Interview with the mayor of the UNESCO learning city of Mantes-la-Jolie, France

  • When:
    24 February 2020
  • Who: Le Maire Raphaël Cognet et Pierre Bédier, Président du Conseil départemental des Yvelines, Ville de Mantes-La-Jolie

Located just 50 km east of Paris, France, Mantes-la-Jolie (‘Mantes the pretty’) borders the expansive Vexin Français Regional Nature Park. Eager to develop new paths to opportunities for its residents, the city joined the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC) in 2017. Here, Mayor Raphaël Cognet and Pierre Bédier, president of the local council, Yvelines, share their learning city vision.

What is a learning city for you?

A learning city is a vast community development programme with one main ambition: to enable people to learn throughout their lives in order to participate fully in society.

How do you build a learning city?

First of all, you need a concrete approach and a long-term vision. The learning city concept is still relatively unknown, especially in France, where ‘only’ four cities are members of the UNESCO GNLC. The first step therefore in building a learning city is to be convinced and to succeed in convincing the main stakeholders of the benefits of such a venture – especially since the benefits and results are only tangible in the long term.

In Mantes-la-Jolie, we have developed an action plan based on the network’s Key Features of Learning Cities. We have also mobilized stakeholders in the areas of education and community development: we are building, thinking and working collectively to plan the development of Mantes-la-Jolie.

It is fundamental to a learning city’s success to be able to rely on strong support, particularly political, and also from many partners, in order to formulate public actions and policies that are best suited to the needs of citizens. In Mantes-la-Jolie, this joint building work is mainly carried out with the services of the Ministry of National Education, the Yvelines Council and also with local associations. Various workshops are organized in order to build the learning city together.

How do you ensure a learning city is equitable, inclusive and sustainable?

You must begin with a diagnosis. When you identify the different types of inequality – economic, housing and transport, as well as professional – you increase individuals’ capabilities and therefore their capacity to act in different contexts.

Regarding inclusion, it is really necessary to transform the ways in which our traditional organizations operate, which today are much more in line with the logic of integration, and therefore to consider that there is a norm towards which individuals should strive. Our entry into the learning city model therefore requires us to lead the change in order to introduce more flexibility into our organizations.

What are a learning city’s main priorities?

A learning city is a community that decides that the human capital of its population is a top priority; that this human capital is determinant in facing the various challenges and transformations that individuals and organizations may have to overcome. A learning city considers the positive evolution of human capital as key to comprehensive (economic, cultural and social) and sustainable development. For this reason, these cities invest heavily in the direction of education but also in access to different forms of knowledge, because the strength of a learning city is both to recognize and be devoted to all forms of learning (including non-formal and informal learning).

What are the main challenges for a learning city?

A learning city places the issue of education and, more generally, access to knowledge, at the heart of its public policies. But it is not just about that. One only has to look at the key characteristics of a learning city to see that its approach is a holistic one based on learning – all this in an environment where infrastructures are improved to serve human development.

One of the major challenges for a learning city is to take a long-term view, thereby enabling the innovative practices that it brings in its wake to be permanently embedded in the functioning of organizations.


The UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities, an international policy-oriented network currently comprising 170 member cities active in 53 countries, provides members with an opportunity to share inspiration, know-how and good practice. It is coordinated by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning.

Photos : Ville de Mantes-la-Jolie

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