Policy transfer, diffusion and translation in territorial governance and spatial planning in the Global South

Convenors: Francesca Blanc, Giancarlo Cotella, Marcin Dąbrowski

 Date: 26th October 2020

Organized under the patronage of the AESOP Thematic Group Transboundary Spaces, Policy Diffusion, Planning Cultures

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National and local territorial governance, spatial policies and planning are the results of the cross-fertilisation through domestic and external inputs. The travelling of planning ideas, concepts, and policy solutions across cities is commonplace, facilitated by international platforms, globally operating institutions, bilateral inter-city relations and study visits or transnational city networks. While being ubiquitous, this process of transnational learning remains problematic. It tends to be biased towards export of Western ideas to the Global South, is underpinned by uncertainty about the suitability of foreign solutions to the local context (Rose, 1993; Dolowitz & Marsh, 2010), doubts about the scope for learning from ‘sanitised’ and uncritical best practice examples (Stead, 2012) and by asymmetries of power and political agendas (Temenos & McCann, 2013; McCann & Ward, 2012). The processes of formulation of urban planning practices and policies assimilate and translate best practices coming from different cities and countries results in a ‘bricolage’ (Stone, 2017) that especially in the Global South echoes the mestizo culture of many countries.

Against this background, this seminar invites scholars - in planning, urban and regional studies, geography and related disciplines - to reflect on the cross-fertilisation and adaptation of spatial planning policies in the process of transfer in the Global South. In particular, we welcome contributions that inquire South-South and South-North transfers, in order to contribute to a growing literature body that sheds light on how Global South countries shift ‘from import to export’ of policies for cities and regions (Porto de Oliveira, Osorio Gonnet, Montero, Leite, 2019).

There are several knowledge gaps on that topic that call for a critical investigation. First, while it is recognised that cities or states from the Global South are now a source of planning and territorial governance ideas and practices ‘travelling’ to the Global North, as illustrated by the spread of participatory budgeting from Brazil to Europe and beyond (Sintomer et al. 2008), we still know little about how solutions from the Global South travel and are adapted to the local contexts in which they land, how the knowledge is transferred and who is involved in this process. Second, there is a need for a critical investigation of how ‘urban solutionism’ (Montero, 2018) driven by the mainstream international urban agencies (UN-Habitat, World Bank, etc.) impacts the planning and territorial governance practice on the ground in the cities of the Global South. Does it actually make a difference? Do the solutions imported that way achieve the expected results when confronted with the local institutional, social, or spatial conditions? For instance, the 2030 Agenda and its implementation through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), especially the SDG 11, offer an interesting framework to inquire the international influences in the field of urban development and spatial planning. Influences of the ‘global philanthropy’ have progressively shaped local and national policies and the ‘urban solutionism’ (Montero, 2018) could be seen as a new form of colonialism. Thus, there is a need for a critical reflection on the transfer of knowledge and/or policies through this channel that may involve hidden power relations.

Thirdly, while there is a growing literature on transnational city networks (e.g. Kern et al. 2009), there is limited research on the flow of knowledge through formalised or informal inter-city networks and how this knowledge is ‘translated’ locally (see Stone, 2012) to drive change in planning and territorial governance. Finally, focusing our attention to South-South and South-North transfer also means bringing into question the hegemonic Western theoretical models and paradigms and opening to a wider range of ‘experimentalism’ in policy transfer (Stone, 2017), where informal practices could also be the content of the transfer.

This seminar will seek to bridge the above-mentioned research gaps and provide a space for debating policy transfer in planning and territorial governance from the perspective of the Global South.