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Participation, Leadership and Urban Sustainability

PLUS, a research project funded by the European Commission's Fifth Framework programme, examined how leadership and community involvement can combine to lead to better policies for cities. The cross-national project involved research teams from nine countries, 18 city authorities, and two international networks of cities (QeC-ERAN and Eurocities). In each city, there have been two case studies of policy areas relevant to all cities - social inclusion and economic competitiveness.

Project partners


Quality of life in the towns and cities of Europe depends to a considerable extent on the quality of urban governance, and policy makers at all levels of government now understand the need for better sustainable approach to urban development. In 1998, the European Commission's framework document Sustainable Urban Development in the European Union, analysing the socio-economic and environmental challenges facing European urban areas, advocated both for improvement in urban governance with citizens' participation, and improvement in policies linked to the urban environment. As the effectiveness of urban governance is of key importance in the achievement of good urban living in Europe, city governments must develop institutional forms and styles of leadership that promote decisiveness, facilitate the use of local knowledge and enhance public support.



Set in that European context, the PLUS project aimed to promote effective urban governance by identifying approaches to city leadership and community involvement that work well.

The primary objective of PLUS was to collect and disseminate practical knowledge about the complementarity of political leadership and citizen involvement in cities that are active in promoting sustainable development. This has been achieved by:

  • Analysing, comparing and contrasting alternative approaches to urban leadership and community involvement in local decision-making in nine countries (Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, United Kingdom and New Zealand).
  • Promoting better urban leadership and more effective citizen involvement.
  • Studying urban governance in the fields of economic competitiveness and social inclusion.
  • Bringing together academics and policy-makers.
  • Producing practitioner oriented outputs, including practical guide, internet database, distance-learning pack and interactive, cross-national seminars and conferences.



PLUS is founded on the assumption that the achievement of effective urban governance and thus of sustainable policies is strongly dependent on the complementarity of urban leadership and community involvement - CULCI . This complementarity is in turn dependent on three variables - context, institutional design and political culture, all combined with the initiative and action of local actors.

Empirically, the research programme in each country has followed a common design, with data collected through

  • Development of a common theoretical framework within which to conduct the comparative research
  • National and local contextual papers establishing the role and function of local governance in each country as it affects the case study cities
  • Analysis of the structures and policies of each of eighteen case-study cities
  • Detailed fieldwork on thirty six initiatives using a framework of Institutional Analysis, which identifies the ‘arenas’ within which local action takes place and the presence of a set of ‘rules’ through which action may be analysed
  • A survey of local opinion to establish perceptions of leadership, across both the eighteen cities and the thirty-six initiatives.
  • Comparative analysis of the findings from the nine cities/eighteen initiatives.



The basic hypothesis of the PLUS research is that given the right conditions, the interplay between urban leadership and community involvement can contribute to overcoming government failure and leading to better urban governance. The central idea is of a complementarity between leadership and community involvement (CULCI). Leadership and community involvement can work together, with strong leadership compensating for weaker community involvement, or conversely with strong community involvement compensating for weak leadership. But additionally strong leadership in combination with effective community involvement creates the conditions for a more effective, inclusive and legitimate governance.

In relation to legitimacy, it has been suggested that whilst most local stakeholders feel that throughput legitimacy is a crucial factor (freedom of information, consistency of procedures, fairness of decision making, transparency of processes), it is also at this stage that there is least community involvement. Conversely in many of the cases there was strong community involvement at policy development and implementation stages, implying that throughput legitimation only occurs at the decision-making stage.

From the empirical base of city case studies, the research identified nine key positive factors likely to influence the complementarity of leadership and community involvement.

The research evaluated the thirty two initiatives against these considerations to judge the presence or absence of CULCI and to draw out what might be seen as 'success' factors.

Read the final report of the PLUS project >>


Project Partners

UK: Bristol City Council, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, University of the West of England, Bristol
Germany: Landeshauptstadt Hannover, Heidelberg, Technical University Darmstadt
Greece: Municipality of Athens Development Agency, Volos Municipal Enterprise, Panteion
Italy: Comune di Cinisello Balsamo, Turin, Politecnico di Milano
The Netherlands: Enschede, Roermond, University of Twente
Norway: City of Bergen, City of Oslo, Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research
Poland: City of Ostrow Wielkopolski, City of Poznan, University of Warsaw Sweden: Goeteborg, Stockholm, University of Goeteborg
International Urban network: Eurocities, Quartiers-en-Crise

The project has bee coordinated by the Cities Research Centre of the University of the West of England, Bristol. Further information can be obtained from the PLUS project website.