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Knowledge partnerships for urban futures: policy-oriented research alliances

This programme focuses on the imperative for closer collaboration between government and academic research institutions. While the need for this co-operation has long been evident, the practical implementation of partnerships to this end has been elusive. Powerful structural factors succeed in preserving the boundaries and insulations between these institutional forms (government and university), and overcoming these obstacles to collaboration requires both similarly structured interventions as well as clearer insight into the enabling (and disabling) conditions for fruitful transdisciplinary knowledge flows.

Furthermore for sustainable urban environments various complex and unpredictable system dynamics need to be adequately considered – including economic, social, political and environmental factors. Systemic approaches require multiple capabilities, including those of private sector, finance, civil society, academia and media, and collaborative engagement between these diverse sectors and actors. Inherited structures and procedures of governance tend to be predicated on models of the past, rather than the needs of the present and future. A shift from insular architectures of governance to collaborative interconnected partnerships predicated on stronger knowledge bases; institutional capacity for investment in external relation-building; mechanisms for nimbleness and reactive capabilities that can address abrupt shocks; and long-term investment in both data and personnel with an eye on a horizon beyond the political churn, can help forge resilient anticipatory capabilities in the city-region.

This is a project with two components:

  1. with the Gauteng Planning Division the establishment of selected pilot strategic knowledge partnerships between government and universities in order to enhance evidence-based governmentality and develop exemplars of sustainable models for policy-oriented trans-disciplinarity; and
  2. research into global and local practice (with GCRO itself written up as a local case study) in the domain of forging university to government knowledge brokering and analytic insights to inform approaches to the governance of policy-oriented research partnerships.


The GCRO together with Prof Ivan Turok from the HSRC convened a workshop with a variety of specialists and stakeholders to take forward a pilot research partnership in the area of city-region economics. There has been much momentum on this front which have have initiated conversations between various local government departments, leading academics at different universities, Economies of Regions Learning Network (ERLN) colleagues, Treasury and practitioners. It is anticipated that the first major output of this research partnership will culminate in a firm level economic survey of the GCR.

Discussions of the GCRO expanding its role to include brokering and facilitation has also been raised with regards to activities associated with social cohesion, and the transport sector. GCRO will continue to oversee and monitor the partnership(s) (which are anticipated to be multi-year collaborations), documenting insights to inform continuity of these and other initiatives.


In an effort to initiate a series of case-studies on city-university (or similar) partnerships the GCRO has engaged research organisations/networks within the international arena.

GCRO hosted representatives from University College London’s (UCL) Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP). STEaPP specializes in issues of the university and government knowledge transfer and partnerships. The relationship between STEaPP and GCRO is very good and continues to deepen. The two successfully co-organised and hosted Habitat III Urban Future event entitled ‘Shaping informed cities: Platforms for knowledge generation and use in urban decision-making’. The session included facilitation by Carla Washbourne (STEaPP), and presentations by Christina Culwick (GCRO) and Rashid Seedat (Gauteng Planning Division). The focus of this session is currently being written up as a co-authored STEaPP-GCRO paper. Furthermore GCRO has accepted an invitation from STEaPP to partner with a Masters of Public Administration course.

The World Cities World Class (WC2) University Network brings together international expertise on key urban issues. Members of GCRO staff attended the WC2 Summer symposium in Berlin which took the Habitat III conference as an opportunity to debate the role of universities and academic institutions vis-à-vis the New Urban Agenda formulation and implementation – as research and education resources and critical monitors of government and city-based policy making. The GCRO was again put forward as a case study on knowledge brokering and partnerships.

In a BRICS conference centred on ‘Adaptive and Transformative Governance for Large City Development’ GCRO staff presented case study elements drawn from GCRO experience to address investigations into ‘institutionalising adaptive governance’ and ‘Smart City & Digital Era Governance’ at the BRICS City Lab II Colloquium in Moscow.

In addition the GCRO has been presented as a unique case study in the area of knowledge partnerships locally. GCRO prepared a report for the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation 'The Gauteng City Region Observatory: A case study report prepared for DPME' as part of the Learning Facility for the Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development (PSPPD).

Knowledge partnerships are generally characterised by sustained, longer-term investments by the partners, and this programme is thus projected to be a continuing, multi-year set of activities, aiming for incremental accumulative effects.


Moore, R. ‘The Gauteng City Region Observatory: A Case Study Report Prepared for DPME’ Service Contract No. DCI-AFS/2013-333-292 Internal Activity No. 1.1.6. August 2016


Moore, R. (December 2016) ‘Adaptive Governance: Clarifying the concept.’ BRICS + City Lab II Colloquium, Moscow, 7 December 2016

Harber, J (December 2016) Roundtable 2: The Use of Technology and Information in Adaptive City Governance, BRICS + City Lab II Colloquium, Moscow.

Moore, R. (November 2016) 'Development, governance and performance: The Gauteng City-Region as a hub of innovation.' Department of Science and Technology (DST) and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) 2016 Senior Experts Dialogue on Science, technology and innovation and the African transformation agenda, Pretoria, 3 November 2016

Culwick, C. (October 2016) ‘The Gauteng City-Region Observatory’. Shaping informed cities, Habitat III Urban Future event, Quito, 19 October 2016

Moore, R. (August 2016) 'Institutionalising a city-region: Knowledge for urban futures'. WC2 Summer Symposium, Berlin, 9 August 2016

Culwick, C. (August 2016) Panel discussion on the New Urban Agenda. WC2 Summer Symposium, Berlin, 8 August 2016


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