City2City Learning: The Climate Resilience Accelerator

Cities around the world are facing unprecedented challenges as they deal with climate change, rapid urbanisation, increasing disaster risks, volatile economies and environmental pressures; now climate resilience is a global priority. In order to accelerate progress towards climate resilience, collaboration, cooperation and coordination between cities is vital. To do so, Bax & Company partner Dr. Sebastiaan van Herk, alongside Prof. Chris Zevenbergen of UNESCO-IHE, coined a novel concept which enables cities to learn from each other’s knowledge and experience: City2City learning (C2C).

C2C learning is not necessarily new, though. Cities have been collaborating for years, however, previous approaches have greatly lacked a solid structure. Dr. van Herk and Prof. Zevenbergen wanted to provide cities with a structured process for efficient shared learning and eventual implementation of new knowledge. Their focus area was climate resilience, yet C2C is applicable to several domains, enabling shared learning and development to tackle a multitude of issues around the world.

Their research began in 2012, and was inspired by the relationship between cities and international city networks. Although the latter are capable of supporting and connecting cities to potential sources of funds and knowledge, it was never clear how exactly these networks are serving the needs of cities in their search for resilience and how effective they are in driving learning and sharing.



They interviewed 30 cities and analysed 13 international networks and found that cities seem to prioritise their involvement with networks based on three main factors: Politics, technical needs and timeliness.

City2City learning allows cities to gain valuable insight and experience from their peers

For example, the mandate to join certain networks often came from higher up; the number and type of exchanges the cities participated in seemed largely driven by specific technical needs (e.g. risk assessment procedures); and cities used networks to get assistance on current challenges they are actively working to address. Cities also emphasised the benefit of developing working relationships with peers tackling mutual challenges, rather than only sharing best practices.

This sparked discussion between Dr. van Herk and Prof. Zevenbergen, whose study primarily included large and mega cities. They asked themselves: Do smaller towns’ resources and political setting allow them to learn and act from big cities’ experiences? Are there proper tools enabling down-scaling, or upscaling, of the solutions shared through these networks?

The participating networks failed to address these questions, so Dr. van Herk and Prof. Zevenbergen proposed an alternative approach: a City2City network, to support cities of varying sizes and stimulate shared learning.


“City2City learning empowers local governments by creating a collective voice, accelerates the transfer of knowledge and experience from city to city and provides opportunities to leverage and aggregate resources for joint activities.” – Prof. Chris Zevenbergen



Bax & Company are currently implementing C2C learning in two projects: Interreg North Sea Region’s BEGIN and Interreg 2 Seas Region’s SCIFI, focusing on Blue-Green Infrastructure implementation and open-data cities, respectively. These projects, although focusing on entirely different areas, are both applying novel City2City learning to gain valuable insight and experience from their peers. The process is proving to be very effective in avoiding repeated mistakes, building solid relationships across borders and fundamentally, dealing with their urgent common challenges.


“We are successfully running our City2City learning methodology, that effectively engages peer cities in action learning across organisations and disciplines, to mobilise investments and accelerate policy implementation, dealing with their most urgent common challenges.”Dr. Sebastiaan van Herk


Prof. Chris Zevenbergen will present City2City learning at the Flood Resilience Summit in Watford on February 8th.

If you would like to know more about City2City learning, contact Dr. Sebastiaan van Herk

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