Lack of effective knowledge brokerage and stewardship opportunities

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"Lack of effective knowledge brokerage and stewardship opportunities" as a driver of injustice refers to the ways in which (access to) useful information and know-how around sustainable urban interventions, and their benefits, is not shared effectively or equally among social groups, sectors or disciplines and thus constrain the potential for both sustainability and justice.

General introduction

To know of and about sustainable infrastructures (e.g. urban green areas, healthy food, or social innovation projects), including how they are governed, why they are beneficial, and how they can be accessed, can be in itself an enabling factor for their implementation, accessibility and benefit received (Trencher et al., 2013[1]). When, on the other hand, knowledge production and communication is exclusive, it can become a driver of injustice by limiting the potential for participation, stewardship or uptake of innovations.

Effective, inclusive and socially considerate knowledge brokerage can enhance the justice aspect of urban sustainability interventions, especially when it includes and brings benefits to under-privileged and vulnerable groups (Partidario & Sheate, 2013[2]; van der Velden, 2004[3]). By knowledge brokerage here we refer to the processes that include facilitating knowledge exchange or sharing between and among various stakeholders, including researchers, practitioners, and policy makers.


Manifestations and types of injustice

Access to knowledge can be seen as a distributive justice concern that in turn impacts procedural justice, given that environmental and sustainability awareness and education will presumably animate more informed and meaningful, and thus more inclusive, participation. The extent to which people not only access, but also internalize the sustainability innovations being undertaken can to a great extent determine how the benefits are perceived. In Ljubljana, for example, it was found that farmers had low awareness of existing food-related producers’ networks, and little overall knowledge of better practices to reach the consuming public. This was seen to be both hampering the producers’ potential of surviving financially against industrialized agricultural businesses and limiting the availability of fresh food locally produced for consumers (Wascher et al., 2015[4]).

In a wider sense, a lack of environmental awareness/education that might stem from lack of adequate information campaigns or lack of policy that would popularize sustainability-oriented initiatives, can further hinder the development of inclusive innovation in cities (e.g. nature-based solutions, or energy transitions) (Nature4Cities, 2018a, 2018b [5], [6]; Valkenburg & Cotella, 2016[7]).

Exclusivity of access in relation to urban sustainability and its benefits can also be the result of miscommunication, or obstacles in collaboration and knowledge brokerage, between the scientific community and civil society – including activists, NGOs and the wider public. Difficult terminology, unwelcoming communication platforms, and a lack of “translating” insights to useful materials for policy-makers, practitioners or citizens can hinder the uptake of innovations (Morrow, 2019[8]). If relying on digital means, for example, a gap could arise between those with access to technological literacy on digital technologies, and those without.

In short, knowledge brokerage is related to justice in urban sustainability because those who can best leverage knowledge produced or required to make sustainability transitions happen are those best positioned to benefit from them.


  • Crowdsourcing for urban governance in Ghent, Belgium

The city of Ghent, Belgium, is committed to achieving urban sustainability (e.g. making the city’s food system more local, sustainable, and resilient through their project ‘Gent en Garde’; and having the largest designated cyclist area in Europe). The city has dedicated a department to increasing citizen participation. Their strategy includes the use of technology-based tools and face-to-face processes, as those tools are meant to give access to urban governance decision-making to as many people as possible. However, a too heavy a reliance on digital participation can neglect certain populations, such as those who do not have access to or knowledge of digital platforms or simply those who don’t have access to smart phones or tablets with reliable and ample data plans.

While a ‘smart city’ approach is often connected to sustainability and innovation, there is a need for policies, including participation tools, to be relevant in the everyday lives of its inhabitants, how they experience the city, and what they need from and in the city and its assets or resources. While it can be difficult to achieve inclusive stakeholder involvement within normative decision-making procedures, doing so can promote justice and the long-term success of sustainability goals.

“We have a smart city imaginary but it is very different from what happens at the local levels because organizations and administrators need to deal with a number of problems that have to do with participation, the meaning of participation (it can be also non-leading to greater democracy) and the issue of access and opportunities.”

[Sources: (Certomà et al., 2020[9]), CROWD_USG project-personal communication]

Photo by Veronica Vitale/ Digital and social technologies can enhance the participatory process and improve knowledge brokerage, leading to more inclusive and representative urban governance. It can also become another form of exclusion, however, if only the technologically literate have access to digital platforms.

Links to projects

This driver links to the following research projects: FOODMETERS [1], NATURE4CITIES [2]; CLEVER CITIES [3], MILESECURE [4], SEISMIC [5], SHARECITY (Sustainability of city-based food sharing).


  1. Trencher, G., Yarime, M., McCormick, K. B., Doll, C. N. H., & Kraines, S. B. (2013). Beyond the third mission: Exploring the emerging university function of co-creation for sustainability. Science and Public Policy, 41(2), 151–179.
  2. Partidario, M. R., & Sheate, W. R. (2013). Knowledge brokerage-potential for increased capacities and shared power in impact assessment. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 39, 26–36.
  3. van der Velden, M. (2004). From Communities of Practice to Communities of Resistance: Civil society and cognitive justice. Development, 47(1), 73–80.
  4. Wascher, D., Kneafsey, M., Pintar, M., & Piorr, A. (2015). FOODMETRES: Food planning and innovation for sustainabile metropolitan regions Synthesis Report 2015. FOODMETRES.
  5. Nature4Cities. (2018a). D2.1 –System of integrated multi-scale and multi-thematic performance indicators for the assessment of urban challenges and NBS. Horizon 2020 grand agreement No 730468.
  6. Nature4Cities. (2018b). D5.2 Citizen and Stakeholder Engagementstrategies and tools for NBS Implementation. Horizon 2020 grand agreement No 730468.
  7. Valkenburg, G., & Cotella, G. (2016). Governance of energy transitions: about inclusion and closure in complex sociotechnical problems. Energy, Sustainability and Society, 6(20).
  8. Morrow, O. (2019). Sharing food and risk in Berlin’s urban food commons. Geoforum, 99, 202–212.
  9. Certomà, C., & Martellozzo, F. (2019). Cultivating urban justice? A spatial exploration of urban gardening crossing spatial and environmental injustice conditions. Applied Geography, 106(3), 60–70.