Council chiefs are to work closely with universities to help re-design public services in six areas.
The Leading Places Project aims to strengthen the relationship between communities and academic institutions, and will see council chiefs and leaders meeting with university vice-chancellors to agree a local priority.
It is hoped the local priority will drive economic growth, reform public services and create new jobs.
The project, a partnership between the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), will be rolled out in Gloucestershire, Manchester, Newcastle and Gateshead, Brighton and Sussex, Bristol, and Coventry/Warwickshire.
'Co-operation with universities will give councils access to greater expertise and research opportunities,' said cllr Mark Hawthorne, chairman of the LGA's People and Places Board and also leader of Gloucestershire County Council.
'This is about applying local knowledge to solve problems as well as putting universities at the heart of creating local growth opportunities, innovation and skills.'
Professor Madeleine Atkins, HEFCE's chief executive, added: 'The Cities and Devolution Act opens up new forms of investment funding, and new opportunities to tackle the issues which affect people's lives. Strong collaborative leadership will be more important than ever in driving these agendas.'