Key Early Findings from the Civic and Regulatory Innovation Laboratory (LICER)

The 2021 Summary of Findings Report is the second in a series of five documents setting the stage for LICER’s next phases. These documents will also contribute to the disseminating of findings on municipal regulatory innovation. The goal is to democratize and deepen this field of practice.

The contemporary context, both global and local, involves upheaval and rapid change; it requires us to transform our ways of doing things. But existing regulations are often poorly adapted to the socio-ecological transition, as well as to the new practices which we, as a community, wish to adopt. Innovation—which, by definition, entails outside-the-box approaches and interventions—exists in a state of tension with regulation. There is thus a collective need for regulatory experimentation to allow us to find ways for innovation and regulation to coexist. The tension between the two can be significant in terms of transition, bringing transformative opportunities to light.

What we learn from reflection, research, and analysis

The activities carried out by LICER in 2021 highlight an international consensus: There is both a need and an opportunity to adapt adapt municipal regulatory frameworks to the socio-ecological transition. Innovative project initiatives are abundant. The regulations in place, however, can be not only a brake on their deployment, but also a powerful lever. With the goal of examining this tension, the LICER team carried out:

  • a literature review that confirmed both the relevance of experimentation for regulatory bodies and the potential impact of regulatory innovation as a lever for transforming institutional governance methods;
  • a case study focusing on some 25 international regulatory innovation projects which are relevant to LICER, in order to create a portrait of different potential approaches in a regulatory experimentation process;
  • a series of interviews with public actors at the borough level, focusing on food security, mobility, and alternative uses for public space, in order to study more closely the regulatory obstacles and opportunities involved in the deployment of specific initiatives;
  • a review of policies and action plans produced by the City of Montreal and its boroughs highlighting various approaches to regulations in sectors linked to the socio-ecological transition (plans that contribute to activating societal transformation include Montréal 2030, a strategic plan which aims to strengthen economic, social, and ecological resilience; the Montréal Climate Plan, which focuses on carbon neutrality by 2050; and the transition plan of Rosemont-La Petite Patrie, which aims to develop resilient living environments); and
  • a collaboration with the organizations Solon, the Urban Agriculture Laboratory (AU/LAB), and (by extension) the Carrefour Solidaire to identify regulatory factors that obstruct or facilitate the implementation of innovative projects. This collaboration also included the ongoing development of experiments that will be deployed in the field in 2022 in order to test the integration of new practices.

These activities demonstrated to the LICER team that the municipal sphere is mobilizing to transform the rules of governance in support of the transition, and that LICER’s own work is closely aligned with this movement.

LICER has identified multiple ways of promoting regulatory frameworks that can support innovative initiatives in the socio-ecological transition. Briefly, we have noted two types of regulatory innovation: content innovation and process innovation. A regulatory content innovation aims at creating or updating an existing regulation in order to eliminate regulatory obstacles. A process innovation seeks to revise a regulation’s mechanism of development, application, or adaptation. Too often, boroughs are forced to use exemption strategies on a case-by-case basis to allow innovative projects to be deployed. These strategies have their limits, however—hence the relevance of exploring paths of regulatory innovation which encourage innovative local projects.

LICER is exploring the two approaches cited above—and, more specifically, approaches that respond to collective socio-ecological transition objectives. In this context, a process innovation endorsed by LICER might involve mobilizing citizens in workshops as co-producers of a regulation focused on emerging environmental practices (urban greenhouses, for example). Alternately, a content innovation consistent with LICER’s objectives might involve creating or modifying a regulation that is a decisive lever in a city-led approach for achieving a collective socio-ecological objective (carbon neutrality, for example, which is singled out in several of the city’s strategic plans).

In every instance, LICER seeks to co-develop—along with public actors, project leaders, and their communities—a sustainable experimentation mechanism capable of continuously and adaptively welcoming innovative citizen initiatives that are in step with local realities. Regulations reflect political, cultural, and social considerations, which is precisely why this laboratory of regulatory experimentation is vital to achieving collective transitional objectives which are constantly in flux.

Experimentation under real-world conditions, in collaboration with Montréal in Common

The regulatory experiments conducted by LICER build upon the work of its two partner organizations within Montréal in Common*, Solon and AU/LAB. In real-world conditions, these projects test the integration of new practices in food security, sustainable transportation, and alternative uses of public space. During 2021, LICER studied the regulatory obstacles and facilitators specific to each project.

In this context, the Urban Agriculture Laboratory (AU/LAB) and the Carrefour Solidaire Community Food Centre are expanding the scope of their urban greenhouse democratization project into the sphere of regulatory experimentation. A lack of explicit permission in current regulations is an initial obstacle to agricultural production in greenhouses on a community or residential scale. Often there is no formal prohibition against—or permission for—the installation of structures such as greenhouses; hence the regulatory uncertainty. This uncertainty, however, is the result of an era and considerations that are now outdated. The situation becomes even more complicated as it applies to converting carports into greenhouses and occupying public space outside the usual seasonal authorizations. These field projects from Montréal in Common* allow us not only to revisit current regulations, but also to seize opportunities to rethink our approach to regulatory innovation.

Photo credit: Maxime Lapostolle

LICER is experimenting with alternative uses of another public space as well: the street itself. In this context, the LICER team collaborates with the Solon organization—which works for citizen, local and collective action—on its parking-space reappropriation project. To date, alternative uses of the roadway, such as terraces, placottoirs (parklets), street furniture, or greening, are limited to seasonal occupation and are subject to the granting of permits under specific conditions. In keeping with the initiatives of Montréal in Common*, the objective here is to rethink the uses of public space by exploring the role of citizens in its configuration, management, and occupation—while also reducing the number of cars in the city. Within the framework of this project, the LICER team will specifically address the dimension of regulatory experimentation in relation to citizen engagement.

The AU/LAB and Solon projects represent concrete, innovative initiatives that are part of the socio-ecological transition supported by the city. Studying the regulations that govern them makes it possible to create a portrait of Montréal’s regulatory challenges and opportunities. We must now learn to navigate these challenges and opportunities in order to welcome and promote similar innovative initiatives.

Experimenting to bring about change

The lessons of this experimentation process inform innovative citizen and community initiatives—in food security, alternative uses of public space, and sustainable transportation—as well as a regulatory framework that facilitates them. Further, this approach informs the management of change within municipal bodies, providing a space for controlled experimentation that is open to trial and error. By relieving the pressure to “know it all and plan it all,” it also strengthens a regulatory authority’s capacity to envision new strategies.

This social R&D approach to regulatory experimentation is a bold, sensible, and intelligent choice for any public organization. Through LICER, the city has given itself the time and space to leverage change in regulatory frameworks, thereby killing two birds with one stone: On the one hand, LICER’s approach provides agile support for citizen initiatives that accelerate the socio-ecological transition, and on the other, it ensures sound management of the risks entailed by the integration of new practices.

The approach reveals another benefit of experimentation: It can inform the eventual deployment of a given initiative. The emergence of an innovation depends on its adoption and appropriation. These in turn depend on the adaptation of solutions to the reality of the field and to the experience of all stakeholders. In the context of a regulatory experiment, the city is taking steps to encourage dialogue, collaboration, and stakeholder support, while at the same time refining the process for implementing regulatory innovation. This approach is at the heart of the next steps of LICER in 2022, namely the deployment of listening and co-design activities on innovative projects in order to involve citizens—and to account for their perspectives—in the conception of regulatory opportunities in Montréal.

Learn more about the activities proposed in this citizen engagement process and register here to participate and contribute to the advancement of LICER’s regulatory experimentation.

Take a closer look at LICER’s activities in 2021 in its Summary of Findings Report.

Find out about the latest developments at LICER by consulting the other news available on the project page.

*The LICER is led by the MIS, in collaboration with Cité-ID/ENAP and Dark Matter Labs as research partners. The LICER team also works with partners from Montréal in Common, an innovation community led by the City of Montréal whose partners are experimenting with solutions in food access, transportation, and municipal regulation in a desire to rethink the city.

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