Interview with Walter Schenkel
synergo Mobility-Politics-Space GmbH
Leader of DIVERCITIES Work Package #5: Governance Arrangements and Initiatives
synergo is the only DIVERCITIES partner that is not a university or educational institution. What is synergo’s area of expertise?
synergo is a small company located in Zurich. We do a lot of work in various policy fields including urban planning, transportation planning, improvement of collaboration between municipalities, provinces, etc. We are involved in both national and international programmes and have a lot of experience in practical aspects such as giving advice to public authorities and working together with authorities and local inhabitants. For us, as a SME, it is important to transform empirical research results into practice, to make them useful for administrations and politicians.
What is your professional background?
Both myself and my collaborating colleague Larissa Plüss are political scientists. One of the projects I’ve worked on in the past is a research project called “Cities Regrowing Smaller”. It was a COST action project, a European programme about the exchange of research information. The project was about shrinking cities in Europe – why some cities are shrinking and how to deal with it, for instance to implement future-oriented regeneration strategies or to support innovation and education in shrinking urban areas.
Other projects we are busy with: to improve participation and collaboration in transportation, urban planning and neighbourhood regeneration projects. We elaborate participation and communication concepts and support their implementation – together with the responsible politicians and administrations. Relevant principles go back to a research project as well.
What is a ”governance arrangement”? Are they always bottom-up or can they also be top-down?
In the DIVERCITIES project, we understand a governance arrangement as a kind of network that treats diversity in a positive way. It’ll probably be a small initiative in a neighbourhood or an urban area designed to improve conditions, of the foreign residents, for instance. The aim of this kind of arrangement is to foster social cohesion, increase economic performance and social mobility in the context of urban diversity. The most important thing is to make a distinction between government and governance.
I also teach sometimes at universities and this is how I explain the two. Do you know the James Bond film “Dr No” from the 1960s? That’s government. James Bond knows what the problem is, who his friends and enemies are and who the boss is. He has a clear mission and he knows what to do. That’s government, and it’s top down. The boss tells him what to do and Bond solves the problem, usually by eliminating the enemy.
Now with governance, maybe you know the “Die Hard” film from the 80s? Bruce Willis plays a streetwise cop called McClane, whose wife, by coincidence, is held hostage inside a Los Angeles skyscraper. At first, McClane doesn’t have a clue what’s going on, who the kidnappers are or who can help him. He just knows that he has to piece together the information himself and formulate a mission to save his wife. He has to “arrange” his network. Step by step, he recruits the help of people inside and outside the building, including another policeman, and together they begin to solve the problem. That’s an example for governance – it’s much more complex. I think the “Die Hard” analogy is closer to reality than the James Bond one.
What are the key objectives of WP5?
WP5 is a collection of these governance arrangements. Each partner has to define 10-15 such initiatives in their urban neighbourhoods; arrangements that focus on using diversity in a positive way. So it can be integration projects, projects that work together with migrant children to improve their situation, etc. We collect these initiatives based on a certain criteria then analyse and compare all the initiatives including the success factors and failure factors as well as questions, for instance about financing. These initiatives are often bottom-up but when it comes to financing, a bottom-up project (or at least a part of it) can become a top-down initiative, as quite often there is some public money involved in such initiatives. We try to understand how diversity is conceptualised in these initiatives. For sure, the results will be interesting for the partner cities and the involved people on the policy platforms to see what is going on in other cities and countries. They can learn from each other.
Can you give us some examples of governance arrangements in Zurich?
There is an initiative called “Laureus Street Soccer”. It is an open, intercultural street soccer league that aims at integrating young migrants through sports. Another initiative is called “Mother-Child” which provides German language courses to migrant children and their mothers at the same time. There is also the “Intergalactical Choir” – an opportunity for migrants (especially refugees and migrants without a permit) to meet and interact through music.