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Construction of an experimental and co-creation research methodology for co-operative governance in territorial development policies

In a workshop

The prolonged economic crisis in Europe has led to a growing feeling of alienation among citizens from the main decision-making centres. The co-creation research methodology for co-operative governance is an innovative approach to stakeholder engagement in which policymakers and researchers work as a team in dialogue spaces configured to address different territorial challenges. A participative, open and collaborative governance for the economic development of Gipuzkoa is therefore being built.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Many policy makers are facing the challenge of defining more collaborative, participative and inclusive policy processes to recover the confidence of organisations and citizens in their territories. One of the main problems they meet is the lack of methodologies to do this. The innovation presented in this case shares one such methodology, namely Action Research for Territorial Development, developed to a great extent between researchers from Orkestra, Basque Institute of Competitiveness and policy makers in the Territorial Development Laboratory, fostered by the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa in the framework of Etorkizuna Eraikiz (see the OPSI case Etorkizuna Eraikiz) and joined by eleven county development agencies of this territory.

Most frameworks regarding the construction of collaborative governance modes for policy making are normative and say what should be done. They help policy makers reach the determination to experiment with new governance modes for policy making. But after this decision is made, processes often get stuck because there is no methodological approach to help manage complexity and conflict inherent to these processes.

The innovation analysed in this case responds to these challenges by constructing an action research methodology adapted to territorial development policies, and more specifically, to innovation policies. The methodology is not a recipe book written by researchers for policy makers to use. It has been co-created by policy makers and researchers together in the context of real policy processes. Consequently, the methodology has been the way policy makers and researchers have worked together to construct cooperative governance and, at the same time, it is also a result of the process. Considering that the specific cooperative governance constructed in Gipuzkoa, Basque Country (Spain) is very context specific, the methodology to construct it is what cold be shared with other policy makers and researchers trying to construct cooperative governance modes for policy making.

The co-creation nature of the methodology is innovative because most research in the field of innovation policy and territorial development is conducted through linear approaches where researchers do talk to or interview policy makers, but do not co-create the policy with them. Knowledge is usually created in academia and then “transferred” to policy makers. Through the co-creation approach action research brings participation and empowerment of policy makers and other stakeholders to the core of the policy process. Knowledge is not transferred from one to others but co-created. The result are cooperative governance modes that are experimental and inclusive.

The immediate goal of the innovation is to develop territorial development policies in Gipuzkoa, Basque Country, Spain through co-operative governance modes that make policies more democratic and efficient. The final beneficiaries are SMEs and their workers, and other relevant beneficiaries are county development agencies that have seen their role in territorial development reinforced as intermediary agents in territorial development. The long term goal of the innovation is to systematise the learnings in the process in Gipuzkoa and construct a methodology that can be used for new experimental processes in other policy making contexts.

The new governance was institutionalised in June 2017 through the formal agreement for collaboration signed between the provincial council of Gipuzkoa and eleven county development agencies. Since then, the spaces and procedures constructed through the methodology Action Research for Territorial Development have been institutionalised. This means that they are the spaces and procedures used by the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa and eleven county development agencies of this territory to co-create territorial development policies. Policy programs devoted to support SMEs and the employability of people in risk of social exclusion have been developed through these cooperative procedures.

The goal for the next years is to develop multi-level governance further by integrating the Basque Government and its agencies in these processes and develop the new governance horizontally by integrating vocational training centres.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

The new methodology brings policy makers and social researchers together in co-creation processes, breaking with the mainstream tradition of linear research in regional innovation policies.

There is a widespread assumption in innovation policy making that the role that social researchers can play is that of experts and advisors. These roles are based on the idea that knowledge that informs policy making is first constructed in academic spheres and then “transferred” to policy makers. Often this transference is made in terms of recommendations meant to be implemented.

The action research for territorial development methodology presented here as an innovation proposes a radical change in how knowledge for policy is constructed as it is based on co-creation processes where researchers do not transfer their knowledge to policy makers but facilitate a process of co-constructing actionable knowledge.

What is the current status of your innovation?

The innovation is in the stage of diffusing lessons. First, part of the methodology is being shared and co-constructed through a virtual platform that aims at dialogical communication. At the time of writing it has 266 participants in 24 different countries. It is accessible in Second, in response to a proposal by policy makers, researchers have recently published a document in open access that shares a compendium of the methodological lessons learnt in the Territorial Development Laboratory. The document can be accessed in

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

Policy makers brought their experiential knowledge in policy making for territorial development. Researchers brought concepts, and methodological frameworks from action research, regional innovation policy and local economic development. When applying the methodology, 404 firms were also involved in one of the policy programs, they contributed with their knowledge about their own situation regarding Industry 4.0.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

In this co-generative process, participants are at the same time users, stakeholders and beneficiaries. Policy makers have benefited from a methodology to make their policies more democratic and efficient. Researchers have benefited from a methodology that increases the social impact of their research. Firms have benefited from a methodology for diagnosing their situation that is not extractive (only getting data form them) but based on dialogue (giving them access to the persons defining policies).

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

The main result of this innovation is that the province of Gipuzkoa has a co-operative governance where the provincial council and eleven county development agencies are co-creating (designing, implementing and evaluating together) territorial development policies. Qualitative evaluations show the perception of the participants of this being a better way to address policy making than previous approaches. Participants have particularly valued the process of generating a shared vision and have highlighted the need to continue deepening in modes or new channels of relationship between the public and private sectors,

The impact has been measured in terms of number of participants in the processes (about 33 provincial and local policy makers collaborating, together with 7 researchers) and in numbers of firms reached by the programs (404 in total).
The expectation is that in the future more territorial actors will integrate this cooperative governance. The first steps to integrate the Basque

Challenges and Failures

The main challenge faced was the need to build trust among different policy making levels (provincial, county, municipality). Co-operation is a concept easily adopted in the discourse but when taking it into practice, conflicts emerge that need to be handled.

The main failures in the process have to do with the decision of some policy makers not to participate in the process or the behaviour of some participants that made decisions that affected all participants in ways that were not co-operative (free riding).

The way to respond to these challenges has been to co-construct the work methodology so that it is able to integrate these elements as a natural part of the co-operative process. Consequently, the methodology (the innovation) now includes the dimension of conflict as a central dimension of co-operation and offers insights on to face it.

Conditions for Success

This innovation (methodology) requires a very strong motivation by policy makers to transform policy making into more participatory approaches. Policy makers needed to be flexible, first, by sharing their policy processes with researchers and accepting researchers’ knowledge as valuable. Second, by accepting co-generative processes, some policy makers had to give up part of their power to decide, while others had to accept new responsibilities in the process.

Personal values and motivations are also very relevant. The process was initiated and sustained by policy makers that believed in the social benefits of a new political culture based on transparency, cooperation and co-responsibility.

Another condition for success is strong leadership, but, not any kind of leadership. These processes require strong relational leaders that will facilitate the process of transformation of their governments and other organizations.


The policy makers from the provincial council and county development agencies that have participated in the Territorial Development Laboratory are using elements of the methodology in other projects in their organizations.

The research team is applying the methodology in other projects. Some of these are developed with the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa and other local governments in the Basque Country. Other context where the methodology is being applied by the research team are Rafaela, Santa Fe in Argentina and in Agder, Norway. In both cases researchers are facilitating cooperative projects between municipalities and universities.

The methodology has the potential to be used in multiplicity of context where policy makers wish to open their policy processes to participation, but considering action research approaches are not usual in university environments, this would require strengthening this approach in universities.

Lessons Learned

This innovation, the co-construction of an action research methodology for territorial development, shows the potential of collaboration between policy makers and social researchers.

There is one main lesson learned in the process: collaboration between university researchers and policy makers in the context of concrete policy processes can be very beneficial for both of them, but participatory and co-generative research approaches such as action research are nowadays underdeveloped in most university settings.

The experience with this methodology shows that policy makers have demanded an increasing number of projects developed this way. Nevertheless, there are few researchers in university environments that make a choice for these methodologies. This, among other reasons, has to do with the incentive systems for researchers, mainly oriented to publishing in ranked journals.

A new innovation required in this context is an incentive system for university researchers that will give recognition to their involvement in transformation processes.

Supporting Videos

Year: 2009
Level of Government: Local government


  • 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:

11 April 2019

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