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Empirical Research on Urban Governance


Cities and Governance Webinar Series - Empirical Research on Urban Governance



The first in Lingnan University’s 2021 Cities and Governance Webinar Series was presented by Dr Nuno F da Cruz, Assistant Professorial Research Fellow at LSE Cities, London School of Economics and Political Science.


“We still have a long way to go in having methods and approaches to compare governance in different cities so we can learn, in a more systematic way, how governance works,” Dr da Cruz noted by way of introduction.


His seminar was divided into two parts. In the first, Dr da Cruz explored approaches for the systematic comparison of urban governance regimes. In the second part, he described the empirical research he and his team undertook on urban governance, or at least one of the dimensions of urban governance, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.



The systematic comparison of urban governance regimes


This topic is important, Dr da Cruz explained, because different systems of governance lead to different outcomes – social, economic and environmental – and it remains unclear how these links operates. To date, the lack of systematically collected, comparable data from different jurisdictions has hampered theory development and empirical testing.


While the domain of governance – the process by which public policy decisions are made and implemented – includes government, it also includes many other stakeholders.


Dr da Cruz identified five forces which influence urban governance. The first of these are the laws, rules and institutions in place. Is the political system democratic? What types of national urban policy and regulatory powers prevail? Second, the availability and access to resources. These come in a variety of forms, including public funds, expertise and natural resources. Third, the relationships and traditions that exist in the city. The factors at play here range from the degree of community spirit and kinship among the population, to levels of activism. Fourth, the nature of the political ideologies and attitudes at work. These can be shaped by the city’s or nation’s history, group identity, partisanship, and the existence of populist or radical movements. Finally, there are unexpected shocks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, environmental disasters, or political revolutions.


Over the years certain theories have evolved that emphasise different influences on urban governance over others, Dr da Cruz noted. But, of course, the picture is complicated by the fact these elements overlap, and impact, each other.


“Examining the identities and presumed roles of the various actors and stakeholders from a governance perspective, rather than the traditional public management and administration angle, offers scope for a more 'open-minded' analysis,” he said.



The relationships between governance actors – an empirical study


Dr da Cruz believes the research approach that could best help practitioners in the field effect positive change, involves the systematic parsing and investigation of urban governance, with the goal of developing a framework for explanation and prediction.


To this end, and despite the fact much less data is generally available for cities in the Global South, he and his colleagues studied urban governance in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Specifically, they examined the social structures, the informal connections and patterns of interaction, involved in decision-making around the city’s strategic spatial planning.


“We focused on spatial planning because Addis Ababa is a city under constant construction.” Decisions made today will shape its development, and prospects, for decades to come. Addis Ababa also has unique features within the region. For example, it is the only city in sub-Saharan Africa with a light-rail transport system.


“We first listed 30 different stakeholder types, and then identified actual entities for these stakeholder types that operate on the ground,” Dr da Cruz explained.


Active in the city are: national and supranational (such as the IMF) government stakeholders; sub-national government stakeholders, such as the Addis Ababa city government; sub-city-level government stakeholders, including sub-city administrations, woredas (district administration units) and kebeles (neighbourhoods); other stakeholders, range from citizens' associations and cooperatives, the media, unions, politicians and business associations.


Dr da Cruz realised the best approach for research in the field was to use structured interviews to identify the most important actors in the city. From interviews with 29 stakeholders a network of relationships was revealed. “Our sample of interviewees was pretty representative of the network,” he noted.



Research findings


The network consists of actors (organisations, stakeholders and individuals) and ties (different types of interactions between the actors). It was found to be a low-density network, so some stakeholders hold significant power due to their roles as the links between others. Yet, the low centrality in the network does not imply some actors – such as the Prime Minister, the Mayor or Chinese investors – are relatively powerless.


In the opinion of Dr da Cruz, the results of the research show that a systematic analysis of the networks revealed by interviews is an effective way to shed light on who the powerful actors are in terms of urban governance. Formal institutional analysis may not capture informal dynamics that are crucial in explaining why certain voices or interests are prioritised and others are sidelined. It was shown that the capacity to influence outcomes can be acquired in different ways: through legal mandate, control of funding or via social networks.


The findings support the idea that Addis Ababa is following the Chinese model of urban development. While Addis Ababa’s development is very impressive for poor country, Dr da Cruz pointed out it might be occurring at the expense of inclusiveness.