Interview with policy and governance innovation experts at Madrid and Basque Country Universities


What is the current landscape of innovation in public policies and governance in southern Europe? Which institutions are working on new forms of governance to address climate change? What are they doing and which agents are involved?

These are some of the questions that, in recent months, an interdisciplinary team formed by Gorka Espiau Idoiaga, Fernando Fernandez-Monge, Carlos Mataix, Karmele Olabarrieta and Cecilia Lopez Pablos tried to answer.

Who are you?

Some of us are academics while others are practitioners with very different backgrounds: law, policy, engineering and communications. We work for the Innovation and Technology for  Development Center of the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (Technical University of Madrid) and the Agirre Lehendakaria Center of the Basque Country University.

What are you working on with EIT Climate-KIC?

We have basically conducted an exploratory scan on the concepts and experiences around this emerging idea called  ‘policy and governance innovation’ adding the experience of action-research centres contributing to sustainable transformation. Some of us are also involved in the Deep Demonstrations of Change Program in Madrid and Mondragon Valley. This helped us frame and focus the research in a way that we hope will be useful for other EIT Climate-KIC colleagues and partners.

Why is this piece of research important for climate innovation?

Climate change is a really complex problem to tackle. We can even call it a wicked problem; perhaps the most wicked problem of our time given that our survival as a species depends on whether we are able to solve it sooner than later. Yet, existing governance structures and policy design mechanisms are ineffective for dealing with this kind of entrenched societal challenge.

In this piece of research, we look at some of the innovations and changes –  both explored by academics and put in practice by governments – to such structures and mechanisms that can help us deal with climate change.

We think that condensing these emerging practices is important because tackling climate change will necessarily require transforming our institutions. Hopefully, people dealing with the hard task of innovating in governance and policy will be able to find some inspiration in this work.

What was the most interesting or surprising thing you discovered in the process of the project?

Perhaps the most interesting thing is the realisation that enacting the kind of systemic change required to tackle climate change necessarily calls for transformations in cultural aspects, beliefs and value systems.

The most interesting innovations we found were those that combine technological solutions with new ways of engaging with citizens. This goes beyond simply enacting participatory mechanisms, and demands an exploration of the narratives and meta-narratives that operate in a community around their real needs and aspirations. The listening and engagement dimension is essential to begin any transformation process, and it is key to build shared transformation narratives.

Despite its centrality, however, it is somewhat surprising to realise the difficult time that public institutions have in establishing mechanisms to address diverse social needs on a regular basis. They often use certain tools (consultation, participatory budget) for specific initiatives or relatively small parts of their budgets, but it is hard to find mechanisms deployed at a systemic level.

Was there anything that particularly gave you hope or inspiration for the fight against climate change?

There’s definitely hope. When we started this research, we quickly realised that there is a large number of ‘experiments’ and people looking for new ways of doing things from very different perspectives and disciplines in Southern Europe, which in and of itself is really great news.

Also, it was particularly inspiring to share our insights in a webinar with colleagues from the EIT Climate-KIC Community and to see the collective wisdom and, perhaps most importantly, motivation, that exists. This is probably our best asset and weapon to tackle climate change, so we should be looking to take advantage of any possibility to enable peer-to-peer learning among the practitioners that are experimenting with the cases such as the ones we’ve chosen. We need to help these committed people break the silos of the institutions in which they work on a daily basis and support each other to continue learning and overcoming barriers.

On the basis of the research, what needs to happen now in the fight against climate change?

There has to be a wide-reaching consensus that technological solutions alone will not get us there. Governments have to be the key enablers of this shift, and that requires changing their own structures and capacities first.

If we leverage the collective wisdom from all the experiences that are currently happening in a scattered manner, we can definitely achieve it.

Check out the research project ‘Policy and Governance Innovation: Definitions and examples in the climate space’ here

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