Empowering citizens to co-create smart cities - Datacity

Empowering citizens to co-create smart cities

Smart cities are for people

Technology, data, and innovation are the DNA of smart cities, but they are not why we want to build them. We work for a sustainable future, aligned with the 2030 sustainable development goals and more specifically the C40’s Deadline 2020.

The end users are citizens, people who live in the city. Yet, the speed of change of these technologies in itself can make it difficult for citizens to keep up with the technicality of innovation, data and new technologies such as artificial intelligence or blockchain. These technologies are also developed and implemented by private companies or public-private partnerships without systematic concertation.

As a third party, DataCity also serves as a goal keeper – improving city life for citizens and solving sustainability challenges – and a facilitator for open discussions. As part of our 2030 mission, we wondered how we could have greater citizen involvement in the future, to improve our solutions.


Co-designing for more efficiency

We already bring together corporates, town officials and startups to work together, because we are convinced we need a multi-actor perspective. Citizens’ interests are represented by city representatives, but citizens are also users, not simply stakeholders. One very common mistake that can happen when building a new product or solution is “designing at the white board”: assuming what the users’ issues are and assuming what they need. The best way to avoid this mistake, is to invite the users in the room and let them contribute in order to collect better insights and to refine solutions. This is especially crucial for early stage projects, when we are still defining challenges.

This year, in DataCity, we are experimenting for the first time with citizen consultation in Paris. Residents are invited to vote, comment and even suggest their own challenges on the Paris Mayor’s platform dedicated to open dialogue with citizens. DataCity already held 2 programs in Paris since 2015 and we hope to collect significant insights on how citizen participation can help us develop even better solutions this year. Efficiency is of course a desired outcome of co-designing with citizens, but greater inclusion is also something we owe citizens, regardless of the outcome.


Paris has been our pilot program for 3 years and we are proud to partner with the city of Paris and Mayor Anne Hidalgo. Paris is part of the C40 and part of the Open Government Partnership, which makes it one of 15 municipalities dedicated to push this topic and initiatives forward. For our 3rd season of DataCity Paris, we open conversations with residents on www.idees.paris. The consultation is open from October 20. to November 6. 2017.


Citizen empowerment: more than a trend

Urban laws in most western countries require large-scale urban projects to consult with citizens. Smart city projects don’t fall under this legislation but some of them may very well change our daily urban environment as well. Given the potential impact, better information, and whenever possible, consultation, are crucial to ensure that our projects are trusted and viable.

Data, artificial intelligence and other tech-related buzzwords are now integrated into daily conversations, but it doesn’t mean they are understood by citizens. A great deal of uncertainty and even mistrust regarding privacy and ownership of one’s data is also growing. Regulatory trends, at least in Europe, align with this feeling. For instance, the “General Data Protection Regulation” intends to strengthen data protection for all citizen across the EU, which will be effective in March 2018. In this context, and with smart cities being powered by data, it is urgently necessary to have an open discussion with citizens.


What’s next?

The Paris experiment is only stage one for DataCity. As our program expands worldwide, our ambition is to include citizen consultation in relevant ways for communities and cities across the world. We must also keep in mind realistic expectations: for instance, studies have shown that citizen consultations and online tools don’t have a significant impact on including minorities or citizens who did not traditionally participate. But our efforts must nonetheless include them in various ways, whether it is with open information about our program or with future workshops.


In our next article, we will focus on the global vs. local challenges we face in a smart city. Sign up to our newsletter to receive our monthly digest and follow us on Facebook or Twitter to keep up with our latest news.