Closer Cities Academic Seminar: Understanding and Stimulating Knowledge Sharing

On May 24, the Closer Cities urban research project organised an academic seminar on knowledge sharing. This co-creative session aimed to build a framework for understanding and stimulating the processes of urban knowledge sharing around the world, with a focus on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We brought together academics to share insights and expertise on the topic of knowledge sharing and city-to-city learning environments. This seminar consisted of presentations and discussions on comprehensive frameworks for the analysis of knowledge sharing, and interactive sessions aimed at connecting various dimensions and strains of thought.


Jurian Edelenbos: “Knowledge sharing is a paradox. It often fails to materialise in practice. This raises the question of what factors hinder or facilitate the dissemination of knowledge. One factor that impedes knowledge sharing is the tendency to reinvent the wheel.”

Peter Scholten: "It is not uncommon to face similar challenges or situations repeatedly, without capturing and applying the lessons learned from previous experiences."

A typology of knowledge sharing

Jan Fransen presented a typology of knowledge sharing, identifying three distinct types: knowledge sharing, knowledge exchange, and knowledge co-creation. In the Closer Cities systematic literature review, the conditions and main barriers for these types are discussed.

Knowledge transfer, characterised as a one-way process, involves the dissemination of existing knowledge from one entity to another. Knowledge exchange, on the other hand, entails a two-way interaction where parties share and receive knowledge, often in response to context-specific problems. Barriers such as issues of trust, power dynamics, and the complexity of linking different aspects hinder knowledge exchange.

Knowledge co-creation is a collaborative process where multiple actors come together to develop new solutions. It involves exploring the applicability of knowledge in different contexts and making necessary adjustments. Barriers to knowledge co-creation mirror those found in knowledge exchange, with one notable distinction being the challenge of effectively co-creating knowledge with larger groups.


Jan: “Knowledge is tacit, informal, and hidden. Therefore, translation of knowledge plays a vital role in making it useful and applicable across different contexts.”

The notion that solutions from one city cannot simply be transplanted to another raises the concern of reinventing the wheel. Recognising the existence of knowledge, even when it may be unknown or undervalued, is crucial. Overcoming biases and acknowledging the importance of knowledge from diverse sources, such as the global south, is essential for effective knowledge sharing.

Knowledge transplantation

Negar Noori introduced the concept of knowledge transplantation, highlighting its importance in understanding the complexities of context-specific policy transfer. Policy transplantation involves preparing the recipient to adopt a policy and localising the transferred solutions.

Negar: “Policy adaptation and implementation play a vital role in making the policy effective. It involves joining policy and innovation networks, benchmarking good practices, and critically reflecting on policy choices.”

The process of policy transplantation consists of several key steps. In the first phase, recipient preparation, the readiness of the context for becoming "smart" is examined. It involves assessing when the context is adequately equipped to adopt new policies.

The second phase involves learning from good and bad practices, drawing on others' experiences. A systematic model for learning is recommended, enabling cities to identify the resources required to develop their smart city initiatives effectively.

The third phase focuses on transferring policies from successful practices to the recipient context. This includes the transfer of knowledge through platforms, events, conferences, and the creation of policies based on shared ideas and values. Consideration is given to adjusting the lessons learned to ensure the solution is ready to be adopted in the new context.

Negar: “Knowledge transplantation and policy adaptation can be complex. By following these steps, cities can navigate the challenges of policy transfer and effectively implement smart city initiatives.”

(Not) using lessons learned

Ellen Minkman focused on the application of lessons learned in the context of water management during the seminar. The discussion revolved around the exchange of knowledge and the question of what senders can learn from recipients, potentially turning it into a mutually beneficial exchange. The Blue Deal case was presented as an exemplary long-term initiative, providing sufficient time to establish relationships and facilitate knowledge sharing. A model was proposed to illustrate the evolution of knowledge throughout the process.

The seminar explored how the impact of lessons learned can be assessed. Individual characteristics, organizational factors, and the broader context were identified as influential factors. The results indicated a relationship between individual learning and collective behavior. Individual characteristics were found to be helpful, while an active network reduced the need for collective activities when individual learning was limited.


Ellen: “Qualitative insights highlighted the significance of mindset from individuals in using lessons learning. Some individuals believe they cannot learn from the Global South, indicating a biased perspective. For organisations in the Global North, learning is not always a genuine goal but rather a one-sided transmission of knowledge to the Global South.”

Overall, Ellen highlighted the importance of leveraging lessons learned in water management. It emphasized the need for a mindset shift towards collaboration, the establishment of mutual learning processes, and the recognition of biases that hinder effective knowledge exchange. By addressing these factors, water management practices can be improved, fostering more inclusive and impactful approaches.

City-to-City learning

Elena Enseñado focused on city-to-city (C2C) learning in her presentation, which entails mutual learning between cities and their representatives, such as mayors, civil servants, and political parties. However, the lack of conceptual, methodological, and empirical evidence on C2C learning prompted a systematic literature review using the PRISMA protocol.

In terms of the conceptual results of her study, only 2% of the studies defined C2C learning. Learning was understood as a process, an outcome, or both. C2C learning was often associated with policy learning, transfer, mobility, and diffusion.

Methodological findings revealed a prevalence of qualitative studies over quantitative ones, exploring how the C2C learning process works. Establishing causality between C2C learning and policy change on the ground was identified as a research gap. Further efforts were needed to link the processes, conditions, and outcomes of C2C learning.

Empirical results showed a focus on specific contexts such as transport, climate change, and local governance. However, there was limited discussion on the acquisition of knowledge and what happens after the learning process.


Elena: “C2C learning is a dynamic yet sequential mutual process participated in by cities and their representatives which starts with exploration, followed by acquisition, utilisation, internalisation.”

A four-phase framework for C2C learning emerged from the analysis:

  1. Exploration: Cities identify the lessons they want to learn and determine which cities to learn from
  2. Acquisition: Cities process and acquire knowledge from their chosen counterparts
  3. Utilisation: Cities apply the acquired knowledge in their own context
  4. Internalisation: Cities integrate the learned knowledge into their policies and practices

Each phase of the C2C learning process is activated by different mechanisms. General conditions such as trust, time, leadership, resources, equality, communication, and organizational culture can influence each phase, along with specific contextual factors.

During the seminar, it was noted that not all learning leads to positive outcomes, and some cities may not follow the entire learning process. C2C learning is often facilitated by intermediaries, such as UN-Habitat, and networks play a crucial role in decision-making, sometimes surpassing the autonomy of individual cities.

Next steps

Laura Quadros Aniche: "Knowledge is just the tool to find a solution, not the tool. Based on the tools we have, what can we add to make it better?”

After the presentations, a fruitful discussion took place during lunch, yielding some incredibly intriguing and promising outcomes. Among the discussion's key highlights was the recognition that we should embark on developing a comprehensive approach to knowledge sharing and learning, drawing from the diverse inputs provided by the various presentations. In line with this objective, we aim to address any potential gaps in the existing conceptual approaches and aspire to create evidence-based tools that can eventually be implemented in knowledge processes.

Our aim is to promptly arrange another workshop, where we can collaboratively strive towards achieving such a synthesis and meticulously outline the potential options available to us for applying and testing it within our current networks and projects