Brokering Communities of Knowledge & Practice: Reflections on The African Centre for Cities’ Citylab

Programme Type: ProjectsUrban Research Programme: Applied Urban Research


Calls for greater engagement between academia and society to address mounting societal problems per- sist. The African Centre for Cities, a University of Cape Town research entity, set up the CityLab pro- gramme to broker interdisciplinary engagement, both across academic disciplines and between academia and broader society, to engage with the issues pertinent to sustainable urban development in Cape Town. CityLabs were formed around specific themes and sought to share and co-produce knowl- edge. Reflections on the running of six distinct CityLabs within this innovative programme over the first 2 years corroborate views emerging in the literature around the outcomes of, and challenges to, interdis- ciplinary work. The creation of productive and engaged communities, emerging publications and the pro- fessional growth and development of researchers heading up the CityLabs stand testimony to the success of the programme. Challenges include issues around micro-politics, getting people to move out of their disciplinary and practice biases, the difficulties of writing and producing knowledge in interdisciplinary groups, and the fact that this type of work takes longer than standard research work. Reflections suggest that the personal biography of the research leader of each CityLab, the role of funders, the history of the discipline in question, and the actual space in which meetings are held are significant influencing factors in determining how interdisciplinary work plays out.