New Urban Agenda Berlin: About the Project

It is essential to Berlin’s future to adapt the transit infrastructure to future needs, to implement solutions to assist with the integration of migrants, to sustainably shape increasing tourism, and to provide residents with housing suited to their needs. The transdisciplinary project “ New Urban Agenda Berlin” aims to contribute to understanding the current and future challenges of the growing city as well as achieve a consensus-oriented dialog among the various social interest groups.  Trialogs – in which stakeholders from public policy and administration, organized civil society, local industry, and academia participate – will be used to develop concrete transdisciplinary strategies for action and new impulses for the Berlin urban community.

During the two-year project duration (2018 to 2020) TU Berlin will work with the HUMBOLDT-VIADRINA Governance Platform to hold eight trialogs on the city’s challenges in mobility, migration, housing, and tourism. The TU project team, anchored in the Office of Vice President Professor Christine Ahrend for Research, Appointment Strategy, Knowledge & Technology Transfer, will actively accompany the entire transdisciplinary process – from defining a field of action or research question to the development of a concrete project design through to the project’s implementation. The project aims to reveal the current need for research and generate new discoveries and knowledge through mutual understanding to determine different options for taking action and then further develop and test these in pilot projects.

The four urban fields of action mobility, migration, housing, and tourism are of significant relevance to Berlin, as made clear in the state government’s coalition agreement. By holding transdisciplinary trialogs, the state of Berlin gives itself an opportunity to confidentially discuss these acute and mid-term policy topics with participation from all stakeholders and to develop innovative solutions through dialog. Additionally, urban residents are to be viewed as responsible agents of development and encouraged and enabled to act alongside representatives from policy, administration, industry, and academia.

[+] Societal Involvement in Urban Development Strategies

The UN-Conference Habitat III adopted a new urban agenda (New Urban Agenda) in October 2916: Cities are places where the quality of future coexistence is determined. The development of cities correlates to the local implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly in the areas of climate and (in)equality.

Local governments, companies, and civic organizations are stakeholders of urban development. Their participation and the creation of diverse perspectives are an important objective in the ongoing debates for a sustainable urbanization strategy. Recognition of the value and the importance of civil society is reflected in the New Urban Agenda; close cooperation between local administrations and civil society is a crucial prerequisite for its successful implementation.

Berlin’s growth is unexpectedly dynamic; a growth, for which the city’s infrastructure is not yet prepared. It is clear from the growing number of territorial and land-use conflicts that sustainable solutions are needed to shape the city – solutions that result from a productive and consensus-oriented discussion between different social interest groups. In this process, urban residents are to be viewed as responsible agents of development and encouraged and enabled to fulfill this role. It is also becoming increasingly clear that the prior use of existing participation instruments can lead to confrontations and further conflicts when these affected agents participate too late in the process. Thus, transparent processes are needed that promote cooperation early on and facilitate real win-win situations.

To achieve these sustainable development goals (SDGs) of the 2030 UN Agenda, as they were adopted at the Habitat III Conference, it is imperative that cities strengthen participation from residents in urban development. The instruments and participation processes used must be oriented towards mutual agreement so that they have a sustainable effect. Special interests and the accumulation of power can impede understanding and agreement as well as entrench gridlocked positions, mistrust, and differences.

New effective and well-founded solutions are needed to retain the long-term involvement of social actors and to build trust in the process and the quality of the results of these processes. Cooperation between citizens, industry, public policy, and academia through the whole process is increasingly necessary, from recognizing a problem and developing a strategy to forming a concrete solution to the problem, in order to overcome large urban policy challenges. Deliberate processes combined with academic expertise can offer an alternative that fosters trust compared to other formats. These result in win-win configurations:

  • Understanding among stakeholders at the local level: Through precise stakeholder mapping, those stakeholders are addressed, whose perspective is relevant to urban development. This provides an opportunity for all stakeholder groups to be included in an exchange of different perspectives and knowledge. This is necessary for true understanding among Berlin’s urban society.
  • Participation from urban society New forms of participation are needed that are constructive and solution-oriented. When evaluating the position and reasonings represented, commonalities are identified and paths for fundamental consensus are formulated for Berlin’s development in each topic area.
  • Urban development for the common good: Trialogs are oriented towards a solution for the common good and don’t simply follow the loudest or strongest member or adhere to the logic of deal-making. All the perspectives and positions of urban society expressed are included in the evaluation. Trialogs strengthen the social response to feedback and are founded on the principle that participation fosters sustainability.
[+] Communication between the urban society and academia

The large transformations resulting from urbanization and climate change are leading to new demands on academia and universities. Aside from investigations into the current state, problematic situations, and the development of viable future scenarios, it is necessary to develop concepts, initiatives, instruments, and measures that help shape the transformation needed. When facing challenges such as environmental problems, the migration crisis, or demographic changes, social and economic actions, the regulatory framework, and ecological effects are so closely linked that disciplinary and even interdisciplinary research into solutions reach their limits. Insights must be generated in a new way – the stronger link between scientific-analytic work and the experience of social actors offers a great opportunity here for academia to aim for socially relevant research results.

Simultaneously, transdisciplinary cooperation offers participants from policy, industry, and urban society the advantage of including their expertise in scientific research and of discussion being transferred to concrete, scientifically-founded and action-oriented projects. Transdisciplinary solutions formulated on this basis have a good chance of being implemented because the differing positions and interests of the involved groups have already been reasonably and transparently considered in the research process. This results in the following advantages:

  • Communication between academia and urban society: Transdisciplinary trialogs are being jointly hosted by TU Berlin and the HUMBOLDT-VIADRINA Governance Platform to create a suitable method for the much-discussed demands on research to be socially applicable. In these transdisciplinary trialogs, social actors are already included in defining the research question on equal ground with other participants.
  • Strengthening the Place of Science: TU Berlin has a long tradition of application-oriented research and has actively promoted the relationship between technology and the humanities since its refounding in 1946. At that time, the University was tasked with adhering to social responsibility. People were to be qualified, particularly in the technical professions, to keep society’s well-being in mind – regardless of what was scientifically and technically possible. This orientation towards social challenges and the assumption of responsibility have been part of TU Berlin’s mission ever since. Technische Universität Berlin offers the conditions necessary to conduct transdisciplinary research. As of 2014, TU Berlin has pursued a multi-pronged strategy to expand the transdisciplinary principle both in academia and the entire University’s understanding of its role.
[+] Transdisciplinarity as an opportunity for academia

Transdisciplinarity gains importance as integrative research principle in Germany. Transdisciplinarity (defined as research that overcomes boarders of distinctive disciplines) means that research is open to cooperation with non-academic actors. Ideally, knowledge of various actors already comes together to define challenges and research questions. By using transdisciplinarity, science can increase its capacity to solve societal problems. Transdisciplinary research normally reacts to current living conditions.

Disciplinary research tends to further specialize knowledge. The more one knows, the better fit new details. On the other hand, new disciplines emerged out of interdisciplinary cooperation with different research areas such as robotic, which emerged from engineering, electrical technology and informatics and is characterized by combined knowledge. Applied research for solving societal challenges need researchers that are -next to their disciplinary and interdisciplinary understanding – methodical able to understand other forms of knowledge, thus to broaden knowledge beyond traditional academic boarders for scientific insights. Hence, transdiciplinariy can increase creativity and innovation for academia.

Transdisciplinary research can create new stimuli for academia. It can disseminate knowledge and increase quality, creativity, and innovation by determining new relationships and integrating lay knowledge and prior research results. Established disciplines and their internal interdisciplinary cooperation will profit from the examination of methodological idiosyncrancies and non-university knowledge. The following aspects are of central interest:

  • Greater added value by integration: Integration instead of the addition of research results lead to more valuable solution. The generative increase in and development of knowledge and methods increases the disciplines’ capacities to evolve and innovate.
  • Development of research questions relevant to society: Cooperating with knowledge carriers outside of academia can lead to new, as well disciplinary research questions and relationships.
  • Reflect the disciplines’ identities: An active, project-related integration of academic fields on cognitive, social, communicative, organizationals and technical basis can strengthen the identity of the own discipline – and its competitive position compared to its competitors. Transdisciplinary work holds the potential for disciplines to self-reflect.
  • Qualification of academia: The development of a context-specific style of thinking is a new quality in order to innovatively respond to new challenges. The qualification of researchers particularly relevant to society adds for profiling.
  • Legitimacy of universities: The examination of political, social and practical realities is in accordance with universities’ social duty and increases the legitimacy of universities. Growing attention towards the activities of universities among other social groups can add to their reputation.