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Knowledge partnerships for urban futures: policy-oriented research alliances

This programme focuses on the imperative for closer collaboration between government and research institutions, in particular to strengthen evidence-informed public policy on complex urban issues. While the need for this co-operation has long been evident, the practical implementation of partnerships to this end has been elusive. Powerful structural factors succeed in preserving the boundaries and insulations between these institutional forms (government, universities and research councils), and overcoming these obstacles to collaboration requires thoughtful and innovative interventions, as well as clearer insight into the enabling (and disabling) conditions for fruitful transdisciplinary knowledge flows.

Furthermore, approaches towards more sustainable urban environments must take into consideration various complex and more-or-less unpredictable system dynamics – including economic, social, political and environmental factors. Systemic approaches require multiple capabilities, including those of private sector, finance, civil society, academia and media, and collaborative engagement between these diverse sectors and actors. Inherited structures and procedures of governance tend to be predicated on models of the past, rather than the needs of the present and future. A shift from insular architectures of governance to collaborative and interconnected partnerships is needed. These are likely to be predicated on stronger knowledge bases, enhanced institutional capacity for transversal and associational governance, and mechanisms for nimbleness and responsive capabilities that can address unanticipated shocks. Long-term investment in high-quality strategic data, and in skilled personnel with adaptive dispositions (including an eye on horizons beyond the political churn), can help forge resilient, anticipatory capabilities in the city-region.

This is a project with two broad components:

  1. with Gauteng Planning Division, the establishment of selected strategic knowledge partnerships between government and universities in order to enhance evidence-based governance and to develop models for policy-oriented trans-disciplinarity; and
  2. research into global and local practice (with GCRO itself written up as a local case study) in the domain of forging university-to-government knowledge exchange, and approaches to manging policy-oriented research partnerships.

The Partnerships Brokerage component: The GCRO, together with Prof. Ivan Turok from the HSRC, convened a number of workshops since 2016, with a variety of research specialists and government officers, to form a network predicated on the study of city-region economies. The workshops have focused on the priorities and approaches in the study of city-region economies, including inclusive and township economies. Key initiatives so far have included:

1) A three-part pilot firm-level survey of industry in Gauteng:

  • A study of tradable services in Gauteng (undertaken by Prof Ivan Turok and Dr, Justin Visagie of the HSRC);
  • A study of business owners identified in the Quality of Life Survey (led by Graeme Gotz of the GCRO);
  • A census of manufacturing enterprises in selected industrial sites in Gauteng (led by Prof Simon Roberts of CCRED at the University of Johannesburg).

Discussions are underway on the establishment of a long-term ‘Quality of the Economy’ Survey.

2) The establishment of two research Chairs dedicated to city-region level economic research:

  • The Gauteng City-Region Chair in Trade and Investment, at the University of the Witwatersrand (incumbent: Prof. Ronald Wall)
  • The Gauteng City-Region Chair in Inclusive Economies, at the University of Pretoria (incumbent to be appointed in 2019).

There is a great shortage of researchers, and good-quality data, on the social economy of the city-region. Funding by government for purpose-specific research enterprises at universities is seen as a key strategy for generating high-quality strategic insight into the dynamics of the city-region, as well as producing succeeding generations of researchers and specialists in urban development.

3) The GCRO has been convening a number of meetings and workshops towards the planning of a Regional System of Innovation for Gauteng. This has involved:

  • Collaboration with a number of GPG departments, including the Office of the Premier, the Gauteng Department of Economic Development, the Gauteng Department of e-Government, and the Innovation Hub.
  • Workshops have been held with various Gauteng-based stakeholders, and specialists in the field of Innovation.
  • The national-level Department of Science and Technology has recently volunteered to assist this initiative, and will convene further consultative workshops on behalf of the Gauteng initiative, with an interest in its duplication elsewhere, and Gauteng’s approach has been presented to the Technology Innovation Agency.
  • Consultations have been held with the unit responsible for regional innovation systems at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, and we are exploring the possibility of collaboration with expertise from that quarter in the development of Gauteng’s regional innovation ecosystem.

Research into the Conduct of Knowledge Partnerships and Associative Governance more generally:

Experience has shown that short-term consultancies and contracts seldom result in the forms of nuanced insight needed to tackle complex (often ‘wicked’) urban issues. The alternative is to forge long-term partnerships between research specialists and policy-makers that allow for reciprocal knowledge flows and the growth of mutual insight and cooperation. Examples of these are relatively rare, but valuable. Linked to this is the challenge of co-operative or associative governance (within and between government, and between government and other actors) needed to address key city-region development initiatives.

The GCRO is involved in a variety of international and local collaborative research initiatives to understand and develop this domain of enquiry.

  • GCRO has an ongoing partnership with University College London’s (UCL) department for Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP). STEaPP specializes in issues of university and government knowledge transfer and partnerships. STEaPP and GCRO have frequently co-organised and hosted international panels and presentations, including at UN Habitat and INGSA conferences, often including senior colleagues from Gauteng Provincial Government. The work has focused on the challenges and rewards of investment in the science-policy nexus, especially at the level of urban governance. A co-authored STEaPP-GCRO paper has been submitted for publication.
  • The GCRO has presented on its distinctive model of collaboration at a number of international and local fora, and facilitated workshops with administrations seeking to emulate the model. Most recently, the GCRO partnered with the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission to present a series of Master Classes for policy-makers and policy-researchers from across Africa (December 2018), and joint presentations at the 2019 UN-Habitat Assembly in Nairobi with the JRC and the UN’s Global Urban Observatory (GUO).The GCRO was similarly featured in an international seminar hosted by the UCLG’s Metropolis organisation in June 2019. Significantly, these global multi-lateral organisations (UN, UCLG and EC) are now profiling the GCRO (and including our Quality of Life Survey) as a desirable exemplar, both as a partnering policy-research organisational form, and the kind of granular research designed to inform policy interventions in complex urban settings.
  • The GCRO participates in the BRICS Megacity Governance research project, which brings together urban policy research groups from five city-regions (Moscow, Shanghai, Delhi, Sao Paolo and Gauteng) in a series of comparative studies, with an edited collection as an output planned for 2020. The study seeks to develop a broad conceptual architecture for understanding the dynamics of complex city-region governance, and using these concepts to illustrate how approaches to urban governance has evolved in distinctive ways across these very varied societies.
  • The GCRO has been presented as a unique case study in the area of knowledge partnerships locally. The GCRO was commissioned to prepare a report for the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation entitled 'The Gauteng City Region Observatory: A case study report prepared for DPME' as part of the Learning Facility for the Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development (PSPPD).
  • The DPME has subsequently requested the GPG and GCRO to develop a chapter on city-region scale of planning for the forthcoming Five-year Implementation Plan of the National Development Plan.
  • The case study (published in 2017) acknowledges that such partnerships are generally characterised by sustained, longer-term investments by the partners, and continuing, multi-year sets of activities, aiming for incremental accumulative effects.
  • The GCRO has been mandated (in 2017) to facilitate the collaborative relationships between Gauteng Provincial Government and the universities in the city-region. Work to this end commenced in September 2017, and resulted so far in the establishment of two research chairs in economics, and a number of brokered collaborations between GPG and specialist researchers elsewhere.


Moore, R. ‘The Gauteng City Region Observatory: A Case Study Report Prepared for DPME’ Service Contract No. DCI-AFS/2013-333-292 Internal Activity No. 1.1.6. August 2016

Recent presentations

Rob Moore (June 2019) ‘An overview of approaches to the Gauteng Innovation Ecosystem’. National Innovation Coordination Workshop. Technology Innovation Agency, Pretoria, June 2019.

Julia de Kadt and Rob Moore (June 2019). 'The GCRO's Quality of Life survey: an overview', Metropolis International seminar: Metropolitan policies and indicators of social cohesion. CIDOB, Barcelona, 27 June 2019.

Rob Moore (June 2019) ‘Working in the Data-Policy Nexus in South Africa: The Gauteng City-Region Observatory’. Presentation for Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, Seville, June 2019.

Rob Moore (May 2019) ‘Data for Sustainable Urban Development: The Gauteng City-Region Observatory’. Presentation for 1st UN-Habitat Assembly Innovation for better lives, Nairobi, June 2019.

Rob Moore (March 2019) ‘Associative Governance for Economic Inclusion’. Poverty and Urban Hunger Summit, Johannesburg, March 2019.

Rob Moore (February 2019). ‘Deepening Evidence-Informed Economic Development’. Next steps for GGDA – GCRO Partnership, February 2019.

Rob Moore (December 2018). ‘Appraising the Urban and Territorial Realities in Africa: The Gauteng City-Region Observatory’, Presentation for EIPM Master Classes, Pretoria, 9-11 December 2018.

Rob Moore (December 2018). ‘Multilevel Governance for Pro-Poor Economic Inclusion – A Case Study from South Africa’. Cities and Urban Science Advice. Presentation for INGSA Conference, Tokyo, December 2018.

Rob Moore (November 2018). ‘Knowledge for Urban Governance: The Gauteng City-Region Observatory’. Presentation for the INGSA Conference, Tokyo, November 2018.

Rob Moore (November 2018). ‘What Makes Cities ‘Smart’?: Knowledge for Urban Governance’. Presentation for the INGSA Conference, Tokyo, November 2018.

Rob Moore (July 2018). ‘Tshwane: Key Trends and Challenges for the Future’, Tshwane Councillors’ Strategic Breakaway, July 2018.

Rob Moore (May 2018). ‘Steering Urban Futures: The Gauteng City-Region Observatory’. Presentation for Architecture Masters Group, University of Johannesburg, May 2018.

Rob Moore (March 2018). ‘Knowledge for Urban Governance: The Gauteng City-Region’. Presentation for Masters Group, Institute for Human Settlements – Erasmus University, Rotterdam, March 2018.

Rob Moore (March 2018). ‘Knowledge Infrastructure for Governance of City-Regions: The Gauteng City-Region Observatory’. Presentation for Technische Universitat Leipzig, March 2018.

Rob Moore (February 2018). ‘The Gauteng City-Region Observatory: Knowledge for Urban Governance’. World Urban Forum, Kuala Lumpur, February 2018.

Rob Moore (January 2018). ‘The Gauteng City-Region Observatory: Knowledge for Urban Governance and Innovation’, GPG Delegation to Emilia Romagna and Reggio Emilia, January 2018.

Last updated: 31 July 2019.


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