Trencher, Gregory; Bai, Xuemei; Evans, James; McCormick, Kes; Yarime, Masaru
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...[Show more] 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.
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