Collaboration systems for a sustainable future: methodologies and practical examples

On October 6th 2022, we had the opportunity to meet online to talk about the importance of collaboration in creating and developing sustainable projects.

Why this event.

Recent events related to Covid have brought us together, during the harsh phase of emergency and confinement. But the ensuing crisisthat has been exacerbated by the ongoing wars in corso has seen a re-emergence of individual needs, fears, and identity crises that have pushed many people away from joint projects and collaborations.

Many people are shutting themselves “in their tower”.. We are talking about people, and consequently about companies, associations and public institutions, which are the product of actions and wills of the people who work there, and that represent therefore the consequence of their decisions, which are also generated by feelings and moods.

In the meantime, we are faced with a series of goals to be achieved that are no longer an option but rather a necessity and an urgency.

To reach them we must obligatorily develop our ability to work together, a capacity that as human beings is rooted in our history and DNA: from tribes, to villages, all the way down to the neighborhood life that existed until a few years ago but that is gradually disappearing due to the current rhythms and constant life changes we are subjected to.

We are social animals made to live within families, groups, communities.

And with this in mind, it is important not to forget that teamwork is what enables us to achieve any common goal more quickly, effectively, sharedly and sustainably.

What is the Festival of Sustainable Development promoted by Asvis

The event was included as part of the Festival for Sustainable Development 2022 sponsored by Asvis

“TheItalian Alliance for Sustainable Development (ASviS) was created on Feb. 3, 2016, at the initiative of the Unipolis Foundation and the University of Rome “Tor Vergata,” to raise awareness in Italian society, economic actors and institutions of the importance of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to mobilize them for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs – Sustainable Development Goals).” (source: Asvis)

“The Italian Alliance for Sustainable Development. is organized into work areas, within which specific teams of collaborators work, coordinated by a manager. The working style is that of a ” agile” structure that operates on the basis of projects shared by multiple parties, even from multiple areas. The role played by the coordinator and the continuous dialogue between managers ensure the effectiveness and synergy of the work done. The Senior experts Provide strategic support geared toward improving the quality of Alliance action and coordinating key projects.” (source: Asvis)

The Alliance currently brings together more than 300 of the most important civil society institutions and networks, such as:

  • associations representative of the social parties (business associations, trade unions and the Tertiary Sector);
  • networks of civil society associations that address specific Sustainable Development Goals (health, economic well-being, education, employment, environmental quality, gender equality, etc.);
  • associations of territorial authorities;
  • Universities and research centers (public or private), and their networks;
  • associations of stakeholders acting in the worlds of culture and information;
  • foundations and foundation networks;;
  • Italian entities belonging to international associations and networks acting on sustainable development issues.

Regarding the Sustainable Development Festival:

“Now in its sixth year, the Festival of Sustainable Development is the largest Italian initiative to raise awareness and mobilize citizens, younger generations, businesses, associations and institutions on the issues of economic, social and environmental sustainability, spread the culture of sustainability and bring about a cultural and political change that may enable Italy to implement theAgenda 2030 of the United Nations and achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In 5 years, more than 3500 events have been held including conferences, seminars, workshops, exhibitions, performances, sports events, book presentations, documentaries and more. » (Source: Festival dello Sviluppo Sostenibile 2022)

The 2022 edition of the Festival was held Oct. 4-20, in presence and online, throughout Italy and the world.

My partner during the event: Matteo Lascialfari

During the Oct. 6 event, I had the pleasure of being assisted by my helper, co-host, moderator, technician and what-have-you: Matteo Lascialfari.

Matteo Lascialfari, 36 years old and originally from Florence, he lives and works in France since 7 years.

He is a consultant in Human and Social Sciences, with a special focus on sustainability issues.

Civic participation, volunteerism, and political militantism, are part of his most formative experiences, both in Italy and France.

As a migrant, he was able to discover how associationism an be a powerful tool for participation and integration in the host country, as well as for personal development in a context of collective action.

The premise

We began the event with a necessary premise.

Sustainability concerns three different and complementary aspects:

  • The planet (ecology)
  • The people (social perspective)
  • The profit (economic perspective).

Collaboration in sustainable projects affects all these three aspects and has an impact on each one of them and as well as on the combination of them.

Why collaboration matters

Let’s start by saying that collaboration is the topic of Goal 17 listed by the UN among the sustainable goals.

The purpose of this goal is to strengthen the means of implementation and renew the global partnership for sustainable development

“To be successful, the sustainable development agenda requires partnerships among governments, the private sector and civil society. These inclusive collaborations are built on principles and values, on a common vision and on shared goals, that put people and the planet at the center; they are needed at global, regional, national and local levels.» (source: ONU)

In this regard, it is necessary to «encourage and promote effectivepartnerships in the public sector, between the public and private sectors, and in civil society by relying on the experience of partnerships and their ability to find resources” (source: UN)

The points in favor of collaboration

  • Common goals can only be achieved through teamwork.
  • Learning by doing together: the only way to learn about sustainability is by experimenting, together; there is no handbook that can replace teamwork.
  • Save time and money! In order to optimize our efforts it is necessary to emphasize the importance of sharing knowledge, experiences, achievements, mistakes, and opportunities for improvement.
  • Avoiding surprises! Listening to the stakeholders (i.e., all those (entities, activities, individuals, etc.) who are impacted in various ways by a certain type of activity) is essential; working with them for project improvement is necessary, not only to limit risks but also to obtain insights for improvement. You can find more information on the role of stakeholeders here)
  • Collaboration nurtures common consciousness and the development of a sense of solidarity.

Transpose national and international goals in order to apply them on a specific territory

International and national guidelines in terms of sustainability must then be translated for application in local areas. This entails the need to consider several aspects:

  • Thelocal context and its various aspects: geography, language, demographics, social composition etc.
  • The economic, social, and cultural context and its dynamics.
  • An evaluation on the feasibility and compatibility of the project with the area.
  • Consider the relationship between local culture and project’s needs and include any related evaluation in the feasibility and risk analysis.
  • The willigness and ability of local institutions as well es private actors to listen and engage the discussion.
  • The degree of Involvement of citizens, their avalability and willingness to carry out the project.
  • Structure the project from its outset with the aim of reporting on the results obtained and their transmission to the relevant actors.

Collaborate, yes but how?

There are several ways to establish a collaborative process while conducting a sustainable project. The choice depends mainly on the actors involved and their field of activity (public, private, association, political party entity, etc.) but also on the type of activity.

Here are some examples.

Participative Democracy is used to involve citizens in the political decision-making process (later in the article we will see in detail what this means ).

Associative Systems are cooperative systems that are created through a spontaneous association among citizens for the development of a common project (we will see some examples).

Political Participation remains one of the most effective collaborative methods; over the years its perception unfortunately has changed, following numerous investigations and scandals, sometimes taking on negative connotations in the eyes of citizens. It remains undoubtedly one of the best ways to share one’s opinion with those who will then have to represent us in political institutions.

Various sorts of Partnerships and Collaborations are regularly put in place to achieve common and sustainable goals. These agreements can be made between different business sectors: public-private, between public entities, between private companies, with associations.

The role of Social Enterprises in nurturing different types of collaborative systems should not be forgotten:

As per the Italian law “may acquire the status of social enterprise all private entities exercising on a stable and principal basis a business activity in the general interest, non-profit and for civic, solidaristic and socially useful purposes, adopting responsible and transparent management methods and encouraging the widest involvement of workers, users and other stakeholders in their activities;

Companies formed by a single natural person partner, public administrations, and entities whose certificates of incorporation limit the provision of goods and services in favor of members or associates only, cannot acquire the status of social enterprise;

In case of civilly recognized religious bodies these rules apply under specific conditions;

social cooperatives and their consortia, acquire by right the status of social enterprises.” (Source:

We will see some examples of this type of activity later in the article

Some Collaborative Systems are directly created by public administrations:: we are talking about institutional basins, metropolitan areas, collaborations between neighboring institutions or with related projects, events, educational initiatives, activities dedicated to public education facilities, brainathons, etc.

Then there are Collaborative Initiatives that are aunched by private companiesby publishing manifestos, organizing conferences, internal company initiatives, initiatives to raise public awareness and/or inform and engage customers, etc.

What methods can be used to facilitate collaboration?

Some examples:

  • All the methodologies belonging to Collective Intelligence, that we will discuss in detail later.
  • Surveys, to get indication of opinions, wishes, requests of a group or the citizens.
  • Collecting signatures for a common cause, with the aim to ask for help, to report a problem, a disservice, an injustice.
  • Promotion of active citizenship: in general, all actions promoted by a local government or administration to promote citizens’ participation in civic and community life, and to foster their engagement in activities of general interest (rights, public properties, social improvement).
  • Volunteering : it is about widening the circle, sharing a project or goal by involving people ready to offer their time or skills for a common cause or to meet a widespread or punctual need; we are talking about social, economic and health needs, civil protection activities, safeguarding rights, etc.
  • Popularization : gives a way to gather insights and information and stimulate discussion on issues of common interest.
  • The possibility of direct communication between citizens and institutions allows citizens to convey opinions, reports, complaints, proposals, requests, etc. to the local government; it is often the first step toward the development of a shared project.

Let us now look in detail at some of the concepts we have expressed so far.

Collective Intelligence

Collective intelligence is achieved by using group management practices that combine synergy among the people involved and harmony in their relationship.

Through collective intelligence, tools, methods and processes are put in place that aim to bring out an outcome or decision that can proportionally represent the concepts expressed by each of the participants.

Through confrontation and group dynamics, collective intelligence allows people to an expression of knowledge and insight that would otherwise have remained hidden from view, .

It also makes it possible to develop the prototype of a decision and study the positive and negative consequences of each version of it.

A collective intelligence process can be said to take place if the necessary conditions exist for a group to produce more value by working together than could be produced by any individual (1 + 1 = 3)

Some examples of Collective Intelligence.

Design Thinking

It is a project development system that involves a teamwork based on the specific contribution of each participant.

Once defined the viewpoint of the user of the service or product to be designed, a group creative phase is launched to develop a solution.

This solution is prototyped, that is, defined at an initial level but sufficiently to be tested.

The results of this test are then analyzed and a decision is made as to whether the idea’s prototype is ready to be refined or whether a new phase of definition, creation, and prototyping should be carried out.

Mind Mapping

This is a method that can be used by both individuals and groups and involves the visual representation of the topics expressed.

It all starts with a goal or theme and the different aspects are developed by drawing successive ramifications of the various concepts until a tree of ideas is built.

The use of graphic elements can help in identifying and describing different concepts.

The main theme is divided into several sections of analysis that give the cue for analysis and branching. The process continues until topics are exhausted.

Climate Fresk, in French “la Fresque du Climat”. (video shared during the event)

It is a movement that originated in France and became a nongovernmental organization in 2018.

The association has created a system of collaborative workshops based on scientific themes; the goal of these activities is for participants to understand the causes and consequences of climate change.

The activity lasts 3 hours, 42 cards are provided to participants and a facilitator is there to guide the event.

The facilitator is a person trained by the association to animate these activities.

It is a form of educational game that has seen exponential growth in the past 2 years and has spread to 45 countries.

Participatory democracy

It is a set of dispositions, policies, and procedures that aim to involve citizens in the political decision-making process.

This participation may be more or less direct, more or less inclusive, more or less structured, but it still aims to reinforce the legitimacy and effectiveness of public action.

The term “participatory democracy” originated in the 1960s in the United States and began to be used in Europe from the late 1990s through the work of some international organizations such as the World Bank.

The growing distrust of citizens toward political institutions, the changes in the socio-cultural composition of the population and the advent of social media have contributed to changing the context of political decision-making and forced a rethinking of the role of public action.

Participatory democracy makes it possible to ensure upstream the legitimacy of decisions made by administrations by sharing the decision-making process with the citizens through consultation and group activities that help define the final decision.

Participatory democracy: examples from France

During the event we took as an example the activities put in place Municipality of Antony (Haute-Seine Department, Ile-de-France Region, France); located south of the city of Paris, its territory counts about 60,000 inhabitants.

In recent years, the municipality has been holding regular Citizenship Consultations for the redevelopment of neighborhoods, streets, parks. During the event, we viewed the example of the Parc Heller redevelopment project. In order to make shared decisions on the redevelopment of the park, the municipality put in place a prior consultation through an Internet page containing information on the history of the park, its ecosystem, and its current structure; the user was guided to explore the different issues at stake in order to acquire the necessary elements and get to share through a questionnaire its opinion on the activities to be implemented ( ).

In several French municipalities, from greater Paris to smaller ones such as Antony, the Participatory Budget is regularly used. This initiative can potentially be implemented by any town hall: a portion of the municipality’s annual budget is set aside for the implementation of a series of projects proposed by citizens and selected by a special committee.

The last edition for the municipality of Antony took place in spring 2021 and had the theme of sustainable development.

The first part of the consultation involved the selection of sustainable issues to be addressed.

After that, it was the time for citizens to submit their projects via the relevant online platform. Of course, the municipality provided a whole set of guidelines and information; online information meetings were also held during which a professional facilitator proposed collective intelligence activities in order to have participants come up with ideas and evaluate their feasibility together.

Once the projects were submitted on the online platform, citizens had the opportunity to vote for or against the different projects.

Then a committee evaluated the feasibility and eligibility of each project and selected some of them for further implementation.

The selected projects are then truly implemented and within the shortest possible time; timing clearly varies depending on the type of project.

A social enterprise born for collaboration: Anna Conti

A Piedmont-born professional event organizer, for more than 10 years Anni Conti has worked on organizing business events at the highest level while also collaborating with leading events at the international level.

In 2010, for personal reasons, she moved to Germany and her work underwent a real catharsis. The themes of her events started to touch on sustainability topics such as social and gender rights, ecology, art, integration, culture and literature, migration and much more.

Her current activity has a social purpose and is based on close cooperation with public institutions, associations and companies both in Germany and Italy.

During the event, Anna told us live about the challenges, difficulties and successes of her project, which you can view on the website of her social enterprise Working in Projects.

Edible urban green

The idea behind edible urban greenery is to place green installations inside cities ; these are composed of edible plants, mainly fruits, vegetables and legumes.

These are activities that arise and take place in spontaneous cooperation within the community, and clearly require a certain amount of organization and commitment to set up and maintain the plants.

The fruits and vegetables produced can be freely picked and eaten by passersby.

Among the main purposes of this type of collaborative activity we can mention the following ones:

  • Establish a link between the human and the environment, living in harmony with the ecosystem.
  • Feeding the community in all senses, nurturing conviviality.
  • Initiate a process of urban redevelopment of streets, neighborhoods, entire cities.
  • Dispelling the misconception that fruits and vegetables are expensive.
  • Helping and supporting individuals and families in need.
  • Vegetalizing public space.
  • Fighting against waste.
  • Developing biodiversity.
  • Associating care of the natural environment with health.

Edible urban green / Examples

The main example that was mentioned during the event concerns the creation of the Incredible edibles in the UK ( video shared during the event).

This is an initiative started in 2008 in Todmorden at the initiative of two citizens, Pam and Mary.

The proposed video tells how the advent of the incredible edibles has transformed the appearance and atmosphere of the city through what the founders call a “propaganda gardening”, which has itself generated a kind of “vegetal tourism” with visitors coming from all over the world to see the accomplishments of Todmorden volunteers and listen to their stories and information.

Through Pam’s storytelling a desire for citizens emerges to establish a conversation regarding a whole range of current issues related to the relationship with green and the will to do so through an universal language: the one of food.

Their initiative reinvented the meaning and functioning of an entire community. It came about spontaneously without asking for permission, without making a business plan or building a strategy, and it immediately got the whole citizenry excited.

Among the major difficulties faced by the founders was convincing fellow citizens to freely take the fruits and vegetables they grew, as according to British culture it is unacceptable to touch (let alone take) something that is not your property.

The project is based on two basic principles: sharing and investing in kindness.

The collaboration promoted through this initiative takes place at different levels, not only in setting up the edible green containers and maintaining them, or organizing the various activities attached to them, but also in sharing fruits and vegetables by cooking them and eating them together as in a family.

The project developed further with the creation of an incredible edible green route, which takes visitors through a series of home gardens and vegetable gardens within the city.

Citizens also combat food waste and promote local production, such as that of eggs through the Every Egg Matters project, which allows chicken owners to offer or sell their eggs at the entrance to their gardens.

It is a movement based on aggregation and inclusion: it is for everyone, all ages, backgrounds and cultures.

Thier motto is: “if you eat, you’re in”.

The Incredible Edible‘s project helps us understand the power of small actions, which in their case ended up generating a local movement that developed to a global level.

Its international presence has developed significantly in France through the Incroyable Comestibles.

Through this link you can look at the Worldwide Development of the Incredible Edibles movement.

Orto Capovolto

For the October 6th event, I wanted to propose an Italian example of the application of the edible green principle.

My research led me to discover the existence of Orto Capovolto, a unique initiative that is a peculiar development of the concept of the incredible edibles.

Orto Capovolto is a Social Cooperative, run by a founding group of professionals that offers specific and complementary skills in different fields: Architecture, Environmental Education, Biology and Nutrition, and Communication Techniques.

The range of services offered by Orto Capovolto is truly 360° with a pedagogical and outreach approach that allows them to span from co-creating urban gardens, to farming, training, and organizing events.

The enhancement of greenery is combined with a design sensibility, resulting in a combination of ethics and aesthetics aimed at materializing projects that are both ecological and socially efficient.

Each project is carried out and co-constructed through extensive and intensive collaboration: with companies, public agencies, universities, associations and more.

The Repair Café Network

Going on with the examples regarding collaboration to achieve sustainable goals, I could not help but propose the Repair Cafes.

It is about physical locations adequately equipped and in which there are volunteers who provide specific skills to help other people learn how to repair objects of various kinds: electrical, electronic, and mechanical devices (light bulbs, computers, cell phones, small and large household appliances), miscellaneous items, furniture, clothing, and more.

A Repair Café is created through a spontaneous association-type mechanism that aims to develop a culture of reuse and recycling, nurture social cohesion as well as the support from the surrounding community.

The idea originated in the Netherlands in 2009, and quickly spread to many countries around the world.

Repairs made within Repair Cafes are free of charge but it is a good practice to leave a small donation; the types of repairs carried out vary depending on the facility’s membership model, its regulations, and its resources (skills, tools, space, etc.)

The Repair Café “Aggiustatutto” in Roma

While organizing the event, I decided to propose a concrete example regarding the operation of Repair Cafes. I had the opportunity to meet the founders of the Rome-based Aggiustatutto, who were extremely helpful and made their time available to tell me about their project and provide me with all the relevant information.

Their initiative is based on three pillars: environment, craftsmanship, solidarity.

The Aggiustatutto’s motto is “There is no environmental justice without social justice.”

It is a workshop where people come together to talk, discuss environmental protection issues, exchange skills and learn how to repair by “getting their hands dirty.”

At the Aggiustatutto you learn how to repair an object through three steps: understanding the origin of the problem, understanding the “how it works,” and studying the “how-to” of repairing it.

Among the various activities offered are specific courses to learn how to repair specific categories of objects.

In some cases, repair corresponds to a process of creative transformation, through which objects that can no longer fulfill their function and cannot be repaired are transformed into other kinds of objects.

In the participation in various activities by volunteers and cafe visitors, a continuous exchange of skills between different generations takes place, bringing enrichment in both directions.

Through the café’s activities, the promotion of the concept of “supportive economics” is carried out: in this sense, the focus on individual and social justice is central compared to the sole pursuit of economic profit.

During the event we watched this video that vividly tells the story of the project:

Group discussion

During and after the content presentation, we were able to exchange ideas, proposals, and perspectives on the topics covered during the presentation.

We got to know the project of the Municipality of Vignola brought to our attention by Prof. Rossella Sola; it’s a local project similar to the French mechanism of Participatory Budgeting and that is bringing excellent results to the area.

Matteo Lascialfari shared his experience regarding associations and political participation; he emphasized the need to bring people back into public space after the isolation suffered due to the pandemic. Matteo also emphasized the importance of the involvement of all layers of the population in city life and in the decision-making mechanism.

Olivier Gualtierotti told us how in the course of his consulting work he had the opportunity to work with a prehistory researcher to create a conference on the origins of cooperation among human beings; this experience allowed him to develop the content covered up to the stage of creating a training course aimed at enhancing collaboration within companies.

This idea came about as a result of the experiences during the confinement imposed during the pandemic; the widespread loss of trust in one’s neighbor and the forced renunciation of the cultivation of human bonds led to numerous phenomena of depression and loss of a sense of community. These phenomena were exacerbated with the implementation of teleworking as most managers found themselves unprepared to manage their staff remotely.

It is not usual for a human being to be isolated for so long, so once the period of confinement was over, numerous difficulties emerged in returning to a social life.

The purpose of the tools put in place by Olivier along with his colleagues is to look at what has happened and what is happening and to be able to start again with tools that can help people reintegrate into their workplaces.

Olivier also told about his personal experience as a promoter of a project related to the Participatory Budget of the City of Suresnes (France); the project he proposed (and which was later approved by the municipality) concerns the integration within the local cinema of an audio content transmission device for the blind and visually impaired people. Olivier was keen to point out the importance of the proper implementation of these projects and the need for proponents to monitor any progress and implementation of them.

Anna Conti emphasized the importance of events such as this one, as they provide a free space for sharing ideas and content and she expressed willingness to stay in touch with participants for the development of further activities regarding sustainable issues.

The event ended on time with positive feedback during and after the event and many ideas and insights to be developed further.

For more information you can contact me at the email address:

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