Mobilising urban knowledge in an infodemic: Urban observatories, sustainable development and the COVID-19 crisis

Michele Acuto*, Ariana Dickey, Stephanie Butcher, Carla Leanne Washbourne

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Along with disastrous health and economic implications, COVID-19 has also been an epidemic of misinformation and rumours - an ‘infodemic’. The desire for robust, evidence-based policymaking in this time of disruption has been at the heart of the multilateral response to the crisis, not least in terms of supporting a continuing agenda for global sustainable development. The role of boundary-spanning knowledge institutions in this context could be pivotal, not least in cities, where much of the pandemic has struck. ‘Urban observatories’ have emerged as an example of such institutions; harbouring great potential to produce and share knowledge supporting sustainable and equitable processes of recovery. Building on four ‘live’ case studies during the crisis of institutions based in Johannesburg, Karachi, Freetown and Bangalore, our research note aims to capture the role of these institutions, and what it means to span knowledge boundaries in the current crisis. We do so with an eye towards a better understanding of their knowledge mobilisation practices in contributing towards sustainable urban development. We highlight that the crisis offers a key window for urban observatories to play a progressive and effective role for sustainable and inclusive development. However, we also underline continuing challenges in these boundary knowledge dynamics: including issues of institutional trust, inequality of voices, collective memory, and the balance between normative and advisory roles for observatories.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105295
JournalWorld Development
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd


  • Boundary-spanning
  • Infodemic
  • Knowledge translation
  • Science-policy interface
  • Urban observatories


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