The concept of “co-responsibility“ found entrance in diverging strands of research only recently. While “co-responsibility” serves as a new approach within the reflective rethinking of ethics and role responsibility of science and scientists (see Mitcham 2003), business economics apply “co-responsibility” as a new way for societal task-sharing between administrations, companies and social organizations (see Albareda et al. 2007; Aßländer 2011). Within social sciences, “co-responsibility” refers mainly to citizen participation.

However, “co-responsibility” seems to be a vague political concept supported by EU policies to move forward within the debate on social cohesion. Within its strategy paper on social cohesion dating back to the early 2000s, the Council of Europe aims at active citizenship supporting social cohesion and well-being within neighborhoods and cities (see Bloomfield 2012; Combe and Mulhousian crews 2012; URBACT 2013a). Within this debate, the notion of active citizenship or citizen engagement requires “co-responsibility” which focuses on a close-to-reality reflection of people’s lives (URBACT 2013b). Based on the assumption that the respective state – embedded within a distinct state regime ranging from social welfare to neoliberal state systems – cannot provide and deliver social services alone in the future, new productive partnerships between citizens, civic associations and municipalities are necessary (Bloomfield 2012: 5pp.) for individual and collective well-being and “living together harmoniously” (Combe and Mulhousian crews 2012: 34).


Notions of active citizenship and shared responsibility are also present in political debates and policies at the national level. A prominent example of this is the introduction of ‘Big Society’ in the UK, which aims at welfare reform through “social responsibility, not state control” (Smith, 2010: 827). Also in the Netherlands the first signs of such a shift are visible with the recent announcement of the ‘participation society’ and the introduction of policies that seek to produce social services closer to and in collaboration with citizens. According to URBACT (2013b), the creation of “co-responsibility” starts with citizens and represents an open-ended, temporally not-limited approach. The Council of Europe defined eight key themes for “co-responsibility” including among others the living environment, social balances and sense of belonging, relations between people and with institutions, as well as commitment and participation. In addition, several steps have to be considered for the creation of “co-responsibility”. It starts with minimal engagement, proceeds with formal and engaged partnerships, leads to co-governance, co-management and co-production and finally ends up in “co-responsibility” (Bloomfield 2012: 15).1

In sum, co-responsibility within the European notion of active citizenship works and creates new partnerships and includes a new understanding of relationships between public authorities as service providers and urban citizens as clients or users (URBACT 2013a).2 It refers to participative methods that include an equal and balanced engagement of different stakeholders and actors, especially citizens, aiming at individual and collective well-being within the living environment. Focus groups are supposed to be core elements within the methodological implementation of “co-responsibility” creating measures starting from the initial position of “well-being creation” instead of “problem-driven solution seeking”.

The aspects of active citizenship and creation of co-responsibility may contribute to valuable insights into the local neighbourhoods as we assume diverging participation by citizens with regard to engagement, variety and scope. It appears that co-responsibility can have different meanings depending on the policy area, the actors involved and their (political) aims, and the local context3. Moreover, it appears to function as both a methodology to implement urban policy and as a normative goal reflecting the ideal division of labour between citizens, organizations and the state. We should therefore pay attention to the actual presence, implementation, and aims of co-responsibility and how it works to foster processes of both inclusion and exclusion, benefit and disadvantage in specific urban neighbourhoods.

1 TOGETHER, an URBACT project of eight European municipalities headed by the Municipality of Mulhouse, developed a 7-point scale of citizen engagement starting with “minimal engagement” and leading to “co-responsibility” (Bloomfield 2012: 15).

2 This in turn may represent an argument for Urban Living Labs.

3 It is finally worth mentioning that social movements might be considered as well since they play an important role in the participation process. This notion becomes particularly interesting considering social movements that are found to resist ‘planned development’ of a neighbourhood – for example resisting buy-out of public housing complexes. This is also based on active citizenship, that may be transient or more durable and that also have the potential to develop with time.

List of references:

Albareda, L., Lozano, J. M., and T. Ysa. 2007: “Public Policies on Corporate Social Responsibility: The Role of Governments in Europe”.Journal of Business Ethics 74: 391-407.

Aßländer, M. S. 2011. “Corporate Social Responsbility as Subsidiary Co-Responsibility: A Macroeconomic Perspective”. Journal of Business Ethics 99: 115-128.

Bloomfield, J. 2012. “TOGETHER Final Report”. Available online at

Combe, H. and Mulhousian Crews 2012. “Journey Log for Coresponsibility. Towards the well-being of Mulhousian citizens”. Available on

Eizaguirre, S., M. Pradel, A. Terrones, X. Martinez-Celorrio, and M. García. 2012. “Multilevel governance and social cohesion: bringing back conflict in citizenship practices.” Urban Studies 49(9):1999-2016.

Haldrup, M., Koefoed, L. and Simonses, K. 2006. “Practical orientalism – Bodies, everyday life and the construction of otherness.” Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography, 88 (2): 173-184.

Mitcham, C. 2003. “Co-Responsibility for Research Integrity”. Science and Engineering Ethics 9(2): 273-290.

Smith, M. 2010. “From Big Government to Big Society: Changing the State-Society Balance.” Parliamentary Affairs 63(4): 818-833.

URBACT. 2013a. “The URBACT II Local Support Group Toolkit”. Available on

URBACT. 2013b. “Co-responsibility and Well-being: the Thinking Explained”. Presentation Slides available on