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Implementation of nature-based solutions in cities requires collaboration, learning and co-production of knowledge

Bumble bee in purple flowers on a roof with tall building behind. Photo.
Bumble bee on roof in Malmö. Photo: Björn Wickenberg

As part of current efforts to work towards sustainable development, find solutions to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and adapt cities to the effects of climate change, such as floods and extreme heat, there are high hopes that nature-based solutions (NBS) can support the transformation needed. Based on the knowledge that implementation of NBS is still emerging and constrained by various barriers, it is important to improve the understanding of how to overcome these barriers.

In his thesis, Björn Wickenberg highlights that the concept of nature-based solutions needs to be translated into action-oriented knowledge and implemented through collaborative efforts that cut across boundaries between different stakeholders and types of knowledge.

In policy and science there is much focus on NBS as a concept, a theoretical idea. However, NBS can alternatively be described as a comprehensive and demanding approach reflecting the complexity of planning, designing, implementing, maintaining, and governing sustainability in cities. It includes a variety of solutions, applicable across scales and land use contexts. It requires integration in urban planning processes, new and innovative business models, and application of participatory governance involving different stakeholders at different levels of society. As such, it represents a holistic planning approach addressing the why, what, who and how for achieving sustainability through integrating nature in cities.

”The area where I live, has three water dams for storing storm water in the event of extreme rains. These help to slow the water instead of overburdening the city’s underground water sewage system, which would increase the risk of flooding. These dams were built to store water but they aren’t just a water management solution. When it’s cold, they freeze over and provide ice-skating facilities during the winter days. And as well as looking visually striking they also provide ecosystem services and habitat for animals and wildlife to thrive in. For me, this is a good example of what a nature-based solution is and why they are important”, says Björn.

Björn Wickenberg in a blue shirt standing outside with trees behind him. Photo.
Björn Wickenberg. Photo: Malmö stad

With a dual focus on research and practice, the aim of this thesis has been to study in what ways the processes of experimentation, learning, and knowledge production enable or constrain the translation and implementation of NBS.

“From the perspective of sustainable urban development and to achieve the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, the NBS concept itself is not really interesting unless it materializes into action. So, a core argument of my research is that implementation is conditional for the potential of NBS to unfold. This means that conceptual ideas around NBS need to be translated into more actionable, operational, knowledge - and turned into actions in cities”, continues Björn.

The research focuses on three strategies for advancing implementation of NBS. First, experimentation is important because it enables change at a more comprehensible, or “implementable” scale. Second, learning - and perhaps more importantly relearning - is important if we are to see and do things differently, which requires a lot of deliberate reflection, especially collective reflection as part of urban planning and governance processes. And thirdly, experimentation and learning is closely related to knowledge and the need to produce new knowledge on how to advance NBS implementation in cities; both evidence-based knowledge, for which science is needed, and practical knowledge related to taking action and collaborating for urban nature-based transformations. Ultimately, these strategies contribute towards building capacity for making change possible.

“I think that academics can learn from the practical aspects I highlight in my research, for example the importance of collaboration and co-production of knowledge. As for urban planners, my research presents a few key messages around the importance of experimenting, learning and producing new knowledge, and in turn what needs to be considered for this, such as applying reflexive and participatory governance approaches and engaging in collaborative processes and testing new solutions. But perhaps most importantly, research and practice need to work more together.”

The thesis concludes that the cross-boundary and collaborative qualities of experimentation, learning and knowledge co-production can generate important learning effects and actionable knowledge for nature-based urban transformations. Transdisciplinary and collaborative platforms for experimentation, which include both research and practice, therefore have the potential to stimulate and support further learning and knowledge to build the capacity needed to advance NBS implementation, and ultimately, sustainability, in cities.


About the dissertation:

Friday 10 June at 13:00, Björn Wickenberg, the International Institute for Industrial and Environmental Economics (IIIEE), Lund University, defends his thesis “Translation and Implementation of Nature-based Solutions in Cities: Experimentation, Learning and Knowledge Production”. The defense will take place in the Aula at the IIIEE. Faculty opponent is Mattias Hjerpe, Senior Lecturer at Linköping University.

Read the full dissertation

For more information, please contact:

Björn Wickenberg, phone +46-703-129303 bjorn [dot] wickenberg [at] iiiee [dot] lu [dot] se ()