Smart Urban Intermediaries: Trans-European research, learning, and action Project (2017-2019)

Lead academic: Dr Catherine Durose
Academic partners: Dr Merlijn van Hulst (Tilburg University), Dr Oliver Escobar (University of Edinburgh), Dr Annika Agger (Roskilde University)
Non-academic partners: Ellen Hojgaard Jensen (Danish Town Planning Institute)
Funding: Horizon 2020 European Research Area Network (ERA-net) Cofund Smart Urban Futures programme


Urban neighbourhoods are sustained and mobilized by networks of key individuals who act as intermediaries, forging connections between and within communities, and between communities and the institutions of urban governance. Such intermediaries are invariably social innovators: they create new links where there were none before and often transform those that already exist. This project sets out to understand how they do so and to analyse their contribution to smart urban development. In four European cities – Birmingham, Copenhagen, Glasgow and Amsterdam – we do fieldwork and develop ‘living labs’, which will serve as sources of research data as well as sites of transnational and transdisciplinary learning. Our project is grounded on systematic, comparative and empirical pilot research already conducted in three European countries. In short, we will advance knowledge of the role of urban intermediaries and their collaborations; co-create a local and trans-national learning infrastructure and generate a dialogue on the contribution of intermediaries. In doing so, we will offer distinctive conceptual insights, strategic options and practical means for generating social innovation and smart urban development, aiming to enhance liveability and resilience, and work towards vibrant, accessible and inclusive communities.

Project aims and objectives

The project will seek to generate impact and value in academia, civil society and urban governance in understanding, contributing to and advancing smart urban development and social innovation. Reflecting the substantive focus of this project, a crucial impact will be on transforming existing and fostering new connections, collaboration and co-creation between, as well as within, user communities.

The project anticipates three forms of impact:

  • Strategic impact: The project will offer insight into the work, interactions and embedding of urban intermediaries, including enablers and barriers, thus providing new thinking for the design of an urban governance supportive of intermediaries and conducive to social innovation and problem-solving;
  • Applied impact: The project will redefine and enrich the roles of intermediaries in urban development by enabling participants to develop, test and learn from new approaches, providing evidence to action. Capacity building and skill development will be crucial, and the project will entail training of post-doctoral researchers and practitioner researchers in the living labs in action research and reflexive practice;
  • Innovation impact: Co-creative collaboration between researchers, intermediaries and co-operation partners via living labs will foster policy and practice innovation in smart urban development.

More information

For further information about this project, please contact
Dr Catherine Durose (