Envisioning alternatives in pre-structured urban sustainability transformations: Too late to change the future?
Journal article, 2022

In the governance of urban sustainability transformations, participatory futures practices are increasingly popular. Yet there is a rising awareness that the success or failure of these practices depends on how they are staged and the context in which they are conducted. These contextual factors are often less than ideal, and futures practices take place at the crossroads of many pre-determined agendas and priorities. We distinguish four factors that shape the effects of participatory futures practices: 1) how the institutional landscape constrains or enables a project aimed at urban sustainability transformations; 2) the participatory culture surrounding the project; 3) the project design; and 4) the futures methods applied. We assess these factors in three cities within the European H2020 IRIS Smart Cities project. In each city, project members participated in sessions where they designed citizen engagement using a futures methodology: the novel Scope and Ladder models. Each city reflects a different combination of the four contextual factors. We find that space for exploration and re-imagining can be found and optimized under imperfect conditions. Drawing on the results of the three cases, we conclude with a set of recommendations for the funders, project members and futures organizers of urban sustainability transformation projects.




Sustainability transformations

Urban governance

Citizen engagement


Astrid C. Mangnus

Utrecht University

Joost M. Vervoort

Utrecht University

University of Oxford

Willem Jan Renger

University of the Arts (HKU)

Valentina Nakic

Chalmers, Technology Management and Economics, Environmental Systems Analysis

Karin T. Rebel

Utrecht University

Peter P.J. Driessen

Utrecht University

Maarten Hajer

Utrecht University


0264-2751 (ISSN)

Vol. 120 103466

Integrated and Replicable Solutions for Co-Creation in Sustainable Cities (IRIS)

European Commission (EC) (EC/H2020/774199), 2017-10-01 -- 2022-09-30.

Subject Categories

Architectural Engineering





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