This page provides a brief overview of the methodological approach taken for the development of the Urban Governance Atlas (UGA). To get further details please refer to the guidance document.

Definition of key terms

The Urban governance Atlas places special emphasis on Nature-based solutions (NBS) for ecosystem restoration: (peri-)urban nature-based solutions which restore, rehabilitate and (re)connect ecosystems along the urban-rural nexus. By fostering ecosystem recovery and contributing to healthy ecosystems, these solutions increase resilience and conserve biodiversity, while also benefiting society, the environment and the economy. Related measures focus on improving the condition of an ecosystem or re-creating or re-establishing an ecosystem that was lost.

Within the UGA, we prioritize policy instruments that foster the deployment or maintenance of NBS for ecosystem restoration in (peri-)urban areas. We understand policy instruments as tools developed by the government to implement their policies and influence the behaviour of citizens and businesses. The UGA chooses to expand this definition, in recognition of the important and growing movement from public participation (i.e. government-led) towards active citizenship, i.e. where citizens self-organize as (co-)producers of urban sustainability.

Governance is a key aspect explored per policy instrument in the UGA, referring to the “formal and informal institutions, rules, mechanisms and processes of collective decision-making that enable stakeholders to influence and coordinate their interdependent needs and interests and their interactions with the environment at different scales1. In the UGA, we look specifically at the type of involvement of different governmental and non-governmental actor groups in the initiation and implementation of the respective policy instruments.

Types of policy instruments

For the purposes of the Urban Governance Atlas, we classify policy instruments according to the following categories: legislative, regulatory and strategic instruments; economic and fiscal; agreement-based or cooperative; knowledge, communication and innovation. Each category is defined below. It should be noted that these types are described in their ideal form, but in practice they are commonly used y in combination as a policy mix.

Legislative, regulatory and strategic instruments

A broad variety of laws, regulations and strategies. In the case of laws and regulations, their main characteristic is that a public authority sets binding requirements, which in cases of non-compliance will be followed by sanctions. In the case of strategies, they are used by governments to set a vision and strategic goals as well as define roles and responsibilities to enable implementation and can be either binding or non-binding. In both cases, governments apply principles to influence actors' behavior. Requirements can either be prohibitive (e.g. forbid certain behavior), prescriptive (e.g. require certain behavior) or voluntary (e.g. encouraging certain behavior). The table below shows the subcategories for this type of instrument and provides some examples.



Dedicated strategy, plan or law

NBS, green infrastructure, urban forestry or green space strategy or plan

Overarching/cross sectoral strategy, plan or law

circular city, smart city strategy or plan; masterplan, integrated plans; action plan on (innovation/green) public procurement

Sectorial strategy, plan or law

adaptation, biodiversity, climate change, mobility

Urban planning mechanisms

spatial (zoning), infrastructure or socio-economic development plans; green space factor restrictions on development of green areas; targets (regulation and planning) standards; scoring


green public procurement standards

Economic and fiscal instruments

Instruments based on a government that influences market mechanisms through for instance disincentives, incentives, payments, subsidies, financing mechanisms and market-based instruments. For many of these instruments, compliance has a more voluntary character as they simulate the involved actor to act in a certain way by rewarding or financially discourage certain behaviour whereas others are mandatory (e.g. payments for rainwater discharge). The table below shows the subcategories for this type of instrument and provide some examples.





taxes and charges/fees, tariffs; trading of permits for using a resource or trading

Payments as rewards/for ecosystem services, subsidies, incentives

subsidies or payments to landowners/ private actors for practices; public financing/grants; payments for insurance covering the risk associated with newer green technologies

Financing mechanisms /market-based instruments

‘green finance’ or debt-based instruments; blended finance; payments for ecosystem services (PES); public-private-partnerships (PPP)

Agreement-based or cooperative instruments

Instruments in which the government and/or involved actors jointly and on a voluntary basis decide to behave in a certain way. They often arise from consortia that share an agenda – mostly consisting of both public as well as private actors. Often the agreements reached between the parties (whether governmental or not) are fixed in a covenant code or agreement. The table below shows the subcategories for this type of instrument and provides examples.



Community based agreement with the support of the government

Citizen assemblies, neighborhood development plans

Public private community-based agreement

Participatory budgets, Partnerships for ecosystem restoration or climate action; local networks of stakeholders that promote NBS and biodiversity action.

Public private business agreement

Public private collaborations for improving urban greening.

Public- community agreement

Community management of green spaces on public lands, community asset transfer, citizen science programs.

Private business agreement with the support of the government

Business parks and biodiversity investments.

Joint regional planning between municipalities

Inter-municipal exchange platforms, Inter-municipal plans for environmental management and restoration

Knowledge, communication and innovation instruments

Try to influence behavior through disseminating information to actors on certain issues or involving (novel) actors in critical processes in innovative ways in the hope that this will inspire voluntary behavioral changes. Such instruments are often connected to other policy instruments. The table below shows the subcategories for this type of instrument and provides examples.



Communication/awareness raising

targeted educational programs; certification (labelling) or ranking; awareness raising campaigns

Knowledge and innovation

communities of practice; living labs; creating workshops; pilots; constructing business cases or land use plans; green hubs

Policy instrument selection criteria

The UGA aims to feature good practice policy instruments. In this context, best practice criteria were defined trough desk-based research. The instruments should meet several of the criteria in a unique or noteworthy way. Instruments can also be at different stages of implementation, such as showing promise or already having been demonstrated or replicated. This flexible approach also leaves room for different social, cultural, and geographic contexts. Below you can find the list of the good practice criteria used for the instrument selection.

Criteria for good practice policy instruments

  • Inclusivity: integrates all relevant actors through participatory action; allows those affected by the instrument to influence decision-making processes

  • Effectiveness: has been implemented, tested, accepted and effective in achieving its objectives (‘verification in practice’) and/or has the potential to be successful; cost-effective

  • Multifunctionality: is designed to support the deployment or maintenance of NBS that address multiple objectives and/or produce diverse (co-)benefits, ideally including contributions to social equity

  • Long-term sustainability: has a monitoring system in place, its application is enshrined in law, and/or it has secured long-term funding

  • Locally appropriate: design, framing and approach are consistent with the local institutional-cultural context

  • Upscalability/replicability: has been replicated elsewhere, become a blueprint, or has the potential to be applied in other cities and contexts; adopts a flexible approach that has the potential for transferability

  • Innovation: applies an innovative approach (e.g. exploring new financing sources and types of PPPs/ cooperation)

  • Policy business case: contributes to the financial feasibility of nature-based solutions implemented by private business, private non-profit sector, or private households

Development of Urban Governance Atlas

The development of the Atlas was coordinated by Ecologic Institute with the support of INTERLACE partners and several external collaborators (see acknowledgments page). Critical to the success of the UGA was the outreach in Spanish and English across multiple channels to reach global audiences.

1 Tacconi, L. (2011). Developing environmental governance research: the example of forest cover change studies. Environmental Conservation, 38(2), 234–246.