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NCCR North-South - Research Partnerships for Sustainable Development

Thank you for visiting the website of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) North-South. The NCCR North-South programme formally ended in June 2014.

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Urban Planning & Habitat


Innovations in Decision Making Processes in Sustainable Urban Projects


    The rapid growth of cities throughout the world over the past decades has had a number of undesired social and ecological effects. This impact of this phenomenon has reached dramatic proportions in the cities of the South, where often even the most basic needs of the inhabitants are not being met. There exists therefore an urgent imperative to bring this urban “evolution” under control: to mitigate the negative effects of urbanisation, while developing more fully its positive potential.

Traditional approaches to urban planning – typically resulting in technocratic "top-down” policies – have proved inadequate for coping with this challenge. In response, new instruments of urban intervention have emerged. These are innovative processes, which aim for sustainability within the urban context. Taking a participatory approach, they attempt to identify combinations of economic, environmental and social factors relevant for the design of policies that can meet the interests and needs of a wide variety of urban actors.
Given the complexity of the urban context, however, the success of such approaches is often difficult to assess. Moreover, even if certain “best practices” do prove effective in one urban context, the fundamental question as to whether the successful results achieved in one city can be replicated elsewhere still requries further investigation.


    The main purpose of this project is to examine and evaluate emerging “innovative” approaches to urban planning in order to determine their respective strengths and limitations.

    Specific questions to be addressed include:
    • By what means, and to what extent, do projects designed for sustainable urban development accomodate multiple stakeholders in the decision-making process? How are these processes adapted to the actions, discourse and logic of those involved - be they public institutions, non-governmental organisations or the local inhabitants themselves? In what ways can and do such innovative approaches take advantage of the traditional means employed for promoting urban development, such as regulation, standardisation and technical improvements?

    • How do different actors assimilate, adapt and transmit the experience gained through experimental pilot projects in putting it to practical use in the less controlled circumstances of "real-life" urban development?

    • What are the conditions necessary for making the transition from a single (pilot) project designed to function under specific local conditions to a more widely applicable solution? What are the processes involved in replicating the success of innovative solutions in different urban settings? How is it possible to translate successful innovations into accepted practice in urban planning, urban management and urban development projects?


    Research is focused on innovative decision-making processes in a number of different urban settings. Each of these settings is viewed as an “arena” in which competing values and priorities are obliged to coexist. Consideration is given to the subjective perspectives of the various actors and groups of actors engaged in the decision-making process. Particular attention is paid to the influence of gender on decision-making processes and their outcomes.

    The methodology employed is adapted to the matter under investigation. Certain problems of a more technical nature can be studied within the framework of the traditional natural science and engineering disciplines. The study of interactions between the stakeholders affected by the problems and the proposed solutions is enriched by the use of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research methods. The integration of findings gathered with the aid of the natural sciences, the social sciences and non-scientific sources of knowledge makes it possible to take into account a wider range of factors than normally considered in sustainable development research.

    As the research is conducted with a view to practical application of the results obtained, attention is paid to both the practical and the institutional aspects of policy implementation. On the practical level this includes the testing of results in small-scale “partnership action” projects. At the same time, analysis of the relationship between various institutions and stakeholders aims at finding mechanisms for successful cooperation and coordination of activities.

    The research is currently being conducted at a number of sites in the Carribean and Central America, South America and Southeast Asia.


      Research in this project is intended to contribute to a better understanding of the complexity of the issues involved in planning sustainable urban development. With the creation of a base of data relevant for the analysis of decision-making strategies in a variety of urban environments NCCR North-South researchers hope to provide a body of reliable scientific evidence on which policy decisions can be based.

      A comprehensive analysis of the results achieved will be condensed in the form of policy recommendations and suggested guidelines for decision-making procedures in developing urban environments.


Research 2001-2009

Study Areas

in the world:

The NCCR North-South is hosted by the University of Bern
and funded jointly by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation