The Mayors’ Action Platform: a new instrument of urban governance

A new platform for exchanging good urban practices and improving the governance of the cities across the globe. The Mayors’ Action Platform was launched last September by the Geneva Cities Hub.

By Emanuele Sala

The Geneva Cities Hub[1] (GCH) introduced the Mayors’ Action Platform (MAP) in September 2021 to ensure continuity to the Geneva Declaration of Mayors. The platform aspires to be an operational tool for mayors and city policymakers to peer exchange and share solutions and best practices addressed by the Declaration of Mayors’ principles themselves. In line with the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda, the Declaration covers themes as the construction of resilient cities, the promotion of environmental, energy, transport sustainability, and the reduction of urban inequalities. It was adopted by the mayors of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) during the first Forum of Mayors in 2020.

One of the specific objectives of the Geneva Declaration of Mayors is to establish a tool to turn its principles into reality through ongoing exchange and mutual learning. The MAP joins other similar platforms in establishing a polycentric model of governance for cities. Such participatory frameworks emphasize a shift in city policymaking based on the action of urban platforms and best practices. Despite the greater flexibility and the undeniable benefits of these institutional frameworks, more incentives to foster participation should be considered.

Benefitting from the exchange of best practices

The exchange of best practices is a fundamental means of city diplomacy and accrues benefits both locally and internationally. The exchange of knowledge between mayors has shown to be particularly effective, as municipalities learn from each other more than any other single source[2]. Eddy Adams, Thematic Pole Manager from the European knowledge-exchange program URBACT, reports that the exchange of best practices at the international level results in greater prestige, raising the city’s profile and showcasing the successful initiatives to potential partnering actors. Even the most reticent local stakeholder is more persuaded at the local level when a good practice is recognized internationally. Thus, external recognition can result in internal credit. Among the technical advantages, the codification needed to share best practices is of high value to understand even internally, dynamics that might be overlooked. Accordingly, codification makes the trajectory of the implementation clearer for everyone.[3]

This last point highlights that the pure exchange of good practices is only a starting point for an effective policy transfer: it is paramount to make them interoperable and adaptable in different contexts and conditions. For this reason, to become an effective tool for urban development, such platforms should be equipped with precise internal systems to assess the relevance of the proposed practices, both for the specific objectives and the effectiveness of the results. Every shared practice should make a clear link with the issues it tries to resolve and the outcomes it intends to reach, based on quantifiable and identifiable outcomes. Moreover, to facilitate transferability, they should support local governments in codifying best practices to identify a transfer potential that other stakeholders can exploit.

In this respect, the Mayor’s Action Platform sets few limits concerning the rules of acceptance of shared practices due to the broad extent of the themes included in the Declaration. The inclusiveness of the platform is thus favored over a strict selection of the practices. However, the platform offers a form for codifying best practices, making shared practices readable and uniform, and clarifying effects and outcomes. The form requires cities to identify which principle of the Declaration they are addressing with a specific policy and how citizens’ participation shaped the different phases of its implementation. A final evaluation of the impact and the effectiveness of the practices closes the form.

The value of urban platforms for city governance

The Mayor’s Action Platform is a tool that can be ascribed to the logic of polycentric governance instruments. The political economist Vincent Ostrom defines these instruments as governance arrangements regulated by patterns of interaction amongst independent units operating at different geographical scopes. These actors mutually monitor, learn, and adapt strategies with reciprocity and trust[4]. In recent research focused on the Covenant of Mayors, Ekaterina Domorenok points out how the logic of “governing through enabling” municipalities with mutual knowledge and reciprocal links often results in collaborative networks.[5]

The voluntary commitment of the members highlights the shift from city policymaking in a command and control style to a policy change driven by networking, coordination, and peer learning. On the one hand, such institutional shapes ensure great flexibility, light structures, and high interoperability, and here lies part of the success of platforms and networks for urban practitioners. On the other hand, more substantial incentives for a sound policy codification and implementation and more explicit tie-in dynamics might be desirable in the next future. Providing support in best practice codification and establishing contacts among city experts and administration is a good basis for instruments that could evolve to become fundamental hinge points in city diplomacy.

In this connection, the MAP shows potential key success factors, particularly its proximity to the United Nations institutions. The European members, for example, that may be targeting more intensively their continental dimension than the wider international one, could benefit from the contacts that the MAP could provide with other cities worldwide and with the international institutions based in Geneva. Conversely, other UNECE and non-UNECE cities could establish connections with European cities and the international institutions based in the Swiss city, with its historical presence of influential global actors.

[1] The Geneva’s Cities Hub is the primary promoter of the platform. It was created by the City of Geneva and the Canton of Geneva, with the support of the Swiss Confederation, the UNECE and the UN-Habitat. The specific objective of the GCH is to offer support to cities and city networks by connecting them together and with the international institutions hosted in Geneva.

[2] Campbell, T. (2001). Innovation and Risk-taking: Urban Governance in Latin America. In A. J. Scott (Ed.), Global City-Regions. Trends, Theory, Policy (pp. 214–235). Oxford University Press.

[3] Adams, E. (2019). It is time for cities to share their good practices now, more than ever. Retrieved 22 January 2022, from

[4] Ostrom in Domorenok, E. (2019). Voluntary instruments for ambitious objectives? The experience of the EU Covenant of Mayors. Environmental Politics28(2), 293-314.

[5]Domorenok, E. (2019). Voluntary instruments for ambitious objectives? The experience of the EU Covenant of Mayors. Environmental Politics28(2), 293-314.