Co-creation as an institutional innovation for conflict mitigation in collaborative planning in China


  • Xiaomeng Zhou Utrecht University
  • Yanliu Lin Utrecht University


Collaborative planning, Agonistic planning, Authoritarian deliberation, Co-creation, Institutional innovation




Over the years planning theorists have engaged in extensive debates over different approaches to dealing with conflicts among diverse stakeholders in planning, among which two major planning approaches prevail. Collaborative or communicative planning, rooted in Habermasian communicative rationality, strives to attain consensus-oriented planning decisions through inclusive and deliberative processes where participants hold equal positions and engage in sincere communication (e.g., Healey, 2020). This planning approach faces criticism in contemporary pluralist societies due to its overemphasis on consensus-building and depoliticization of planning (Kühn, 2021). Agonistic planning theorists, inspired by Chantal Mouffe’s agonistic pluralism, recognize the inherence of conflicts in planning and view conflicts as opportunities to generate productive outcomes among competitive opponents based on commonly accepted rules (Kühn, 2021). The ongoing debate revolves around which approach is more conducive to overcoming planning conflicts (Innes and Booher, 2015; Kühn, 2021). Nonetheless, both communicative and agonist approaches bear deep imprints of democratic ideals. In China, collaborative planning is characterized by authoritarian deliberation, where participatory and deliberative practices are confined to selective topics with limited scopes and citizen empowerment (He and Warren, 2011; Lin, 2023). Lin (2023) contends that collaborative practices in China exhibits some features of both communicative and agonistic approaches. These features may even appear at different planning stages with different functions and impacts. However, it remains unclear how specific institutional settings shape collaborative processes and the extent to which such processes can address conflicts in planning. In recent China, co-creation (or Gong-Tong-Di-Zao in Chinese) has emerged as a new participatory and deliberative institution designed to mitigate conflicts in planning practices. Co-creation activities are used to engage local governments, organizations, professional planners, and residents to collectively discuss planning issues and address conflicts of interest. This article develops a conceptual framework including three key aspects of collaborative practices – initiation, processes, and outcomes – to analyze how specific institutional settings shape collaborative practices. We select two case studies in Guangzhou that established co-creation committees as a platform to discuss planning matters and mitigate conflicts in urban regeneration projects. As a commercial development project, the Enning Road case reflects more agonistic features with controversial contestation over economic interests and distrust among participants. The influence of the co-creation committee on planning decisions was also limited, since it was introduced at the very late stages of the project (implementation and management stages). In contrast, the Pantang Wuyue project, funded by the local government, exhibits some communicative features: introducing the co-creation committee at the planning stage, involving community planners to identify problems and solicit public opinions, focusing on common goods rather than individual or organizational interests. The results show that the impact and capacity of addressing conflicts of co-creation activities varies in collaborative planning practices, influenced by factors such the stages of planning processes, the participants of the committee, the nature of the problems involved, the type of interests (private or public interests), and the role of planners. This research contributes to a nuanced understanding of institutional innovation for collaborative planning in non-democratic contexts by developing a conceptual framework and offering empirical evidence to illuminate the variance of collaborative practices and their dynamics of conflict mitigation.

Funding statement

This research has been conducted as a part of grant from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. 947879).




He, B. and Warren, M.E. (2011) ‘Authoritarian deliberation: The deliberative turn in Chinese political development’, Perspectives on politics, 9(2), pp.269-289.

Healey, P. (2020) Collaborative planning: Shaping places in fragmented societies. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Innes, J.E. and Booher, D.E. (2015) ‘A turning point for planning theory? Overcoming dividing discourses’, Planning theory, 14(2), pp.195-213.

Kühn, M. (2021) ‘Agonistic planning theory revisited: The planner’s role in dealing with conflict’, Planning Theory, 20(2), pp.143-156.

Lin, Y., (2023) ‘Rethinking collaborative planning in China: Does the communicative or agonistic planning theory matter?’, Planning Theory, 22(3), pp.249-269.