Collaborative urban governance: actor coalitions, conflict and consensus


  • Laura Cortizo Universidade de Aveiro


collaborative governance, urban transformation, Social Network Analysis, actor-network theory, advocacy coalition




Urban transformations are associated with a combination of factors such as negotiation between urban, public and private actors; the generation of local leadership (political and civic); joint will; and public consensus (Castells & Borja, 1996). With this work, we seek to understand how collaborative approaches contribute to mitigating conflicts and building consensus in urban planning processes. It starts with the understanding that the elaboration or review of a municipal master plan is an opportunity to expand the democratic character of the production of cities, as it involves articulation and negotiation between different actors and can be characterized as a process of collaborative governance. Exploring Social Network Analysis as a methodology, networks of actors related to the PDM of Maia, a city in the Metropolitan Region of Porto (Portugal), will be created and analyzed, seeking to identify clusters and specific dynamics.

As a theoretical lens for our analysis, we start with the concept of collaborative governance, which expands the role of policymakers and places negotiation processes at the center of decision-making, formally involving actors external to the state and public administration (Ansell & Gash, 2008). This approach allows us to see networked and multi-institutional governance for the co-production of public policies and services (Agranoff, 2007; Koliba et al., 2011). By operating within restrictive structures, political actors can reshape these restrictions and create new structures, whether through pressure or collaboration. In the second case, different agents can build specific collaborative processes, whose effectiveness corresponds to actions that “move political processes forward and avoid impasses while taking advantage of the agreement of competing policy actors and coalitions" (Wood & Tenbensel, 2018). Local governance networks, in which local governments are understood as “network coordinators” (Stoker, 2011), have their effectiveness driven by personal and institutional trust between local stakeholders (Silva et al., 2022).

Still, from the perspective of understanding this new dynamic, the robust theoretical contribution of the Advocacy Coalition Framework stands out, arguing that coalitions that seek to translate their beliefs into policies compete with each other within a policy subsystem using strategies to influence government decision-makers (Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith, 1999). ACF focuses on coalition dynamics, policy-oriented learning, and policy change. Researchers have used such theoretical support to understand how coalitions of actors operate strategies and resources to enable desired political changes (Koebele, 2019), although there is still little production associating the ACF with collaborative urban governance.

In this scenario, with the present work, we explore Social Network Analysis (SNA) as a methodological axis, a field that has been driven by technological development, recording a growing theoretical (Venturini et al., 2019) and practical (Schiller et al., 2022) production.


Jenkins-Smith H. C.; Sabatier, P. (1999). 'The advocacy coalition framework: An assessment' in P. Sabatier (Eds.), Theories of the policy process. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Koebele, E. (2019) Integrating collaborative governance theory with the Advocacy Coalition Framework. Journal of Public Policy, 39(1), 35-64. https://doi:10.1017/S0143814X18000041

Silva, P. Mota, L. Teles, F. (2022). 'The Unbearable Lightness of Coherence Within Local Governance Arrangements' in Egner, B. Heinelt, H. Lysek, J. Silva, P. Teles, P (ed.) Perspectives on Local Governance Across Europe.

Stoker, G. (2011) Was local governance such a good idea? A global comparative perspective. Public Administration, 89: 15-31.

Venturini, T. Jacomy, M. Jensen, P. (2019) What do we see when we look at networks: an introduction to visual network analysis and force-directed layouts.