Collaborative urban response: how to include local government?

Crises in Cities and Cities in Crisis Conference 2017

15-16 November 2017 – What is the future of urban crisis response? How do current aid and humanitarian structures need to change in order to achieve a more effective and collaborative outcome?

Opening of the Crises in Cities and Cities in Crisis Conference, November 2017

These are some of the questions that the recent conference “Crises in cities and cities in crisis: towards a collaborative urban response” in London, organized by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), aimed to discuss. The event showcased a collection of case studies and research conducted under the UK Government's Department for International Development (DFID) funded Urban Crises Initiative. Like the Urban Humanitarian Response Symposium earlier this year, the overarching goal of the event was to get the messages – the tools, guidance and research – out to be piloted and to feed into future learning, as well as to bring together practitioners, administrators and researchers from different fields to forge new partnerships.

For us at JIPS  the conference was an excellent opportunity to learn from the case studies presented, and to get to know the efforts carried out by local authorities and urban specialists in different countries. The particular emphasis put on the importance of both using sound evidence-base and including local actors into urban responses to displacement are key elements of JIPS 2018-2020 strategy, and we welcome the opportunity to discuss these topics with a group of expert practitioners from around the globe.

More to be done to include local actors in the process

DFID and IRC kicked off the event with a look back, reminding us that five years ago there was little space within policy environments to discuss urban issues. However, recent global commitments – such as the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals, the adoption of the New Urban Agenda, and the World Humanitarian Summit that launched the Global Alliance for Urban Crises – have moved them into the forefront of humanitarian discourse and agendas.

In short: global commitments on urban issues

The humanitarian community now recognises the need to adapt their approaches to the complexity of cities, and works to improve knowledge and practice through the Urban Crises Programme. And yet major initiatives up ahead, such as the Global Compacts on Refugees and Migrants, overlook engagement with local authorities, showing that more work needs to be done.

The event centred around three main areas of improvement when working in cities:

  • Fostering collaborative approaches to urban response, including between humanitarian actors and local governments, community-based organisations, academia and the private sector;
  • Using area-based and intersectoral approaches that understand the city as a holistic and complex system; and
  • Strengthening existing urban systems rather than creating parallel ones.

Urban experiences: the example of Kampala (Uganda)

For a collaborative urban response, speakers highlighted the need to include mayors and local government into the response planning. But case studies from cities in Turkey, Lebanon, Colombia, the Philippines, South Sudan and the Central African Republic show that it is not that simple. This is because the role of local authorities varies immensely by context.

Specifically, local authorities have different levels of responsibility and resources depending on how much autonomy they are given by central government. International agencies need to be aware of, and adapt their responses to these local nuances, to make support to local authorities more effective.

The conference in London brought critical voices that do not often get a chance to partake in these discussions. Members of local authorities were present to offer their advice, including from the Kampala Capital City Authority in Uganda, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs in Sierra Leone, and the Banadir Authority in Mogadishu, Somalia. Dr. Jennifer Musisi of the Kampala Capital City Authority, for example, suggested follow-up actions to this event:

  • First, she stressed the need to avoid talking about urban crises in the abstract. The discussions need to get more practical by categorising crises according to the root causes and dynamics they produce.
  • Second, she reminded us that information is critical: city administrators need a starting point. They need to know who the people are that are arriving, where did they come from, what are their skills, what languages do they speak, and much more.
  • Lastly, she challenged the participants to focus more on how to understand and resolve the root causes of specific displacement situations, as that is what cities ultimately need to get through a period of crisis.

Sound evidence-base must be the starting point

In fact, solid analysis of the displacement situation remains especially relevant for urban response. Ewen MacLeod of UNHCR emphasised the importance of an in-depth and nuanced understanding of the differing needs and challenges faced by displaced populations in cities. He also recognised the need to adapt assessment methodologies to include a comparative approach with local populations to see how they experience the displacement context. This resonates very much with the displacement lens used in profiling exercises (also watch this video on what is profiling).

In fact, from all of the presentations it became clear that profiling methodologies reflect the good practices advocated for at this event. Because of its comprehensive and inclusive process for data collection, profiling is well adapted to urban areas and creates opportunities for meaningful collaboration between a wide variety of actors.

The exposure to new research in the area of urban responses and the rich discussions with new faces was particularly useful for us at JIPS. We will transform these thoughts into action in 2018, as we shift our strategic focus towards new opportunities for linking with urban practitioners and local authorities in the data collection exercises to come. Stay tuned for more on our new strategic goals for 2018-2020!


- Article on the Urban Humanitarian Response Symposium 2017
- What is urban profiling?
- Guidance for Profiling Urban Displacement Situations
- About the Global Alliance for Urban Crises
- Article by the IIED "Urban crises conference: time to put learning into practice"

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