Workshop Report

Towards an externally funded ISCN Community of Practice

Sao Paolo, June 14, 2019



ISCN project team, International Sustainable Campus Network

The challenge

Cities around the globe are taking a leadership role in sustainability and resilience, yet few are doing so in partnership with their local universities in an intentional, system-wide and cross-disciplinary way. On the other hand, few campuses have a strategic framework in place for working with their city, yet significant resources are flowing to cities and universities for research and operational projects related to urban sustainability.

ISCN is well positioned as a network representing leading global universities and could help coordinate this type of city-campus collaboration and has initiated a seed project to propel this line of thought.

Scope of this workshop

In this workshop, we progressed the work of the seed project towards building a city-university assessment framework and extend the inventory of examples of city-university co-operations. We discussed the work of participants with relation to their cities, ways for knowledge exchange on partnering between cities and universities, and potential funding resources for future joint work.

The setting was an active co-working space, with no presentations. Fourteen persons from universities of 4 different continents participated and worked hard and with a lot of joy together. After some very short impulse presentations on the results of a questionnaire and what city is, what a community of practice is, and whether this city-university co-operation is a new thing or a logical extension, the group shared their own experiences.

In two rounds of three separate table discussions, we addressed six questions:

  • What do universities want from city-co-operation?
  • What do cities need from universities?
  • What is a successful city-university co-operation?
  • What do ISCN members want to bring in the network / community of practice?
  • What does the community produce, how does it operate? What does it require?
  • How to kick-start this co-operation? Use existing forms/initiatives? Funding?

The findings

What do universities want from city-co-operation?

  • Partnership, Dialogue, Leadership, Policy
  • Ideas, Knowledge, Action
  • Implementation, Research impact and Validation of research, scaling, New research questions
  • Money and Funding
  • Testbed, Community engagement and Test persons

What do cities need from universities? 

  • Research expertise, knowledge, technical support
  • be seen as a trusted knowledge hub
  • City can act as a living lab/test bed for university research and learning
  • Universities need to:
    • Contribute to local public policy dialogue and development
    • Be proactive in turning conversation into collaboration
    • Educate staff and students to be the citizens that the city needs
    • Be a good ‘corporate citizen’ for the city and in the community
    • Be a true, equal partner to the city
  • Cities must see that they need universities!

What is a successful city-university co-operation?

  • The partnership needs to grow trust and base on this
  • The goal is to create win-win situations
  • Transparency as a key element
  • Long term partnership to grow trust, change mindset and to guarantee a long-term change and acting
  • Partnership on one level and horizontal
  • Co-creation of framing tasks and problems
  • Co-production of solutions as a foundation for knowledge transfer, participants are multiplicators
  • Research in academia also needs to be applied in order to solve real world problems
  • Partnership should include more than one person from each party to provide stability on a long run
  • Formal and trusty agreements need to be present in order for stakeholders to not back down/back off from obligations and responsibilities
  • Obligations and responsibilities have to be well defined prior to action
  • There must be commitment from all interested parts
  • The partnership needs to be resilient to time, policy and government changes
  • Different stakeholders and groups are very different from each other, and so, need to be approached differently
  • There must be short-time responsiveness to both usual and sudden events that might happen
  • Mutual recognition is important in order to co-operation to work

What does the community produce, how does it operate, what does it require?

  • Define University’s value proposition to the city
  • Define best Uni-City partnerships
    • Interrogate existing resources – web search & ISCN call out of existing effective partnerships, Victoria’s C-UP framework
    • Gap analysis of available resources – what’s missing, what else do we need?
    • Develop resources required – case studies, add to framework. Use framework to analyse gathered case studies – what works, what doesn’t

How to kick start this cooperation?

  • We focused on practical stuff and suggestions. To start:
  • we need many interested people with experience, know-how, lessons learnt, and commitment to fairly and openly share with each other
  • we need some funding to support, but don’t need huge amount either: mostly to cover expenses to support websites and virtual discussions across the world

How do we resource this, what’s the process?

  • Assign tasks above to student interns & coursework projects
  • Direct and manage the work being done
  • Validate and coordinate output
  • Plan and execute some tangible outcomes from this work

Other suggestions on what could be done:

  • ‘Match-making’: ISCN website to create a members section with profiles of individual / university on topics they are interested to learn, and contact detail. So other members who are also interested can group together to discuss and learn from each other.
  • Regular correspondence: ISCN secretariat to send reminders and facilitate online workshops to allow topical catch-up during the year
  • ‘Flipped classroom’: virtual presentations to be done before going to the conference, and use the time in the conference for discussions, workshops, design thinking etc.
  • Purpose of ISCN conference: to facilitate cross-university collaborations, instead of purely knowledge enhancement on particular issues/universities’ work


We agreed to get organized in the following way:

  • We will think in concrete actions and products
  • First product: co-created workshop report
  • Announced next contact moments:
    • Next skype meeting: 18 sept 2019
    • Two Skype Meetings in 2019, two in 2020?
    • One live meeting before next ISCN Conference?