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Urban diplomacy and complexity

The literature on international relations extensively examines the role and interactions of sub-state and non-state actors in the international arena. A first formulation is that of J. Nye with the concept of soft power, which will inspire, among other things, the public diplomacy of the United States. Similarly, this author would later propose a strategic dimension: the smart power. The actions of local authorities, in particular cities, at an international level are therefore evolving from paradiplomacy and soft power towards an “authorized” exercise of skills. As put forward in our PhD thesis (p.62):

It is therefore opportune to ask about active subsidiarity (Calamé, 2016): a political and philosophical composition by which local authorities extend, in complete independence, their local powers. This autonomy is developed by cities in all relevant spheres, such as the European Union, in order to fulfil their planning and their mission for public service. European urban diplomacy therefore appears to be a lever for the urban project. It supports the city’s strategy in the face of the constraints of the community system, it supplements the resources of the community and creates alliances and new spheres of influence. Therefore, this research aims to clarify the instruments and strategies that cities can develop at European level in order to implement their urban project. “

Today, this research project around active subsidiarity raises the question of the exercise of this by other actors, although parapublic (such as the networks of cities) and non-state. Moreover, the concept of urban diplomacy could be the subject of new research such as its applicability to cities in other continents or its adaptation to other actors, such as the enterprises or the university. The “Urban Diplomacy Living Lab” proposal, based on collective intelligence, could also serve as new field. As a new perspective on the endeavours of cities (of actors) in an international context, the urban diplomacy concept may relate and serve as a testing ground to:

  • Information Diffusion & Complexity: The instruments targeted are not easily available. To understand the possibilities of the different tools offered by the EU for growth of development as a function of an individual strategy of an organisation requires an interpretative method to find and grab consistent opportunities.
  • Collective Intelligence & Complexity: Our proposal indicates that collective intelligence is paramount in an international strategy, an approach clustered in the idea of an “Urban Living lab”: Centred on exchange, knowledge and learning, these are participatory forums dedicated to innovation and the creation of new products and services and they have already been tested in complex areas such as sustainable development.
  • Networks, institutions and complexity: The scientific problem the concept of urban diplomacy tries to solve is to define the relation between cities and the EU institutions from an exclusively local (individual) point of view. However, the EU context is a very complex one, moved both by regulations, inertias and networks, features that our thesis on urban diplomacy also explores.
  • Problems, decisions and complexity: Finally, our thesis presents three models of decision making for cities to integrate an urban diplomacy strategy, based on internal indicators. A larger structure for decision and strategy, based on Vernon’s cycle is proposed as a guide to progressively implement the tools.

Therefore, the research proposal would be to further develop the results of this concept, either on different sectors, or on particular elements, such as information gathering, collective agencies, etc.

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