2023 Geospeaker Presentation with Dr. Pauline McGuirk

September 30, 2022

Geospeaker series

  • Title: Navigating urban governance innovation: beyond pathways to incremental ‘muddling through’.
  • Presenter: Dr. Pauline McGuirk, University of Wollongong, Australia
  • Date: September 21, 2023


In recent year, cities and city governance have been comprehensively urged to innovate to address complex societal challenges. Instrumental here has been the articulation by an influential epistemic community—including the UN, OECD, global philanthropies, consultancies and think-tanks—of globally-circulating pathways to urban governance innovation (UGI) alongside a codified suite of best-practice techniques. In this paper we address how these pathways and best practice codifications of UGI gel with actual practices of institutional change. We present a grounded theorisation of UGI to frame enhanced empirical understandings of its practice, building on recent relational theorisations of governance innovation from studies of urban sustainability transitions and complementary urban political geography theorisations, associated chiefly with new municipalism. Drawing on analysis of a suite of urban-based innovation units internationally, we propose three key dimensions to a more nuanced understanding of UGI; namely that UGI is a process enacted relationally, and through navigations that are inevitably situated. We conclude by suggesting, first, that UGI proceeds through more uncertain, piecemeal and incremental routes than is suggested by globally-circulating pathways. Second, we argue that understanding the relational, navigational and situated dynamics of UGI is critical to evaluating its agendas, ambitions and (ambiguous) politics.