Social Change for Engaging Cities – Translating Urban 'Collective Impact' Initiatives between the Rust Belt and the Ruhr

Doctoral Researcher: Chris Katzenberg, M.A.

Advisors: Prof. Dr. Kornelia Freitag and Prof. Dr. Josef Raab

U.S. Mentor: Prof. Paula Moya, Stanford University

Graphic of projects. Project Social Change for Engaging Cities is highlighted.

Within the American urban imaginary, the “inner city ghetto” continues to hold a central place as the stereotypical hot spot of ethnicized poverty and segregation. In a strikingly similar fashion, portions of the Ruhrgebiet have become stylized as so-called “no-go areas” on the other side of the Atlantic – most prominently perhaps Dortmund's Nordstadt or Duisburg's Marxloh neighborhoods.

Some efforts to address this negative image, and the larger urban problems it points to and conceals, are also shared transatlantically: in both places, the city of the future is being rewritten as a utopian imagined community with fair participation for all. Engaging Cities compares reform initiatives at the intersection of education and the social that work to achieve this by increasing collaboration. They follow what is known as the “collective impact” model, whose blueprints, narratives and practices form the focus of the research.

“Collective impact” was first described in an influential journal article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review from 2011. The authors, the non-profit consultants John Kania and Marc Kramer, study exemplary social projects like the educational initiative StriveTogether to identify certain forms of systematic collaboration as particularly conducive to social change. They conclude by calling for widespread emulation.

Engaging Cities argues that this appeal and its consequences constitute a significant attempt to script the city for social inclusion: Four years after the foundational text had been published, there were already more than seventy “collective impact” projects across the U.S. in the education sector alone. The script crossed the Atlantic almost immediately after its coining – and in 2014, the educational initiative RuhrFutur started to operate in the Ruhr region based on “collective impact” principles. Engaging Cities studies their work as a German adaptation of this inclusive script, comparing it to the activities of similar American initiatives.