Rapid urbanisation generates risks and opportunities for sustainable development. Urban policy and decision makers are challenged by the complexity of cities as social–ecological–technical systems. Consequently there is an increasing need for collaborative knowledge development that supports a whole-of-system view, and transformational change at multiple scales. Such holistic urban approaches are rare in practice. A co-design process involving researchers, practitioners and other stakeholders, has progressed such an approach in the Australian context, aiming to also contribute to international knowledge development and sharing. This process has generated three outputs: (1) a shared framework to support more systematic knowledge development and use, (2) identification of barriers that create a gap between stated urban goals and actual practice, and (3) identification of strategic focal areas to address this gap. Developing integrated strategies at broader urban scales is seen as the most pressing need. The knowledge framework adopts a systems perspective that incorporates the many urban trade-offs and synergies revealed by a systems view. Broader implications are drawn for policy and decision makers, for researchers and for a shared forward agenda.