Governance is about how power is distributed and shared, how policies are formulated, priorities set and stakeholders made accountable.


Governance is last of the four pillars (ScienceDesign, Engineering and Governance) founding the Future Cities Laboratory Global research programme.

Unsplash - Nick Night

Governance can be understood as the process through which decisions are made and societal changes are guided. It involves various institutions like governments, markets, communities, and families, all supported by a system of rules, laws, standards, and cultural norms. Governance also refers to the power these structures have to influence the behaviour of individuals and groups, and how citizens, through choices, feedback, and sometimes resistance, can change these structures in return.
Historically, governance models such as nation-states, city municipalities, and rural cantons were defined by clear territorial boundaries. However, these traditional governance features are weakening today, posing significant challenges for coordinated research and action needed for sustainable development. 

Issues like urbanisation, environmental pollution, and global warming are surpassing governance boundaries, while smaller administrative units are fragmenting.

FCL Global aims to tackle these challenges by leveraging new governance models emerging in response. These include e-governance and entrepreneurial governance, which use information communication technology (ICT) and artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance participatory governance methods. These advancements aim to improve the quality, timeliness, and variety of evidence available to decision-makers.

However, these promising developments come with their own set of challenges. For instance, e-governance allows a diverse range of citizen ideas, desires, and preferences, whether expert or not, to be part of planning processes. On a larger scale, concepts like "risk governance," "climate change governance," and "global environmental governance" are evolving to coordinate human activities on a global level. There is also a movement to enhance environmental governance models, which often address ecological entities spanning national borders, with new "rights of nature" that seek to legally protect natural regions and processes.

Frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the New Urban Agenda, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been developed by regional and global organisations like ASEAN, the EU, the UN, the World Economic Forum, the IMF, the Asian Development Bank, and the World Bank. These frameworks strive to connect global and local efforts.

Nevertheless, the rise of fake news, cybersecurity risks, data piracy, data privacy breaches, and malware pose significant threats to these emerging governance models. Addressing these issues requires special efforts to fully realise the potential of ICT innovations in governance, ensuring that new technologies enhance rather than hinder the governance process.

Urbanisation presents both challenges and opportunities, making the role of researchers crucial in guiding governance and decision-makers. FCL Global researchers provide valuable insights into the complexities of urban development, helping to create sustainable, efficient, and liveable cities by using evidence-based insights that can shape policies and guide decision-making.

The Powering the City project team focuses on leveraging scientific and engineering expertise to influence decision-making processes in governance and emphasises the importance of clear and impactful communication to convey our findings based on “hard numbers” and concrete data.

Singapore 3d solar potential. Dominic Caviezel (2022)

For example, we demonstrated the potential of photovoltaic (PV) installations on building facades in Singapore by revealing that the surface area available for PV installations on roofs and facades amounts to millions of square metres, highlighting a significant opportunity for energy generation.

To effectively disseminate this knowledge and influence decision-makers, we engage in multi-faceted communication strategies. These strategies include organising workshops and meetings with various stakeholders, such as the Housing & Development Board (HDB) in Singapore. Through these interactions, we discuss the feasibility and benefits of implementing PV technology on HDB buildings.

One key aspect of our approach is understanding the social and economic drivers and barriers to technology adoption. We examine the regulatory conditions and business models that could either support or hinder the deployment of PV technology. We recognize that regulatory challenges and unsuitable business models can pose significant obstacles, requiring tailored communication strategies to address these issues.

Personal engagement is also extremely important in science communication. The Powering the City team found that reaching people on a personal level, rather than solely through logical arguments, is crucial. By connecting with stakeholders on what matters to them personally, the team can more effectively convey the benefits of their technology.

Finally, the focus on tangible outcomes is essential. We plan to implement a PV prototype on the SDE4 Building (NUS School of Design and Environment 4), providing a physical example of our research. This hands-on approach allows stakeholders to see and understand the technology in practice, making the benefits more relatable and compelling.

Stakeholder Engagement initiatives organised by the project Powering the City in Singapore

In Antananarivo, Madagascar, the Resilient Blue and Green Infrastructure team is working to establish resilient urban landscapes capable of coping with floods and ensuring food security. Effective communication with local decision-makers is crucial for the success of the initiatives, and this involves overcoming significant cultural differences.

Resilient blue and Green Infrastructure case study in Antananarivo, Madagascar

Central to our approach is the principle of democratic governance, which emphasises participation and power-sharing. We engage in a process of co-design, involving all relevant stakeholders from the project's inception. This ensures that our designs are not only technically sound but also legitimate and accepted by the local community. Legitimacy here means actively listening to and incorporating the visions of the local people, rather than imposing external ideas.

Understanding the local power dynamics is essential. As in the case of Madagascar, we see a textbook example of how democratic principles vary according to the level of influence, as they do everywhere in the world, and how the decision-making process often involves both state and local actors with a vested interest. To navigate this, we collect visions separately from farmers, local stakeholders, and state actors. This separation ensures that all voices are heard without being overshadowed by dominant groups.

Visioning workshop in Antananarivo, Madagascar

Our method involves conducting visioning workshops and collecting mental models to understand local perceptions and knowledge. This helps us gauge the starting point for our interventions and tailor our designs accordingly. For example, we designed maps and visuals based on these collected visions and invited local stakeholders to review and critique them, ensuring that the designs align with their expectations.Cultural sensitivity is vital in these interactions. We collaborate with local researchers who understand the nuances of the local context and can facilitate effective communication. This partnership with the University of Antananarivo has been instrumental in bridging cultural gaps and building trust. Local facilitators play a key role in translating our intentions into meaningful discussions that resonate with the community.

The Dense and Green Cities research team is deeply involved in understanding and influencing the governance processes of various urban densification projects in the city of Zurich, Switzerland. This collaboration spans both private and public sectors, playing a crucial role in urban planning and design.

Initially, we focus on comprehensively understanding the existing policies and legislation that shape Zurich's urban planning. This involves close collaboration with policymakers and stakeholders, and a thorough review of relevant documents. We identify key principles guiding Zurich's 2040 master plan, which inform our densification strategies.

Dense and Green Cities

We generate various densification scenarios to explore the impacts of current measures on the future urban landscape. For instance, one scenario strictly follows the new master plan and building regulations, revealing a significant reduction in green spaces. This reduction would negatively impact the living environment, climate, and outdoor activities, highlighting the need for balanced development.

Dense and Green work on Koch Areal, Zurich

Our research includes case studies to test the practical application of densification measures. One notable example is the redevelopment of Koch-Areal, a formerly squatted area transformed into a high-density residential and commercial hub in the district of Altstetten. Through extensive interviews and document analysis, we visualise the decade-long redevelopment process, illustrating the roles and interactions of various stakeholders.

By understanding the implementation of current policies, we can provide informed recommendations to enhance densification strategies and land use policies. Our collaborative approach ensures that both private and public sectors contribute to creating a sustainable and liveable urban future for Zurich.

Sustainable Development Goals

Find out more about SDG's on the offical United Nations website.

Who can tell me more?

Powering the City

Resilient blue-green infrastructures

Dense and Green Cities

Future Cities Laboratory Global

Welcome to FCL Global, an interdisciplinary research programme that seeks to address the worldwide circumstances of rapid urbanisation. Our ultimate goal is to promote more equitable and livable urban futures, by bringing together Science, Design, Engineering and Governance.

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