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Top marks for green cities: How the CLEVER Cities team can tell whether our nature-based interventions are working

22 February 2019

Top marks for green cities: How the CLEVER Cities team can tell whether our nature-based interventions are working

22 February 2019


It is common knowledge that living near nature makes you healthier and happier. But is it possible to actually measure this? How can decision-makers make the case for investing in nature-based interventions?

The CLEVER Cities project team is working on coming up with a way to do exactly that through a combination of hard science, citizen science and flexibility. The CLEVER Monitor is designed to be robust enough to provide concrete data on the performance of the nature-based solutions, and is also adaptable enough to account for our learning over time and the differences between cities.

A vision for the city we want for the future

The process starts with defining the urban challenges and looking at how nature-based interventions can be used to solve them. An initial definition has already been completed in Hamburg, London and Milan, and more information on each city’s challenges and interventions can be found on the CLEVER Cities website. As the project progresses, local people and organisations will be involved in co-creating the nature based solutions to ensure that the thoughts and lived experiences of the people directly affected by the changes inform the project’s approach

Understanding where we are at now

So how will we assess the ‘before’ scenario? Local groups in Hamburg, London and Milan, made up of specialists and local people living and working in the neighbourhoods, will consider what impact the project is trying to make and work backwards from there, identifying the outcomes and outputs, to create a roadmap to get them towards the future they would like to see for their neighbourhood. This approach, called Theory of Change will help to bring clarity between partners about the vision for the project, identify what resources are needed, and better understand where to focus evaluation efforts.

Measuring the progress

In order to know whether these aims are being achieved, some kinds of measurements will have to be made. This is where our project experts come in. They will design a methodology that will capture data to evaluate the project from a social, economic, and environmental perspective.  They will also look how successful the engagement in the CLEVER Action Lab has been, and whether local people are really becoming involved and making the space their own. At least six months before the interventions begin to be built, data will be collected to understand the area’s starting point, to complete the ‘before’ picture before the physical changes begin in the neighbourhood.  This work is currently going on and will be finished by the end of spring 2019.

Our experts on hand to help

Experts from different partners of the CLEVER Cities project for different themes have been identified, which will help the cities to best evaluate whether they are making progress. The Young Foundation will provide the expertise for Human health and well-being and Citizen Security, Green4Cities will be the experts for Sustainable Economic Prosperity, and the Polytechnical University of Milan will be the expert to assess social cohesion and environmental justice.  

Then, local monitoring teams will use a variety of tools, such as sensors and citizen science, to keep track of the changes in the area. The Team Leaders defined for monitoring each CLEVER Action Lab are:

  • Milan: Polytechnical University of Milan 
  • Hamburg: Hamburg University of Technology
  • London: Greater London Authority


Long-term evaluation

Finally, the Monitoring and Evaluation Plan evaluates the current situation in the cities, before the green interventions have been introduced, and the same process will happen afterwards. This will help to compare both scenarios and from ‘before’ to ‘after’. The monitoring will run for at least five years after the end of the project as part of each Front Runner Cities’ Smart City systems and future University research and innovation projects.

By following this process, the CLEVER Monitoring Framework aims to fulfil three main goals: to better inform decisions and planning processes, to help track the progress of NBS interventions over time and to contribute to better reporting in cities.

A full report on the CLEVER Monitoring and Evaluation Framework is available in on the CLEVER Cities website.