What is the future role of city governments? As digital technologies are changing the way we interact with each other, cities have to undergo a transition as well. Tomorrow’s government is not merely a centralised, rule-driven body, but enables and facilitates citizen-led innovation through an open ecosystem, called ‘city as a platform’.
“We tend to think of government as doing things…but we should also think of government as a platform that lets things happen.” –Tim O’Reilly
We often expect our governments to do things, but we should also think of the government as a platform that lets things happen. That’s the transition we are currently undergoing under the sophisticated name of ‘City as a Platform’. Thanks to the omnipresent connectivity through Internet, smartphones and other sources of data, the “smartest” city is the city which knows how to leverage these digital networks in the most intelligent ways.
This digital transformation has also its implications for the governance of cities. Aspen Institute puts it powerfully: “Urban dwellers now live their lives in all sorts of hyper-connected virtual spaces, pulsating with real-time information, intelligent devices, remote-access databases and participatory crowdsourcing.”
Governments start to realise that expertise is not centralized, but distributed amongst all the eyes of the city. Governance is not just about getting most of the votes during elections and assigning tasks to bureaucracies. It is also about efficiently collecting and curating information, coming from citizens and other data points, in order to enrich the decision-making process.
Indeed, civic crowdsourcing (or ‘citizensourcing’) is drastically changing the relationship between cities and their citizens. In the traditional governance system, every citizen has a single vote every X years. Today, using digital technologies, it is much easier to voice your opinion as a citizen.
New forms of city making
Collecting the ideas in a easy-to-use interface for the citizens is a first step in the right direction for municipalities. A digital solution should be designed in such a way that posting an idea for every citizen is as easy as one, two, three.
Yet, governments often do not have the in-house resources to develop the software. That’s why public authorities are increasingly looking to cloud software solutions to help them bridge the gap between the city and the residents. Last week at the European Sustainable Cities Summit in Brussels, the Belgian Minister of Digital Agenda expressed that governments should focus on their core: serving the citizenry with optimal public services.
— CitizenLab (@citizenlabco) June 2, 2016
To give a concrete example of how citizens engage in an act of co-creation with the city, the Belgian city of Hasselt crowdsources input from their citizens for an urban renewal project. Namely, the citizens share how they imagine the new big city park ‘Kapermolen‘. The city government will consequently use these ideas to start drafting the plan for the park, which will get reconstructed in 2017.
Power of Data
The power of participatory crowdsourcing goes beyond simply collecting and curating ideas. It gets even more interesting when the ideas get analysed and one can derive underlying preferences amongst the diverse groups of citizens. Which city governor wouldn’t be interested in finding out how citizens from different neighbourhoods think about ideas? How opinions differ amongst the different age groups? Data insights help cities reach a more inclusive public decision-making.
In the concept of ‘City as a Platform’, the data is open. Open data makes city governments more porous, invites cross-sectoral cooperation and initiates an enhanced engagement between citizens and cities. An open government as an enabler for citizen-led innovations, that’s where we are going.
New governance technologies are redefining authority and change what it means to be a citizen in the 21st century. Thanks to this digital transformation, decision-making will become more collaborative, government budgets more transparent and their data open for the outside world. The following 5 TED Talks will inspire you about how our governments will evolve over the next years.
1. Pia Mancini: How to upgrade democracy for the Internet era
Pia Mancini and her colleagues want to upgrade democracy in Argentina and beyond. Through their open-source mobile platform they want to bring citizens inside the legislative process, and run candidates who will listen to what they say.
2. Clay Shirky: How the Internet will (one day) transform government
The open-source world has learned to deal with a flood of new, oftentimes divergent, ideas using hosting services like GitHub — so why can’t governments? In this rousing talk Clay Shirky shows how democracies can take a lesson from the Internet, to be not just transparent but also to draw on the knowledge of all their citizens.
3. Jennifer Pahlka: Coding a better government
Can government be run like the Internet, permissionless and open? Coder and activist Jennifer Pahlka believes it can — and that apps, built quickly and cheaply, are a powerful new way to connect citizens to their governments — and their neighbors.
4. Catherine Bracy: Why good hackers make good citizens
Hacking is about more than mischief-making or political subversion. As Catherine Bracy describes in this spirited talk, it can be just as much a force for good as it is for evil. She spins through some inspiring civically-minded projects in Honolulu, Oakland and Mexico City — and makes a compelling case that we all have what it takes to get involved.
5. Beth Noveck: Demand a more open-source government
What can governments learn from the open-data revolution? In this stirring talk, Beth Noveck, the former deputy CTO at the White House, shares a vision of practical openness — connecting bureaucracies to citizens, sharing data, creating a truly participatory democracy. Imagine the “writable society”.