SDG 5: Gender equalitySDG 10: Reduced inequalitiesSDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities

Södertörnmodel works for a knowledge-driven, co-creation and value-creating urban development.


Sweden’s municipalities and regions face the dilemma of building a vast variety of apartments during a short period of time, in order to provide housing for its rapidly increasing population, while simultaneously implementing the UN SDGs in order to sustain long-term viability. Municipalities’ priorities differ when it comes to urban planning, and none of them can guarantee that (e.g.) ecosystems services and fundamental social considerations will be sufficiently applied in daily practice and construction processes.

Södertörnsmodellen emerged out of a mutual understanding concerning these challenges between an already existing umbrella organisation called the Södertörn Municipalities, representatives from KTH, and committed individuals at White architect firm. Together, they decided to initiate a pre-study which also involved technology consultancy firm WSP (who participated during phase 1 and 2). Large company Skanska and public development cooperation organisation SKL International also joined at this first stage. During the last stage of the project, housing company Wallenstam contributed with a more long-term perspective than which is generally provided by constructors. The Gothenburg Regional Municipal Federation and Region Stockholm also entered the project during this phase.

Good practices & solutions

Involving decision-makers at an early stage in a workshop format yielded some fundamental insights that would aid the course of the project. It became obvious to the project participants that ambitions for a more sustainable urban development was not a main issue, nor was mustering ideas on how to reach this; the main issue was that, for a diverse range of reasons, no one actor had attempted a practical process in which such ideas were to be implemented.

However, there exists some practices in which certain actors or groups within organisations try to alter the status quo of public administration. Since existing planning and construction legislation (Swedish: Plan- och bygglagen, PBL) does not allow for rapid sustainable development, other ways of moving matters forward faster have been approached by the municipalities, such as development plans not directly emanating from specifications within PBL (naturally without outright violating the law). A non-hierarchical structure and a self-critical outlook have from the start been important features of Södertörnsmodellen’s internal and external operations. Everyone’s voice is equal, regardless of being a researcher, entrepreneur, municipality or private sector executive. Different idea groups or working groups have been established as centers of reflective discussion regarding the different municipalities’ ongoing work within Södertörnsmodellen. Also, a form of meta-dialogue with residents was conducted in Flemingsberg, Huddinge, in which residents were asked on which issues they felt a need for addressing the municipality. Participatory dialogue in general has been utilized as a productive tool as well as problematised in order to develop its strengths and mitigate its weaknesses. Consultants from White developed a template aimed at the municipalities for being reflective as to why they are conducting participatory dialogue, whether being used in order to, for example, increase public trust or to enhance the planning process; “It feels rather ‘basic’, but there are so many ‘basic’ things that are not working.”

Parallel to this, saving all relevant gained results digitally on a regular basis is considered important for the outcome of the project. Furthermore, a strategy for achieving a more bottom-up perspective has been the walking tours conducted in some of the areas that Södertörnsmodellen work closely with, to which are invited property owners, municipal employees, decision-makers and other stakeholders. One unique aspect of Södertörnsmodellen has been a quite different starting point in relation to ordinary research or innovation; rather than focussing on a topic and pointing towards gaps and needs for new knowledge, the project has targeted the municipal working ground without a prescribed change agenda. Thus, Södertörnsmodellen has identified means for improving many operations already
existing rather than inventing new ones, and generally shaping project operations according to the specific needs in each municipality.

Outcome & opportunities

Södertörnsmodellen has delivered 3 method packages: value-creating, co-creating and knowledge-driven urban development. Together, they utilise the Södertörn Analysis (Swedish: Södertörnsanalysen), a user-friendly, analytical visual tool for providing decision-makers with a deeper knowledge basis for urban development. The tool was developed with help from Hans Rosling’s Gapminder. Variables within the Södertörn Analysis include mapping of ecosystem services and indicators for socio-economic development over time in a given area. 12 insights for a social sustainable urban development has also been generated throughout the project:

1) There is no universal indicator for social sustainability.
2) Increase understanding!
3) Establish concrete and measurable objectives.
4) Identify physical and non-physical measures that will help realise these objectives.
5) Strengthen collaboration across departments, sectors and professions through dialogue for improved results.
6) Assess the social consequences of different considered alternatives in planning processes.
7) Continually follow up on objectives versus outcomes. This requires established measurable variables.
8) Allow citizens to co-develop solutions by creating forums in which they can answer questions of how and why, without creating false expectations.
9) A space is used by others than those living in the area; finding the relevant stakeholders requires considerable mapping.
10) Use participatory dialogue, transparency and communication as tools to create planning value and trust value among citizens. Report on how dialogue has affected end results to achieve and preserve trust between public administration and citizens.
11) Instead of maximising the level of participation, finding the right form of participation throughout different stages of a planning process is more productive.
12) Gather, save and structure the knowledge generated from a participatory process.

The produced methods and knowledge are meant to be open to any public, civil or private actor willing to use it in their ordinary processes. The fundamental idea is to spread these concrete outcomes to other actors and regions, for example the Gothenburg Regional Municipal Federation (who joined Södertörnsmodellen in the later phase).

Lessons learned & recommendations

Many diverse actors and departments in public administration who influence sustainable development factors are seldom coordinated or even lack knowledge about each other’s operations. Public organisations may not have data and knowledge collected in a structured way. Although largely possessing a highly educated and skilled workforce, municipalities generally lack a structure for
improvement work, as the private sector is known to have. Moreover, today’s implementations stem from yesterday’s decisions, sometimes going back several years or even decades. Civil servant procedures may be virtually cemented while policy-makers’ decisions aim for high levels of innovative sustainable development. Involving the citizens has proved a different type of challenge. While there exists an outright will by decision-makers to further involve opinions and knowledge of local residents, the process by which this is done is currently mainly reactive and not proactive. Moreover, not getting back to people on a matter already subject to public participation may result in decreasing levels of trust in the administrative and political system. In this regard, turning existing participatory governance processes into an institutionalised proactive dialogue has been a priority for Södertörnsmodellen. Politicians as a group are particularly hard to influence due to their dependence on votes every 4th year; this reality creates a pressure that risks resulting in dispensing with certain crucial decisions for sustainable urban development, or that politicians are hard to reach in general for actors such as Södertörnsmodellen. Municipalities have been reluctant to admitting entrepreneurs into the co-creation process at an early stage, whereas entrepreneurs on the other hand are eager to enter the process as early as possible. A commonly shared controversy however concerns costs, for example regarding pre-studies; assigning these costs to particular actors is a topic not easily agreed upon.

A fundamental lesson has been to approach people where they are operating, instead of inviting them to a seemingly alien forum. This way, one can assess what is already in place in a given context such as driving spirits, values and commitment. A challenge that has arisen from this starting point is that results have been rather
difficult to backtrack. Many employees within participating municipalities cannot acknowledge the contributions of Södertörnsmodellen to their particular operations, although there clearly exists a connection between those operations and the project’s contributions.

A general insight regarding the transformation process towards sustainability is that it is mainly composed of projects, which poses a substantial challenge. Invididual projects spanning a few years cannot achieve transformation by themselves unless they together contribute to the formation of a greater process. This applies to all forms of societal planning. Of particular interest is the manner in which public employees regard this process, as their respective assigned budgets are tethered to specific plans rather than a process, whereas municipalities need to constantly reevalute themselves and work with their particular improvement process. The interconnection between project and process is thus of tremendous importance to sustainable urban development as well as society in general.

Further reading



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Project: Stockholm Co-creation