University partnerships for co-designing and co-producing urban sustainability

Gregory Trencher, Xuemei Bai, James Evans, Kes McCormick, Masaru Yarime

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

130 Citations (Scopus)


Universities are playing an increasingly central role in advancing sustainability at the local, regional and national scale through cross-sector collaborations. Accompanying the launch of Future Earth, interest is mounting in the co-design and co-production of knowledge and solutions for advancing global sustainability, particularly in urban areas. Place-based university partnerships appear as particularly significant vehicles for enacting co-design and co-production in the context of urban sustainability. However, the nature and role of these partnerships are not well understood, in part due to the absence of systematic analyses across multiple cases. To fill this gap, the objectives of this paper were to conduct a large-scale international survey focusing on university partnerships for urban sustainability in industrialised Europe, Asia and North America to (1) determine defining features such as focus areas, geographical scales, mechanisms, actors and motivations, and (2) identify commonly encountered drivers, barriers and potential impacts. Results indicate that partnerships most typically target energy, buildings, governance and social systems, unfold at local or city-scales, and involve collaborations with local or regional government. Our analysis shows that potential outcomes of university initiatives to co-design and co-produce urban sustainability are not limited to knowledge and policy. They also encompass the creation of new technological prototypes, businesses and new socio-technical systems, in addition to transformations of the built and natural environment. Findings also suggest that individual partnerships are making strong social, environmental and sustainability impacts, with less evidence of economic contributions. Strategies are required to enhance project management and ensure that projects address contrasting priorities and time horizons in academia and local government. Implications for policy include findings that targeted funding programmes can play a key role in fostering partnerships. Measures are also required to challenge academic norms and incentive structures that, in some cases, hinder university efforts to engage in place-based initiatives to co-design and co-produce urban sustainability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-165
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Co-design
  • Co-production
  • Stakeholder collaborations
  • Sustainability
  • University partnerships
  • Urban

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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