Innovating urban governance through 'Challenges'

Alistair Sisson, Pauline McGuirk, Robyn Dowling, Tom Baker, Sophia Maalsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In recent years, urban “Challenges”—competitions that solicit and reward novel solutions to urban policy problems—have become embedded within a wider program of governance innovations presented to city governments as effective means to solve complex urban problems. This paper offers an overview and critical evaluation of the uses of Challenges in contemporary urban governance innovation, based on an extensive analysis of existing Challenges and related practitioner and promotional literature. Situating Challenges within the increasingly prominent urban governance innovation trends, we suggest a fourfold categorization for understanding the diverse positionings, motivations and objectives at play in the application of Challenges. We present a critique of the prominent logics of projectification, technological solutionism and competition associated with Challenges and conclude by offering coordinates for more intensive and contextually-specific analyses of the Challenge phenomenon.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Urban Affairs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Publisher 2023. Accepted Author Manuscript Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Challenges
  • competition
  • entrepreneurialism
  • projectification
  • urban governance innovation


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