agenda for the city of the future

Public civil partnerships

Citizens and the city government work together in public services.

These are the results of dozens of conversations, discussions and exchanges of Cities for Change.  Door uiteenlopende deelnemers en organisaties uit Amsterdam en andere steden in Europa.


A just and equitable welfare economy also comprises democratic relationships and sustainable connections between citizens and the municipality. With much more control and ownership for (organised) citizens. This requires Amsterdammers to be citizens instead of consumers. And it requires the administration, civil servants and politicians to genuinely share power with citizens, beyond participation, consultation and co-creation. 

Care, energy, public spaces, housing, public transport and infrastructure and other fundamental services: where authorities currently mainly collaborate with large private companies in public-private partnerships (PPPs), public-civil partnerships (PCPs) will be set up instead. In which the ‘C’ can also refer to collective, cooperative, commons, citizens or community. View the summary from Cities for Change about the cooperation between citizens and government below (in Dutch).


‘In het inkoopbeleid kun je best voorrang geven aan bewonersbewegingen of coöperatieve initiatieven.’Jasper Klapwijk, advisor civil initiatives

'In procurement policy, you can give priority to citizen movements or cooperative initiatives.'Jasper Klapwijk, advisor civil initiatives

‘If we want to move towards a democratic economy, we need to have a say in how our public services are provided. And what happens to the profit.’Luca Hopman, researcher public-civil partnerships


  • International examples make it clear that PCS is primarily a choice in politics and policy.
  • Local authorities and (organized) citizens are both participants in public-civil cooperation. PCS is not old wine in new bottles with citizens helping the local government, or a cosmetic procedure to fill the voids of a retiring government.
  • The municipality can function as a fertilizer. Amsterdam has a wealth of inputs to convert public-private partnerships into public-civil partnerships. For example, the city manages a number of important facilities such as public transport, has a share in a number of other facilities such as a heat network, and completely outsources other services such as waste management. It requires the municipality to play an active role: to reverse privatization, to develop or strengthen public enterprises itself, and to actively increase the role of (organized) citizens.
  • Public companies and services spend billions of euros annually on local, regional, national and international suppliers. An overview of the city's public ownership, participations, procurement and tenders is needed to see where public-civil partnerships can grow. creative government contracts or tenders for public services.
  • There are many forms and strategies of PCS, there is not one model or blueprint. For example, there is public-collective ownership, shared management or governance, innovative financing, creative public procurement or tendering. This requires creativity from all parties.
  • Regulations are needed to achieve collaborations with cooperatives and organized citizens. Just as is now the case for public-private partnerships.

‘Als we naar een democratische economie toe willen, moeten we zeggenschap hebben over hoe onze publieke diensten worden aangeboden. En wat er gebeurt met de winst.’ Luca Hopman, onderzoeker publiek-civiele samenwerking

Which problems are the recommendations an answer to?

Citizens can now participate in the discussion, but not participate in decision-making about the urban economy and public facilities. Collaborations between public services and (organized) citizens strengthen the empowerment of residents: it requires Amsterdammers to be citizens instead of consumers. And administration, civil servants and politicians share power with citizens, beyond participation, participation and co-creation.

In addition, PCS is a response to the financial extraction that public-private partnerships (PPP) or private financing instruments (PFI) entail. Since the wave of privatization from the 1980s, housing, energy, education, housing, care, waste disposal and other essential facilities have been placed in the hands of private companies. Profit is their main motivation, and not the well-being of Amsterdammers or a sustainable city. For example, the profits that Vattenfall makes in the city go to shareholders and bank accounts outside the city. PCS turns this around and goes further: city dwellers and city authorities work together in essential facilities, and create value and well-being in and for the city – so-called multiple value creation. And instead of shareholders, Amsterdammers benefit from the returns of the economy.

PCS is also one of the means to tackle complex problems. Climate crisis and social and financial inequality characterize the city, are such complex problems. There is therefore no single technical fix. When citizens are co-owners or co-deciders, choices will be made more with a view to the well-being of the city and its residents.

What is already happening in Amsterdam or other cities?

Amsterdam does have quite some cooperatives in energy, care and housing, but hardly any public-civil partnerships. There are plenty of examples in other countries. For example, Wolfhagen in Germany has already come a long way with public-civil cooperation. In 2005 the city (14,000 inhabitants) took the energy network into public hands by the new municipal energy company, Stadtwerke Wolfhagen. That company supported the establishment of the citizens' cooperative BEG Wolfhagen, which again owns 25 percent of the capital of Stadtwerke. In addition, representatives of the cooperative hold two of the nine seats on the supervisory board. Local citizens are therefore co-owners, co-earners and co-deciders. The city also decided to develop a solar energy park and a wind farm together with BEG Wolfhagen.

The English Plymouth also has a public company in which residents are shareholders and co-deciders. The city recognized a committed citizens' initiative as an equal partner and helped establish what is now known as the Plymouth Energy Community (PEC). The support took various forms, including expert staff, a start-up loan and a grant. PEC founded the sister organization PEC Renewables in 2014. With innovative financing: partly with city government loans, partly with community shares that residents can buy for £50 to 100,000. PEC Renewables aims to develop a community-owned renewable energy infrastructure.

The Breton city of Rennes launched the Terre de Sources (Land of Sources) program in 2015. That will support 2,000 farms on more than 1,500 square kilometers in water catchment areas – an area the size of Paris – to switch to ecological farming. With immediate effect: less pollution from pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics and less costs and fewer chemicals for water treatment. The local government also buys the ecologically grown products on a large scale for school meals, thereby encouraging farmers to change their farming methods. Much of what is served in the school cafeterias – about 11,000 meals a day – is locally harvested.

In the Italian region of Lazio, a regional law in 1998 promoted a new type of cooperative known as "self-repairing cooperatives" (cooperative di autorecupero). This law allows government bodies – such as provincial and urban authorities, public housing corporations, charities and other government bodies – to renovate or have vacant or abandoned buildings converted into single-family and multi-family homes. The part of the work must be performed by a cooperative of candidate tenants.

Continue reading, listening or watching


Climate & energy

Community wealth building


Amsterdam doughnut economy

Public space

Digital democracy

Translocal collaboration