Best practices that shape sustainable urban futures: beyond ‘examples which are to hand’

2012 EEEN Forum / Evaluation

Sofie Bouteligier, Wageningen University; Han Vandevyvere, KU Leuven; Bart Ver­coutere, Royal Haskoning; Hans Bruyninckx, HIVA – KU Leuven

In the search for more sustainable ways of living, policymakers look for initiatives that have fruitfully contributed to achieving this goal elsewhere. This has led to a proliferation of data­bases with so-called best practices. In the domain of urban environmental governance, both international organisa­tions (e.g. UN-Habitat) and city networks (e.g. the C40 Climate Leader­ship Group) have gathered information on successful policies with the aim that will be repli­cated elsewhere. Also private actors (e.g. multinational environmental consultancies) make play with achievements in other cities around the world to persuade city governments to chose a particular path towards urban environmental sustainability.

Yet, best practices are rarely critically evaluated before translating them to other contexts. Bulkeley (2006) already suggested that the selection criteria behind best practices are ob­scure and that best practices often simply reflect the ‘examples which are to hand’. Further­more, in an era in which information and knowledge have become strate­gic resources (Borja & Castells, 1997; Ergazakis et al., 2006; Gertler, 2003), the identification and spread of best prac­tices contains an act of power: those who determine which best practices are spread and replicated around the globe have power (Bulke­ley, 2006; Mol, 2008).

The open discussion will be held between researchers and practitioners (involved in city networks and in the envi­ronmental consultancy industry) and aims at answering the follow­ing questions: (i) What are the major challenges with regard to the identification and replica­tion of best practices? (ii) Could more transparency on the criteria behind the identification of best practices increase these practices’ legitimacy? (iii) Could a more critical evaluation make best practices more appropriate means for guiding policy initiatives? (iv) What criteria should be at the basis of such an evaluation?

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