Urban Shifts – Transformations and Their Narratives – Session 1 Wrap-Up: Part ONE

Posted on February 24, 2021
Central Asiacitiesclimate changecommunitiesEUEuropeinnovationKirsten DunlopRBEC

Urban transformation is at the heart of UNDP’s development work. In the context of Europe and Central Asia, the question is: how to achieve urban transformation, modernization, and the associated opportunities as part of the commitment to the Association Agreements and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas – processes which link the region to the European Union.

To look at this question, our first virtual session at IID 2021 gathered together a panel of leaders and experts to talk about their experiences, ideas, plans, and initiatives.

Kirsten Dunlop, Executive Director at Climate-KIC, kicked off proceedings by discussing how we desperately need new models of transformation—hastened by the climate emergency—that include citywide, large-scale prototypes of urban development to transform whole cities and regions.



Kirsten Dunlop

“What we have done is turn ourselves into a prototype for an alternative way of working on this challenge and an alternative way of using innovation to work with cities,” she said.


This involved the launch of eight ‘deep demonstrations’ as a test-bed environment for the ‘1.5 °C consistent systems transitions’ called for by the IPCC “to offer a possibility of large-scale examples, to get over the problem of ‘seeing is believing’ and turn whole cities into test bed for 1.5 °C aligned transitions,” said Dunlop.

The deep demonstrations operate across the EU and eastern and south-eastern European cities. The demonstrations focus on healthy clean cities, the transformation of heavy industry, net-zero emission maritime hubs, circular regenerative economies, climate-friendly food systems, among other areas. Dunlop highlighted the key problem of such interventions,

“Complex adaptive systems will not change with single interventions, unless we take a very, very long time which we don’t have.”

Firstly, according to Dunlop, there is a need to know “what it is that we need to do… to achieve full-scale decarbonisation” in any city and to design appropriate innovation for that. Secondly, it is important to think about how innovation is deployed to meet the challenges.

“[Innovation should be] a systematic mechanism for learning faster than the pace of change.”

To make this happen, Dunlop said Climate-KIC adopted multiple, simultaneous innovation actions so that “innovation becomes the currency of exchange between local communities” that are connected through a process of sensemaking.

Citing  Madrid as an example, Dunlop described how there were three learnings from this approach.

  • “Take the time to secure intent and to understand the scale and the shape of the problem.”
  • “A deliberately designed portfolio. A place-based real economy portfolio structured as a systemic framework for action and for learning really helps hold together sectors and silos and decision makers.”
  • “The value of closing the loop, of connecting innovation effort with every day decision making.”

To learn more about Kirsten Dunlop’s work and Climate-KIC’s initiatives and projects, take a look at the deep demonstrations they are already working on to transform European cities.


This is the first post of a two part series, summarizing the interventions and presentations of the first session of #IID21 – the Regional Conversation for Europe and Central Asia (RBEC) Session exploring Urban Transformations. 

This post focuses on the Introductory Statements and Kirsten Dunlop’s presentation. In the second post, we focus on the contributions The Leaders Dialogue and Closing Statements of the session. A video of the full session is available here: https://www.innovationdays.co/session/rbec-urban-shifts-transformation-and-narratives-that-fuel-it/


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