Sub-theme 57: Smart and Livable Cities: SDGs in Urban Governance and Organization

Karl-Heinz Pogner
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Gianluca Miscione
University College Dublin, Ireland
Marie-Christine Therrien
ENAP Montréal, Canada

Call for Papers

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been criticized from many angles (Liverman, 2018). Despite these criticisms, their capacity to focus minds and mobilize activities across the most diverse settings and groups is obvious. This relates closely to A.O. Hirschman’s concept of the ‘hiding hand’ (Hirschman, [1967]/2020): Interventions may be able to mobilize unknown and unpredictable resources by hiding difficulties and obstacles that would hinder them from the offset. However, Flyvbjerg and Sunstein (2016) argue that two Hiding Hands may be at play: a ‘Benevolent Hiding Hand’, which is the one Hirschman talks about, and a ‘Malevolent Hiding Hand’, which obstructs projects instead of creatively saving them (and is far more frequent, they argue).
City and urban management and governance across the world is not alien to these same processes of unplanned emergent (organizational) learning. Smart cities, livable cities, resilient cities are often legitimized – or even hyped – by the promises of addressing those same challenges that the SDGs call to overcome. If the change agenda of the SDGs is conceived as a sort of societal Key Performance Indicators, the imperfections and flaws undermine it. Instead, if their capacity of spurring action and learning is foregrounded, their connection to actual and possible organizing becomes evident.
This overall framing allows us to put our specific issues of city and urban governance into a learning perspective. Learning and transformations do not necessarily need to be motivated by the search for the perfect, but can also be seen as capacity emerging from struggles for the better or best possible (not necessarily perfect for each stakeholder) solutions, which a broader range of stakeholders might reach (a certain) consensus about in their practices. Following from the above, we are looking for contributions that contribute to questions like:

  • What can be learnt from actual outcomes of Smart and Livable Cities initiatives?

  • How can success and failures enrich ongoing discussions about organizational and societal (grand) challenges?

More specifically, while trying to reach the SDG Goal to “[…] make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” (, cities and city leaders are facing new challenges in organizing their urban settings. For instance, they grapple with wicked problems such as inequalities of all sorts, pollution, climate change, migrants, technology adoption and side-effects, etc. Against the background of those grand societal challenges, this sub-theme aims at investigating the potentials and constraints of urban governance and management, New Public Service, urban design, planning and development, and the citizens’ participation and involvement when developing new tools and practices of organizing the city. These tools and practices should advance the municipalities’ ability to respond more quickly and more specifically to the needs, ideas and demands of the citizens facing the mentioned challenges of today and tomorrow. The sub-theme aims at investigating how these elements can create inclusion, public value and solve transformative resilience and sustainability governance issues in cities.
Strategy, action and participatory planning have become more receptive to a variety of societal demands. The relation between “state” and “citizens” legitimized by a “legal-rational authority” cannot be taken for granted any longer. Instead, different and competing rationalities characterize contemporary societies (Hoogenboom & Ossewaarde, 2005). Late modernity sees the rise of reflexive authority and organizations, which are more and more dependent on their actual environments. In practice, different rationalities continue to exist and proliferate around and beyond urban and regional planning bureaucracies. Participation takes the path of engaging with technology and the public sphere, i.e. employing other than sof rebalancing of experts and laypeople knowledge, often supported by technologies.
Close to citizens, municipalities experience multiple governance hurdles. They face isolated programs and services, organizational boundaries, suboptimal mechanisms of communication and coordination, and paradoxes between consultation and opaque, highly centralized decision-making including professional rivalries. They struggle with the lack of an overall vision and aligned objectives, with the lack of resources, with conflicting needs for different desired outcomes, and with aligning accountability for public administration with enabling participation of the civil society in this era of New Public Service. Furthermore, cities are facing the challenge of motivating stakeholders to collaborate while they are competing (co-competition). Finally yet importantly, they are expected to coordinate efficiently and effectively – but at the same time, they are generating a large amount of invisible workload. These issues reveal governance issues related to multidisciplinary network management, scaling capacities of collaboration and network dynamics. Research has highlighted the strategic impact of effective networks, coalition or inter-organizational coordination on achieving complex objectives for resilient communities (e.g. Kegler & Swan 2011), for environmental issues (Davis & Stazyk, 2015; Waddell, 2016), and for the adaptation to climate change (Cloutier et al., 2015; Therrien et al., 2019, 2020).
We are especially interested in case and other studies investigating the relationship between SDGs, digital technologies, urban management/governance, and last but not least, city life (Kitchin et al., 2018). Papers may address, but are not limited to research on the following themes and topics:
Management, governance, and leadership:

  • SDGs and how they define and are defined by agendas of urban governance

  • Urban governance, management, leadership and strategy “in action”

  • From New Public/Urban Management to New Public/Urban Governance?

  • Smart and Livable Cities strategies (social based, technology based, etc.)


  • Open, public and private innovation; sustainability, systems change, and responsible scaling

  • Urban design, planning, co-creation, public innovation, accounting and measurement

  • The role of expertise and experts, consultancy and consultants

Design and planning:

  • (Co-)organizing urban space, co-producing sustainable and resilient city development

  • Values in urban environments

  • The role of urban social movements

  • The performativity of models, techniques, platforms, and devices of change and continuity in the field of urban governance and planning

NB: As part of the sub-theme, we are planning to meet salient stakeholders from the Smart City Vienna Initiative, Vienna STEP 2025, and the Smart City Agency. Furthermore, we are planning to visit the flagship project in Aspern (ASCR GmbH & Co) that seeks to create the first, large-scale implementation of a smart city district, and the Smart Urban Labs Aspern und Liesing.


  • Cloutier, G., Joerin, F., Dubois, C., Labarthe, M., Legay, C., & D. Viens (2015): “Planning adaptation based on local actors’ knowledge and participation: A climate governance experiment.” Climate Policy, 15 (4), 458–474.
  • Davis, R.S., & Stazyk, E.C. (2015): “Examining the links between senior managers’ engagement in networked environments and goal and role ambiguity.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 26 (3), 433–447.
  • Flyvbjerg, B., & Sunstein, C.R. (2016): “The principle of the malevolent hiding hand; or, the planning fallacy writ large.” Social Research, 83 (4), 979–1004.
  • Hirschman, A.O. (1967/2020): “The principle of the hiding hand.” Public Interest, Winter 1967, 10–12 [reprint in: National affairs, 45, Fall 2020].
  • Hoogenboom, M.J.M., & Ossewaarde, M.R.R. (2005): “From Iron Cage to Pigeon House: The Birth of Reflexive Authority.” Organization Studies, 26 (4), 601–619.
  • Kegler, M.C., & Swan, D.W. (2011): “An initial attempt at operationalizing and testing the community coalition action theory.” Health Education & Behavior, 38 (3), 261–270.
  • Kitchin, R., Cardullo, P., & Di Feliciantonio, C. (2018): Citizenship, Justice, and the Right to the Smart City. The Programmable City Working Paper 41, accessed from:
  • Liverman, D.M. (2018): “Geographic perspectives on development goals: Constructive engagements and critical perspectives on the MDGs and the SDGs.” Dialogues in Human Geography, 8 (2), 168–185.
  • Therrien, M.C., Jutras, M., & Usher, S. (2019): “Including quality in social network analysis to foster dialogue in urban resilience and adaptation policies.” Environmental Science & Policy, 93, 1–10.
  • Therrien, M.-C., Usher, S., & Matyas, D. (2020): “Enabling strategies and impeding factors to urban resilience implementation: A scoping review.” Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 28 (1), 83–102.
  • Waddell, S. (2016): “Societal Change Systems: A framework to address wicked problems.” The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 52 (4), 422–449.
Karl-Heinz Pogner is Associate Professor in the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. His primary research and teaching interests are in the areas of academic literacy, text production in the professions, organizational communication, media and communication, co-creation, and urban governance.
Gianluca Miscione is Assistant Professor at the School of Business of University College Dublin, Ireland. His research focuses on the interplay between technologies and organizing processes with a specific interest on innovation, development, organizational change, social networks, trust, and social capital.
Marie-Christine Therrien is Management Professor at the École nationale d’administration publique (ENAP) in Montréal, Canada, and Director of Cité-ID LivingLab Urban Resilience Governance. Her research explores issues of network coordination, organizational failure, knowledge transfer, resilience in organizations, and crisis management.