Why are designs for urban governance so often incomplete? A conceptual framework for explaining and harnessing institutional incompleteness

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Colleges, School and Institutes


This article asks why institutional designs for urban governance are so often incomplete and what a critical perspective on incompleteness may offer. We develop a novel conceptual framework distinguishing between incompleteness as description (a deficit to be ‘designed-out’), action (‘good enough’ design to be worked with and around), and prescription (an asset to be ‘designed-in’). An extended worked example of city regional devolution in England illuminates the three types of incompleteness in practice, whilst also identifying hybrid forms and cross-cutting considerations of power, time and space. Perceiving institutional incompleteness as a design logic in its own right, held in tension with completeness, could help augment institutional design repertoires and even enhance democratic values.


Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironment and Planning C: Politics and Space
Early online date8 Feb 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Feb 2021


  • Institutional design, city regional devolution, incompleteness, urban governance

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