What role can researchers play in driving urban reform?

Sep 15, 2023

ACRC’s theory of change identifies coalition-building among diverse stakeholders as a key factor enabling inclusive urban reform – particularly by actively involving organised disadvantaged groups.

We define urban reform coalitions as groups of diverse stakeholders – potentially involving civil society, state agencies, private enterprises – who perceive benefits in coming together, for varying lengths of time, to achieve common goals.

To this end, we have been engaged in advancing the practical application, theoretical understanding and strategic opportunities of urban reform coalitions. In mid-June 2023, we organised a three-day conference in Manchester, exploring the role of reform coalitions for equitable, inclusive and sustainable urban outcomes.

Building on deliberations from the conference, we held a webinar in September 2023 to discuss the role that academics, action researchers and professionals can play in fostering the formation and functioning of urban reform coalitions. In doing so, we wanted to give special focus to how knowledge and evidence can catalyse urban reform coalitions.

Chaired by ACRC research associate, Ezana Haddis Weldeghebrael, the webinar comprised presentations from three panellists, who talked about their experiences of working with urban reform coalitions and shared valuable lessons learned, followed by a question-and-answer session.

Shalini Sinha, Urban Asia Lead and Home-based Work Sector Specialist at Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), started by talking about the “I, Too, am Delhi” campaign, including the importance of having multi-sectoral partnerships and an intersectional perspective, along with the need to “demystify the technical”.

Next up, Catherine Sutherland, Associate Professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, shared her experiences and lessons from co-producing knowledge with disadvantaged groups in a project aimed at building flood resilience in Durban, South Africa. Discussing the collaborative Palmiet Catchment Rehabilitation Project in Durban, Catherine showed how academics can use their privileged position to work as intermediaries between communities and state actors, using innovative methodologies and pragmatic framing.

Finally, Paul Mukwaya, Coordinator at the Urban Action Lab, talked about his experiences as part of the Just City and Informality Working Group, led by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Uganda. He highlighted some of the challenges around sustaining urban reform coalitions, as well as how lessons drawn from informality can strengthen policy and practice for more just city futures.

Ezana closed the session by highlighting the necessity of further research and deliberations around urban reform coalitions, to advance our strategic understanding of how to sustain urban coalitions as reform agendas change, manage expectations among coalition partners – considering the slow pace of reform – and resolve conflicts of interests among coalition members and external stakeholders.

Watch the full webinar recording below and find out more about the projects discussed by the panellists via the links provided.

Further reading

“I, Too, Am Delhi”

Palmiet Catchment Rehabilitation Project, Durban

Just City and Informality Working Group, Kampala


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Header photo credit: Frank van den Bergh / Getty Images (via Canva Pro). Traffic congestion in Kampala, Uganda.

Note: This article presents the views of the author featured and does not necessarily represent the views of the African Cities Research Consortium as a whole.

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