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City Deal approach to sustainable urban innovation

Cities are confronted with complex problems which require collaboration across different levels and sectors of society. City Deals are issue-based partnerships for urban sustainable innovation between frontrunners in the public and private sector. Ministries, local and regional governments, and businesses working together to experiment and develop solutions for issues such as circular buildings, smart cities and shared electric mobility.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Dutch cities wanted to experiment with electric shared mobility in housing development. Developing the necessary solutions required collaboration across multiple cities, 3 different ministries (Interior, Infrastructure and Economics), grid operators, real estate developers, shared mobility providers and charging station providers. In a normal situation, each stakeholder would have addressed part of the problem from its own silo. For any individual city, the task of bringing these diverse parties together in a single partnership can be daunting, especially when dealing with complex environmental transition themes.

The proposed approach creates collaboration between different departments of cities, municipalities and government where they would not otherwise. The end result shows that through such collaboration, the sum is more than its parts. In case of the City Deal Electric Shared Mobility, the Ministry of Infrastructure is supported by shared mobility as a shift toward a multi-modal mobility system, the Ministry of Interior can build more and more liveable housing because 1 shared car replaces 5-18 private cars, the Ministry of Economics is supported by electrification of the car-park, and by using electric cars as batteries to support the energy transition, and businesses are supported because cities provide the regulatory space to experiment with new technologies. Finally, all benefit from the City Deal as a platform where different societal actors meet, interact and learn together.

Since 2015, Agenda Stad works as a broker to bring together these parties in issue-focused partnerships. Through on-going dialogue with cities and ministries, topics for potential Deals are raised. The Key here is that the focus of the partnership is not on financing but rather on the content of the issue at hand. This increases innovative strength and the overall desire to collaborate.

The City Deal Electric Shared Mobility in Urban Development project developed as follows: After a process of partnership building and negotiation, all parties signed an agreement where each commited to its own contributions and learning objectives. The Deal then provided a platform for collaboration and exchange between the partners as equals. By involving design thinkers and community builders from the onset, the project employed creative approaches, for example, by creating a City Deal Community of Practice (CoP). The CoP provides a space to learn and explore around diverse questions that cut across Deals from the dealmakers, project leads and partners: How can we use imagination to develop a common vision? How can we deal with resistance among partners?

Since 2015, the method has been further developed and improved through 25 City Deals, with many more to come. The development of the instrument itself was very much a process of learning by doing. It has proven itself as a successful instrument for public policy innovation and is gaining attention to be implemented as an instrument for public innovation across the national government.

The City Deal approach early-on inspired the Amsterdam Pact which underlies the European Urban Agenda. A close interaction with the European Partnerships, as well as URBACT networks is therefore obvious.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

What is unique is how civil servants of the Ministry of Interior, from Agenda Stad, took upon themselves the role of brokers and dealmakers. This required a new way of working in addition to the territorial and generalist approach. Instead, the City Deals are issue-focused with societal partners working side-by-side to drive innovation, growth and transition. In addition, the broad issue-focused approach means an integral way of working. The sum is more than its parts. Finally, the City Deals have been a space for experimentation themselves. Using design thinking, transition thinking and creative methods to inform the tools and processes.

What is the current status of your innovation?

Next steps include:
- Continuing the implementation of the City Deal approach by building new partnerships, with a focus on expanding from cities to regions.
- Further refining the approach in the 12 on-going partnerships.
- Capturing and formalising tacit knowledge of the practice of City Deals.
- Diffusing the practice of City Deals across other areas and departments of the government.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

Citizens are engaged differently in different deals, particularly those which experiment with citizen-led initiatives and civic participation.

Government officials, Civil Society organizations and companies bring expertise, capital, social and technological innovations, and network to the partnerships.

The wide range of partners involved in each Deal with diverse, self-defined, contributions is a defining feature of the innovation.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

Overall, companies and civil society organizations gained access to urban policy innovation. It also provided frontrunners with the space to test and develop their solutions. Government officials gained more real-time insights into state-of-the-art developments and the space to test how these can be integrated into existing policy making. Furthermore, each stakeholder was enabled to work integrally on questions and transcend disciplinary, budgetary or institutional hierarchies and barriers.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

The increasing attention and growing demand for this instrument underlines its success. Recently, Utrecht announced it will scale up electric shared mobility and become the first region in the world to implement vehicle-2-grid charging. Over the past 3 years, this City Deal Electric Shared Mobility has proven to be a valuable platform for experimentation where such innovations have been given space to develop.

Impact has also been captured in two recent publications (Dutch only):
Urban Futures Studio/UU (2019) Experimenteel Bestuur:
NSOB/PBL (2020) Leren institutionaliseren:

25 Deals were signed with each its own monitoring in place.

Challenges and Failures

A big challenge lies with ensuring the development from successful experimentation to large-scale implementation. To address this, we are working closely with officials to further embed the City Deal approach within the other activities of the government.

Another challenge that lies ahead is to further develop and institutionalise this approach. This includes finding learning strategies, understanding how can lessons be diffused across the organization, and how learning can be made an integral part of the process.

Conditions for Success

Above all, the success lies in having the right people engaged and motivated at the right time.


The City Deal approach has been replicated 25 times now, with many more to come.

Lessons Learned

Involving different and diverse stakeholders early is key to the success of the City Deal.

Focusing on the issue rather than on financing has been a key factor in ensuring enduring ownership among partners.

Year: 2015
Level of Government: National/Federal government


  • Implementation - making the innovation happen
  • Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
  • Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways

Innovation provided by:

Date Published:

8 September 2021

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