Last week the CitizenLab team was present at the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona. It won’t be exaggerated if you’d call it ‘a gathering of the brightest minds in the urban space’. Next to the possibility of meeting forward-looking cities from all over the world, urban researchers, the big technology companies and – you guess it – promising civic tech startups such as CitizenLab, different keynotes and panel sessions on the future of cities took place. We share our key findings from three days talking and listening to smart city experts with you.

Beyond The Sensor City

As coined by FastCompany, a smart city can be defined on three levels. The first generation of smart cities were merely injected by technology, without having a clear view on how that would improve the interactions with the people. For the same reason, you hear a lot of criticism from different corners on this type of smart cities, as we would leave our cities in the hands of multinational tech companies like Cisco and IBM. These cities don’t capture the essence of a smart city: it’s not about technology, it’s about how technology can serve the people.


The second wave of smart cities are still technology-focused, yet through initiation by the city itself. The best example of a smart city 2.0 is the city where the expo took place, Barcelona. The infrastructure in Catalunya’s capital is simply mind-blowing. From smart traffic lights to free wifi on the public buses, Barcelona is IoT-enabled wherever possible. 

The Next Big Frontier

What can be felt, is that civic engagement has the potential to be the next big frontier. To continue on FastCompany’s terminology, a smart city 3.0 gets co-created with its citizens. Cities all want to ride this new wave of open innovation, but are still hesitant as no best practices have emerged yet. 

The first success stories of citizensourcing are widely known amongst the urban innovators, namely Paris’ “Madame la Maire, j’ai une idée” and Medellin’s “MiMedellin” platform. Nonetheless, digital civic engagement rises a lot of questions for many city officials as it requires an experimental mindset from cities engaging in it. The reasons why a city should start online civic engagement are legio – the early innovators will remembered as the pioneers for many others.

Citizen Co-Creation

The collective intelligence present in cities remains largely untapped. The opportunities are gigantic to tackle problems collectively, share creative solutions and foster urban entrepreneurship. So far, civic co-creation has worked best when it had a specific context. For instance, opening urban challenges to crowdsource citizens’ input for a specific problem and within a specific timeframe.

Citizens should have their say in the design and implementation as well, and not only in the consultation phase. In the end, they are the daily users of the outcomes. Only with a full commitment from the city government, the co-creation process can result in a success. And let it be clear that success is not measured by the quantity, but by the quality of the ideas. 

Tinder for Governments

From mass engagement to targeted engagement

Beth Noveck’s keynote at Smart City World Expo 2015.

Beth Simone Noveck, director of GovLab, gave an insightful keynote called “Smart Citizens, Smarter State” – in analogy to her recently published book – about the power of data. Just as businesses use data in order to better understand the customers, governments could use data to provide better public services to their citizens and solve problems collectively. Applied to the civic engagement context, opinion mining and sentiment analysis can provide the government with priceless insights on what lives in the city.

We have to make the transition from to Namely, the question that we should raise is: how can we segment and tap into the knowledge of people with expertise? This pairing process will be of great value in the development of smart cities. Data can help us match the people with the right skills to the right urban challenges.

Swipe left, swipe right, you’ve got a challenge match, dear citizen!

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