteps of OpenStreetMap, TransforMap and the Sharing Cities Network’s MapJams as a process to support the collaborative stewardship of the urban commons.

3 Vision Mapping Case Study

This section presents a case study of Vision Mapping, a method of citizen-based visioning using collaborative mapping that was trialled in the Future Economies Lab workshops for Future Melbourne 2026.

3.1 Background

The City of Melbourne is a regional leader in participatory governance experiments and deliberative approaches to planning. Future Melbourne 2008 used a wiki platform to enable the public to submit ideas for its first community plan and the Council has trialled participatory budgeting with a citizens’ jury to make recommendations on the city’s $5 billion budget (Reece, 2015). Future Melbourne 2026 was a collaborative planning process initiated by the City of Melbourne to renew the city’s 10-year community plan through a series of in-person events, online conversations and surveys conducted between February to June 2016. (City of Melbourne, 2016a).

Future Melbourne 2026 was sponsored by Melbourne City Council, supported by the Director City Strategy and Place, the Future Melbourne Project Director and the Future Melbourne project team. The project governance was externally led by the Future Melbourne Ambassadors group, comprised of respected members of Melbourne’s community (City of Melbourne, 2015).

According to the project plan “the Future Melbourne Committee requested $0.35 million in additional funding be allocated to commence a process to refresh Council’s Future Melbourne Plan” (City of Melbourne, 2015: 2). Future Melbourne 2026 is described as the ‘Community Plan’ that will provide context to inform the development of the ‘Council Plan 2017-21’ (City of Melbourne, 2015). The four-year Council Plan is tied to an Annual Plan and Budget that describes activities and funding details for that financial year (City of Melbourne, 2017).

3.2 Future Economies Lab

The Future Economies Lab (Sharp and Ramos, 2016a) was a series of two public engagement workshops for Future Melbourne 2026 that used Vision Mapping, a method that combined collaborative mapping, strategic foresight, appreciative inquiry and human-centred design to imagine changes to Melbourne’s economy over the coming decade. The Future Economies Lab workshops took place during the ideation phase of Future Melbourne 2026 and was proceeded by the synthesis phase and final deliberation where a citizens’ jury used the outputs from the prior phases to draft the community’s revised plan for the city over the next decade.[2]

The Future Economies Lab was one of thirty citizen engagement activities that gave participants the opportunity to shape the city’s 10-year community plan. Recruitment to the Future Economies Lab workshops was undertaken by the Future Melbourne team who invited stakeholders from industry, government, academia and community sectors in Melbourne. Each workshop had roughly 25 participants with 80% of these people returning for the second workshop (Sharp and Ramos, 2016b). The Future Melbourne team attempted to make the workshops inclusive by allocating half of the places available to the public which resulted in participation from a mix of people from different backgrounds and varying degrees of professional and life experience.

3.3 Vision Mapping Method

The idea for Vision Mapping emerged through a process called FuturesLab, an experimentation platform for foresight methods and transformative social innovation.[3] Vision Mapping was initially conceived quite broadly, the bringing together of visioning processes with collaborative mapping. For the Future Economies Lab, however, a design process was undertaken to develop Vision Mapping for the specific needs and contexts of the workshops. A Vision Mapping process had previously never been run before. It needs to be emphasized, therefore, that Vision Mapping was itself an experiment in methodology, although one in which a number of strong controls were put in place given the professional expectations of the work.

Vision Mapping is a facilitated process for workshop participants to produce shared visions of the future in a location-specific way using collaborative maps. As a hybrid method, Vision Mapping used appreciative inquiry as the guiding facilitation process to structure workshop activities and curate table conversations (Sharp and Ramos, 2016a). Appreciative inquiry is a strength-based process which focuses on “peak experiences and successes of the past” as motivators for individual and collective action towards positive change (Mathie and Cunningham, 2003: 478). It is a social constructivist approach to the co-production of knowledge grounded in language that guides action through stories and uses positive questions to carry the best of participants past experiences into the future (Cooperrider et al., 2008: 8). Appreciative inquiry uses a ‘4-D Cycle’ with the following phases: “Discovery – searching for the best of what is and appreciating that which gives life. Dream – envision the ideal of what might be and envision impact. Design – co-construct the future and reach consensus on what should be. Destiny – implementation actions that build on strengths and lead towards visions of the future” (Compass, 2003: 15).

The first Future Economies Lab event was a workshop held 8th March 2016 at Melbourne Town Hall which asked participants to discover strengths and dream about Melbourne’s future economy. Participants were invited to imagine changes to Melbourne’s economy towards 2026 in the context of recent trends in the sharing economy, maker movement and co-operative forms of ownership, production and value exchange (Sharp and Ramos, 2016b). The Future Economies Lab used OpenStreetMap, an open source mapping platform with a knowledge base of free, portable data that is peer produced by community actors. The uMap interface was used to create an editable and customised map for workshop participants and the Future Melbourne team (Sharp and Ramos, 2016b; see Figure 1).

The ‘discovery’ phase of the first workshop began with table conversations to identify Melbourne’s strengths, assets and resources. Participants were asked to identify “the essence of Melbourne’s economy that makes it unique and strong” and came up with a range of strengths including “parks, gardens, laneways, technology precincts, universities, radio stations, Queen Victoria Market, transport hubs, cultural (galleries, libraries, theatres, museums) and sporting assets (Tennis Centre and MCG)” (Sharp and Ramos, 2016b).

The next table conversation asked participants to name “the positive seeds of innovation and change in Melbourne that can and should be grown” which surfaced “arts hubs, coworking spaces, maker spaces, craft communities, social enterprise hubs (Donkey Wheel House), the State Library of Victoria, artist studios (River Studios), markets, festivals and research facilities (Parkville)” (Sharp and Ramos, 2016b).

The final table conversation asked “what are the trends and emerging issues that disrupt the status quo for Melbourne?” The main trends identified were population growth, an ageing population, climate change, the rise of artificial intelligence, robotics and automation, loss of traditional jobs, heatwaves, traffic congestion, homelessness, inequality, housing affordability, pedestrian crowding, increased congestion and the sharing economy (Sharp and Ramos, 2016b).

The next stage of the first workshop involved the ‘dream’ phase of the appreciative inquiry cycle where participants were asked to form into pairs and “imagine it’s 2026 and Melbourne has leveraged its strengths and seeds of innovation” – “describe the aspects of this future economy they most want to be part of based on things they’re committed to personally” (Sharp and Ramos, 2016b). Teams then brought their dreams forward and added them to a ‘dream canvas’ where table conversations ensued and participants were asked to “connect their dreams, where appropriate, with other people’s, to broaden the dreams, to look for connections, common ground and broader patterns between the various ideas and to find the critical relationships between elements in these dreams” and where possible pinpoint them to a specific location in Melbourne (Sharp and Ramos, 2016b). Dreams were then synthesized into nine thematic vision clusters (see Table 1).


Visions Summary Description
1) Nurturing diverse times and spaces The need to honour, nurture and create a diversity of spaces and times for the breadth of activities and people that comprise Melbourne. As one participant put it: Melbourne needs places for “Rest time, Downtime and Dreamtime”.
2) Wellness and happiness as a key criteria Social wellbeing and happiness are critical aspects of Melbourne’s future economy. The city’s economy should foster happy and healthy people that can navigate change successfully.
3) Diverse autonomous and generative spaces People need a diversity of autonomous and generative spaces that can enhance the city economically and socially. These included creative spaces, arts incubators, spaces for making and sharing, spaces for being alone and for reflection.
4) Navigating the past and future through civic engagement A city that values its history and heritage is able to tell its stories, and can navigate change and the future to reinvent itself and its identity. Navigating the city’s past and future requires new approaches to participatory sense-making and collective intelligence.
5) Living and working with purpose in a shifting landscape The nature of work is changing with the potential for radical disruption including trends like coworking, working from home, flexibility and automation. A future Melbourne should be a place where people can live and work with purpose and be engaged in meaningful activities.
6) Emerging economic systems Alternative economic systems (sharing, making, circular economy, cryptocurrencies) provide new pathways for purposeful work, especially for diverse groups and the marginalised.
7) New evaluation frameworks New evaluation frameworks are needed that recognise the diversity of care-based activities we engage in as members of communities we belong to and that sustain us.
8) Accessibility, equity and inclusion The city needs to support the marginalised, address affordability, and ensure diverse participation. Serve the needs of many, not just the well off, and find ways to make the city inclusive.
9) Arts and economic inclusion The arts can connect and ‘ground’ city life through learning, sustainability, innovation, digital production, small business, multi-culturalism, celebrating diversity and equity.

Table 1. Synthesized visions from first Future Economies Lab workshop (Ramos and Sharp, 2016)


The second Future Economies Lab event was a prototyping workshop held on 15th March 2016 at Melbourne Town Hall. New workshop participants were given time to engage with the visions developed in the previous session and discuss what they would add (Sharp and Ramos, 2016b). Through a facilitated ideation process, participants were asked to “create ideas that can move the economy in the direction of your future visions and dreams” (Sharp and Ramos, 2016b). This was achieved by identifying opportunity areas based on the synthesized visions from the first workshop which were translated into several opportunity statements, also known as “how might we” questions. Table groups were then asked to select four opportunity areas based on the statements provided or to develop their own. Using a human-centred design approach known as ‘rapid prototyping’, participants brainstormed ideas related to their four opportunity areas in the context of realising their visions of Melbourne’s future economy. Table groups came together in small design teams to vote on their top brainstorming ideas which became the basis for the paper-based prototypes (see Table 2).


Prototype Description
1) Melbourne airwalk system “People can navigate through the CBD in different ways through meeting and clustering opportunities between buildings. The purpose of this is to green the city and utilise more airspace. This prototype adds trees, gardens and benches to spaces between buildings and helps cool the city.”
2) Public access to underutilised space “Create more cohesive communities by opening up train stations and other public spaces to community groups for them to use however they want. It could be setting up a small business or a small showcase and basing it out of train stations or other underutilised public spaces.”
3) Melbourne Goodwill Exchange “An exchange in the City of Melbourne where people can loan each other time and money to support worthy projects. People can build up credit for the time and skills provided and use that in other ways. The exchange is a way to network goodwill and relationships between people to assist new enterprises that are community focused.”
4) Guaranteed basic income “Give everybody a guaranteed basic income to partially support oneself and have a degree of security in a future economy where work may be transient and the very nature of work is changing. People would also be rewarded for supporting family members and creatively participating in the community.”

Table 2. Prototypes from the second Future Economies Lab workshop (Sharp and Ramos, 2016a).


Figure 1. Future Economies Lab Vision Map (Sharp and Ramos, 2016b). The Vision Map displays Melbourne’s strengths, seeds of innovation, synthesized visions (dreams) and prototypes developed by Future Economies Lab workshop participants.


3.4 Post-workshops

Following the two workshops, the visions and prototypes were added to the City’s online engagement platform ‘Participate’.[4] These ideas competed for attention with over 900 other ideas submitted by the community through online engagement and via additional public events that were convened by the Future Melbourne team during the ideation phase of the project. After this phase external consultants Global Research (2016) were appointed by the Future Melbourne team to create a report that analysed and synthesized all project outputs including ideas, comments on ideas and survey responses. This was delivered to the citizens’ jury for deliberation with final decisions made by the city-appointed Ambassadors, culminating in the Future Melbourne 2026 Plan (City of Melbourne, 2016a).

4. Discussion

The following discussion of the Vision Mapping case study evaluates the method and outputs presented in the context of recent work on co-governance of the urban commons (Iaione, 2016) and design for social innovation (Manzini, 2015). We consider how experiments like Vision Mapping could enable city governments and civil society to work together to empower citizens and other stakeholders to have a more active and self-directed role in city-making.

The discussion explores how Vision Mapping could contribute towards a more systematic approach to the co-production of urban transitions through co-governance for greater citizen empowerment and design for social innovation through platforms to leverage the city as a transition arena.

4.1 Overview

The Vision Mapping workshops undertaken with participants for Future Melbourne 2026 produced some interesting ideas but with limited impact due to the one-off nature of the engagement. Research from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard found that participatory governance projects encounter a pattern of challenges including a lack of leadership within government and civil society to champion ideas through to implementation; no consensus on the role of non-electoral direct public engagement in democratic governance processes; terms of reference that trivialize participation; and limited political motivation to advance social justice (Fung, 2015).

The Vision Mapping was limited to two workshops within a much larger and complex public consultation process. The Future Melbourne 2026 Project Plan stipulated the parameters of engagement between the city, institutions, organisations and individuals (City of Melbourne, 2015). The Future Melbourne 2026 Project Plan lists three phases of public engagement: ideas, synthesis and deliberation. These phases were informed by a framework developed by the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) which defines the public’s role in community engagement and increasing ability to impact on decisions along a spectrum from inform, consult, involve, collaborate and empower (IAP2, 2014).

The ideas and synthesis phases of Future Melbourne 2026 are noted in the Project Plan (City of Melbourne, 2015: 19) as ‘consult’ which seeks to “obtain public feedback on analysis, alternatives and/or decisions” (IAP2, 2014), and ‘involve’ that works “directly with the public throughout the process to ensure that public concerns and aspirations are consistently understood and considered” (IAP2, 2014). The final deliberation phase references the ‘collaborate’ mode to “partner with the public in each aspect of the decision including the development of alternatives and the identification of the preferred solution” (IAP2, 2014). The Project Plan does not go so far as to ‘empower’ participants to “place final decision making in the hands of the public” (IAP2, 2014). A citizens’ jury went through a deliberative process to develop the Future Melbourne 2026 Plan (City of Melbourne, 2016a) but final decisions were ultimately made by the city-appointed Future Melbourne Ambassadors (City of Melbourne, 2016b).

Some engagement practitioners have noted that the IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum takes a sponsor or government-led approach to decision-making that can alienate communities, create disengagement and reinforce power imbalances (McCallum, 2015). Becky Hirst has gone further in challenging the underlying assumptions inherent in this model and inverted the IAP2 Spectrum by asking “what if the community became the decision-makers?” and put government on the receiving end of engagement: “The community would then determine the level to which it wants and needs to engage with the Government” (Hirst, 2013).

In relation to co-production for urban planning, Sarah C. White’s work reveals a tension between top-down interests that seek “nominal participation” as their ideal to achieve legitimacy, in contrast with bottom-up actors that seek “transformative participation” to achieve self-organised empowerment and changes to community life (In Anttiroiko, 2016: 9). This tension is observable in the basic income prototype developed in the second Vision Mapping workshop as it requires transformational change to occur but could be framed as an opportunity to bring institutional and community actors together in its implementation.

4.2 Co-governance for citizen empowerment

The right to the city has been discussed as a common right and a necessary precursor for directly confronting systemic crises so that urban life can be reshaped through a continuous process of re-making the city (Harvey, 2008). The New Urban Agenda calls for governments to develop legal and policy measures that uphold equality and non-discrimination in determining urban policies through decentralization based on principles of subsidiarity (United Nations, 2016). The inclusion of the ‘right to the city’ in the New Urban Agenda is a welcomed development but rights need to be enshrined in policies, legislative mechanisms, governance structures and social processes that enfranchise diverse stakeholders to participate in the stewardship of shared urban resources and run experiments for urban transitions.

Co-production through citizen engagement faces a range of challenges especially given that “questions of power and its redistribution lie at the heart of the endeavour” (Holmes, 2011: 25). In the context of the Vision Mapping case study presented, we argue that social processes of co-production can be strengthened through co-governance mechanisms to enable greater shared power relations. One of the best examples of this is the City of Bologna’s ‘Regulation on Collaboration Between Citizens and the City for the Care and Regeneration of Urban Commons’ that supports active citizens to co-lead city interventions through “collaboration agreements”, an instrument that aligns deliberative processes and intent with a legal contract between citizens and the municipality (City of Bologna, 2014). At a legislative level, the Bologna Regulation enables active citizens to approach local government and establish civic agreements to co-govern public space, parks and vacant buildings or land (City of Bologna, 2014). These “collaboration pacts” signed by both citizens and the city, outline “standards for collaboration” between a variety of stakeholders, require local government to provide “technical support” to meet agreed tasks, and are a “critical tool of legal experimentation in shared governance” (Iaione, 2016).

Foster and Iaione (2016) point to horizontal subsidiarity, collaboration and polycentrism as democratic design principles that could shift city government’s monopoly position over shared urban resources towards a new role as facilitator in the co-governance of the city as a commons. This goes much further than just getting the balance right between top-down and bottom-up participation and emphasizes a much deeper turn towards co-governance: “The principle of horizontal subsidiarity conceptualizes the citizen as an active citizen and encourages local officials to put in place appropriate public policies that foster the activation and empowerment of citizens in managing and caring for shared resources.” (Foster and Iaione 2016: 327).

The idea for polycentric co-governance emerged from Vincent Ostrom’s work on metropolitan governance and institutional diversity across different scales where “multiple independent actors mutually order their relationships” (Araral and Hartley, 2013: 2). With a shift from city as initiator to city as facilitator, a multitude of new urban experiments become possible as “governments look for allies at different hierarchical levels to facilitate the initiatives of proactive citizens” (Foster and Iaione, 2016: 328). Such experiments in co-governance through “public-private partnership of people and communities” are already underway across various cities in Italy with five types of actors including social innovators, public authorities, businesses, civil society organizations, and knowledge institutions (Iaione, 2016: 438). The “partner state approach” is a complementary set of policy proposals to support an alternative political economy of peer production and participatory politics that was refined in Ecuador through the FLOK society project (Bauwens and Kostakis, 2015).

In Australia, state government defines the authority of local government which constrains its power, resources and autonomy (Longo, 2011). While a turn towards co-production through participatory engagement with a wider range of institutions and actors is evident in Australian local government, Aulich (2009: 57) suggests that: “in few instances has the practice yet been accepted as a fundamental right of communities to enable them to assume a formal place in governance”. Policy innovation and civil society mobilisation is needed to ensure a legal right to community-led experimentation based on the principles of subsidiarity and polycentricity, for co-governance to be formally tested in Australian cities. Embedding co-production methods like Vision Mapping in mechanisms of co-governance and the “sharing of duties and decision-making over the use, protection and replenishment of a particular resource” (Quilligan, 2009: 38) could enable this to occur but would require significant legal, policy and institutional shifts.

The Vision Mapping method presented in the case study would need to undergo further testing and development to determine how it could be integrated with co-governance processes. The prototypes developed during the second workshop for example would need to undergo deliberative feedback from the wider Melbourne community to ensure ideas developed are appropriate and fit for purpose. The basic income prototype for example could be piloted by the city through co-governance mechanisms like participatory budgeting. This way a citizens’ jury could allocate a portion of the city budget toward a basic income trial with disadvantaged groups like the city’s growing population of homeless people and others experiencing hardship. The trial could be undertaken in conjunction with local university researchers and the results would contribute towards building the evidence base for this important emerging area of social policy. Co-governance would thereby create the context within which Vision Mapping could seed future-city ideas with a viable pathway from ideation to experimentation and broader transformation.

4.3 Design for social innovation

Urban experiments are complex and generative interventions, the outcome of which is unknown in advance. Design for social innovation can provide active citizens with new tools, practices and skills to leverage the city as a transition arena. Manzini and Rizzo (2011) argue that short-term local experiments must be nested within larger and longer-term framework projects like Living Labs or Public Innovation Places to enable generative and ongoing solution finding. As mentioned, infrastructuring provides for continuous open-ended experimentation that allows for new participants to enter a design process (Hillgren et al., 2011). Manzini (2015: 152) reflects on infrastructuring’s complex material and immaterial components in the context of Malmö Living Labs which had easy-to-access physical space, a support team to facilitate prototyping, and a clearly defined sequence of design activities connected to a broader network of projects. Infrastructuring clearly requires a commitment of time and resources from public, private and citizen partners to maintain a continuous experimental footing that is strategically connected to solving urban transition challenges.

Enabling experiments in co-production like Vision Mapping also require platforms to support face-to-face interaction and to convene diverse stakeholder networks. Manzini describes these as “places for experiments” capable of holding collaborative relationships in an enabling ecosystem that is tolerant of the new, open across disciplinary boundaries and able to foster learning capacity where people feel able to “try out new things” (2015: 161). The Bologna Co-City Protocol describes these as physical, digital and institutional platforms to support “public-private-citizen partnerships”.[5]

Propositionally, open, online, editable maps are ideal digital platforms for facilitating cities as transition arenas for urban experimentation. They allow us to visualise an ecosystem of ideas and initiatives. They are open to continuous editing and updating. They can facilitate new connections across urban landscapes and themes and provide a space for new urban imaginaries to emerge. But as discussed, such platforms need to be able to hold participation across many stakeholder categories (e.g. social innovators, public authorities, businesses, civil society organizations, and knowledge institutions). This requires the positioning of such platforms as intermediaries and facilitators of change across systems. It also requires that people become familiar with and learn to use such systems. In terms of the Vision Mapping case study, there was no capacity building or upskilling involved in the workshops, as the need to capture all relevant outputs in a short time frame (3-hour workshops) limited the potential for knowledge transfer from facilitator to participant (Sharp and Ramos, 2016b). In addition, the Vision Mapping process was only used for one small aspect of Future Melbourne 2026, rather than a meeting point of all the various ideas and initiatives across the landscape of work being done.

The Vision Mapping workshops used Open Street Map with the uMap interface as the platform for citizen engagement because these tools are open source, robust, easy to use and freely available. Visions and prototypes were captured on paper in real-time during the workshops and transferred to the digital map by an external consultant both during and after the events (Sharp and Ramos, 2016b). The outputs generated during the workshops including the visions and prototypes was made available for the community to consider, develop and build upon at any point in the future (Sharp and Ramos, 2016b; see Figure 1). Open source platforms like Open Street Map provide other civil society actors with the opportunity to connect the Vision Map to related projects and activities. The Charter for Building a Data Commons provides a useful framework that could enable future Vision Mapping activities to support other related collaborative mapping efforts around the world through an evolving set of principles on data ownership, licencing, interoperability and transparent documentation (Bollier, 2017).

Institutional platforms are also required to create more structured opportunities for lateral engagement between diverse stakeholders. Various public innovation labs (i-labs) have appeared over the last decade, like MindLab in Denmark and NESTA Innovation Lab in the UK, which are part think tank and part R&D lab, with an interest in exploring new forms of “citizen-centric governance” (Tõnurist et al., 2017). These platforms are modelled after living labs and often located within government, which leads to a focus on public sector innovation. However, a wider frame of reference and openness to more stakeholders could re-direct i-lab activities towards more collaborative forms of experimentation.

Future Vision Mapping activities could benefit from physical and institutional platforms to further test the prototypes developed in public settings and bring more diverse stakeholders together for additional transition experiments. The City of Melbourne’s CityLab provides a space for the local community to collaborate with staff to re-design council services and participate in hackathons.[6] Public innovation labs can play an important role as institutional platforms for testing new approaches to co-production and co-governance going forward.

Prototyping is a key aspect of the Vision Mapping process and took place during the design phase of the second and final Future Economies Lab workshop (Sharp and Ramos, 2016a). Human-centred design methods informed by IDEO’s Design Kit [7] were used to create opportunity statements (how might we questions) from the visions developed in the first workshop, and to frame the brainstorming activity where small teams self-selected ideas to develop into prototypes (Sharp and Ramos, 2016a). Rapid prototyping brings small teams together using paper, markers and other creative supplies to develop a drawing, model or storyboard. Four prototypes were created during the second Future Economies workshop but the short time frame constrained participants’ ability to expand on the purpose, function and users of each solution proposed (Sharp and Ramos, 2016b).

The Young Foundation refer to “slow prototyping” as a gradual means to facilitate a “scaling-up process” and create solutions that are better able to meet the needs of specific communities in their location-specific contexts (In Hillgren et al., 2011: 173). In terms of knowledge transfer to facilitate diffuse design by everyday people, generative toolkits are commonly used in co-design to help people “make artefacts about or for the future” (Sanders and Stappers, 2014: 9). IDEO’s Design Kit informed the Vision Mapping method but there was limited opportunity to develop workshop participants’ capabilities as non-expert designers given the time constraints discussed.

In evaluating the Vision Mapping process in light of the above observations about the need for physical and institutional support for continuous experimentation, we argue that ongoing slow prototyping supported by generative toolkits and place-based platforms could create the ideal conditions to continue testing the Vision Mapping process. This approach could enable workshop participants to undertake ongoing prototyping with a range of city stakeholders through pop-up trials at Town Hall, public innovation labs or local libraries, and lead to further evaluation, refinement and testing with potential for community pilots, new services and policy innovation to support future co-governance experiments.

5 Conclusion

The Vision Mapping case study presented demonstrates that the combination of collaborative mapping and citizen-based visioning can enable communities to co-produce bold new urban imaginaries and prototypes. The use of Vision Mapping informed by appreciative inquiry as a facilitation technique to generate visions through strength-based framing of table conversations resulted in a useful, although strongly normative, synthesis of relevant socio-economic themes drawn from the perspective of workshop participants. Rapid prototyping using human-centred design enabled workshop participants to generate the four prototypes in a very short time frame but would have benefited from additional development with other community stakeholders to further refine the ideas. The Vision Map itself was created by an external consultant from workshop outputs which resulted in a professionally produced map but a missed opportunity for participants to obtain new digital literacies.

Directions for future research could include further testing with other cities and communities of interest to assist in Vision Mapping’s ongoing development and refinement. It would also be useful to research how Vision Mapping could be nested within broader framework projects, physical places and institutional structures like public innovation labs to support continuous efforts with generative outcomes. The development of a toolkit could function as a ‘user manual’ with step-by-step instructions for how to use collaborative mapping technologies in conjunction with the facilitation methods described. This would give cities and citizens the ability to self-organize their own Vision Mapping experiments autonomously and share the results through future communities of practice.

We have argued that urban transitions can gain legitimacy when visions and prototypes are co-produced by communities and embedded in co-governance mechanisms that give citizens the structural power to propose and act on experiments. The co-production of a city’s vision and narrative need to be on-going, as our understanding of future conditions, challenges and opportunities evolves. It requires city governments to partner with citizens to co-develop the platforms, systems and structures (from in-person meetings to online participation systems) that can generate futures-relevant knowledge. These platforms and structures need to be well resourced and designed for use with critical stakeholders. In this way, whole cities can become platforms for collective intelligence, helping cities to navigate new levels of complexity.

The vision for a city or municipal region should reflect the common good, and should itself be subject to co-governance. Tied to urban experimentation, Vision Mapping can become part of a virtuous cycle informing and inspiring social innovation, policy ideation and other transition projects and initiatives. Dedicated public resources could help establish and support such platforms for citizen collaboration, but citizens are critical to the energy needed, data requirements, creative responses and the governance of the process. As such it should not be solely controlled by a municipality, but rather it needs to be open to ongoing public debate and decision-making – an aspect of co-governance.

In this way, a vision for a city can emerge which is deeply inspiring for citizens and which guides ongoing urban experimentation. The vision which guides a city’s purpose and identity may be one of the hardest aspects of a system to change. Vision, purpose and identity is most often implicit, deeply engrained, embodied and often reflects unconscious dimensions of a city’s character. Processes like Vision Mapping are worthy of further investigation for the social navigation of city futures.


Darren Sharp would like to thank the CRC for Low Carbon Living Ltd supported by the Cooperative Research Centres program, an Australian Government initiative, for funding his PhD scholarship.

End notes


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About the authors

Darren Sharp is a PhD candidate at Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute, where he is undertaking doctoral research into urban experiments for sustainability transitions funded by the CRC for Low Carbon Living. His main research interests are sharing cities, urban governance, the city as commons, platform cooperativism, urban transitions and social innovation. Darren is the Director of Social Surplus,, Australian editor of Shareable,, Melbourne coordinator of the Sharing Cities Network and co-author of Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons,

Dr. Jose Ramos is director of Action Foresight,, a Melbourne-based business that focuses on supporting vision driven experimentation. He has taught foresight, public policy and social innovation at a number of universities, including at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Swinburne University of Technology, Victoria University and the University of Sunshine Coast. He is senior consulting editor for the Journal of Future Studies, a researcher with the P2P Foundation and has over 50 publications spanning economic, cultural and political change.