This section provides a snapshot of the process of utilizing the toolkit towards urban collaborative governance. Here we present some of the key activities of Milan, codified as interventions in one of the three infrastructuring dimensions – strategic, operational and relational – that continuously interact with each other and help unlock collaborative capacities between different stakeholders, forming the actual shape of the social, cultural and economic fabric of the cities.

Key infrastructuring actions

A key action here has been the incorporation of a solid policy framework, as exemplified by Food Policy Milano, one of the leading policies in Europe, that the Municipality of Milan has been actively supporting. At a local level an important element was the commitment to a shared narrative, facilitated by a series of visioning workshops within markets. Further steps included a widescaling approach of networking and pooling expert designers and makers (Polifactory-Politecnico di Milano, OpenDot and WeMake in Manifattura Milano), local associations, and start-ups (Ibrida and Recup).

When it comes to the operational framework, a first necessary step was the exhaustive assessment and mapping of food flows. An important contribution of the Milan pilot involved the testing of new tech prototypes that would promote the better tracking of food flows (namely, the Foody zero waste automated communication system, the Food Market 4.0 tracking dashboard, and the Prima Seconda matchmaking platform). All of them utilized the enabling technology of ReflowOS that allows actors in the system of municipal markets to have access to data and information on food flows, and thus facilitate product traceability and reduce waste by increasing the potential to recover and/or recycle unsold food. As regards regulatory actions, we must refer to the Municipality’s intention to establish requirements for managing the markets (such as circular tenders for markets). This goes hand in hand with developing an economic plan for each market and leverage financial incentives, such as a tax reduction for wholesalers that donate food surplus.

First, we must refer to a series of capacity building actions, such as co-creation workshops with municipal markets, as well as digital training for distributors, in order to achieve a better incorporation and utilization of the tech prototypes developed. Moreover, regarding increased engagement with the public, important was the sharing and open discussion of the outcomes of small scale experiments. Finally, piloting with a small group of dedicated operators also highlighted the links and challenges that would be needed regarding training and financing.

Milan Circular Portfolio Canvas "snapshot"

The canvas shows some of the key actions that helped “unlock” collaboration dynamics. Activities are conceived and visualized as small-scale “portfolio” experiments that leverage circular possibilities in one or more sectors, and can be further scaled up at subsequent iterations of the process.

The Municipality of Milan has been a key driving force behind the envisioned transition. Moreover, the involvement of market actors both large (the main food wholesaler SoGeMi), and small (municipal covered markets, and market vendors) was crucial for widescaling the proposed experiments. Other key stakeholders prominently include a network of fab labs, that include Polifactory, WeMake, Open Dot, Ibrida beer as well as s series of NGOs, like Recup, as well as the Italian Red Cross.

The Milan Pilot has been strong in strategic planning and visioning and, through a committed involvement of a network of research partners and fab labs has achieved a significant advancement of technological capabilities. In this, the municipality acts as facilitator and enabler of several initiatives. At the moment there is a strong basis of a governance model that combines a clear vision with the development of innovative technologies. The Milan Food Policy provides a clear roadmap that can form the basis of a municipal circular food strategy. Moreover, with the involvement of “SoGeMi” there is potential to build a strong business case. In the future, a stronger focus on relational elements, such as capacity building, as well as developing a clear multi-stakeholder partnership between wholesalers, markets and NGOs, can help scaling up the individual solutions.

On the technological side, the next steps would be the gradual deployment of prototypes (such as the tracking of communication devices) across wholesalers and markets, with the final goal being the connection of covered markets and wholesalers through the dashboard. Linking individual solutions with the city level can increase their replicability and upscaling. For example, the Foody Zero Waste automated communication system (BOTTO), developed within the SoGeMi market, for some wholesalers, RECUP and the Italian Red Cross, could be tested in the future also within the covered municipal markets. This can be done by proposing a tender to the future manager of the market to test a potential solution that can track-and-trace food leftovers.

A complementary suggestion, that also portrays collaborative governance, could be opening up the prototyping process to include civic actors, leveraging the city’s vibrant maker culture. For instance, the designs of the devices could be shared (e.g. under commons-based licences) and smaller actors could experiment with customised solutions, with the support of experts in makerspaces. Defining shared open standards for the devices to operate would improve interoperability and the viability of the system as a whole, avoiding single-points of failure. From a governance perspective, this will create opportunities for broader and more inclusive city level collaborations and increase resilience in a vital system, such as food distribution.

Finally, further development of a business model and ownership structure for the ‘Food Market 4.0’ dashboard, would lead to a unified governance framework for all municipal markets. This can potentially gradually turn markets into hubs of circularity, where a series of activities, such as hosting events, awareness and educational workshops, can take place. This invites us, more broadly, to look beyond traditional stakeholder identities (such as that of producers and consumers) and imagine new roles, such as the prosumer, the enabler, or the matchmaker. Under this lens, the Municipality, rather than a pure regulator, can be seen as a ‘facilitator’ responsible for maintaining a healthy and vibrant ‘platform’ of food flows in the city. In such a system, resources such as physical spaces, equipment and facilities, but also intangible assets such as information flows and knowledge, are more efficiently shared, reducing overall cost, and promoting circularity.