What is the best way to discover a new city? Following the recommendations of a guide? Reading a Wikitravel article? Watching a documentary? While I find these sources useful, I prefer to consult the people who know the city best: its citizens. If you had the chance to talk to a local who is passionate about his or her home town, you will probably agree that citizens are the most valuable asset a city can have.
This also holds true for how cities can harness the potential of digital technologies. During the final review session of one of our Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) projects, I had the opportunity to experience once again the power of citizen-driven innovation. Citadel on the Move developed a free online platform which allows citizens to conceive their own mobile applications, using Open Data provided by their home cities.
By using the platform, ordinary citizens can become app developers, creating apps to find cinemas, parks, private galleries and even a user's favourite tree. In total, citizens in more than 125 cities in 63 countries used Citadel's platform to implement their ideas. The project supported cities in making Open Data, such as the location of services and facilities, accessible to junior app developers. You can take junior quite literally: among the youngest developers were an eight and a nine year old whose app @Me-on-the-Move received a Global Entrepreneur Award.
As Open Data and citizen-driven approaches to city development have become increasingly popular, I would like to share some of the lessons learned of the Citadel project in the hope that they might help other Open Data and Smart Cities projects to draw inspiration from the success of Citadel.
1) A good mix of stakeholders makes your project more likely to succeed. Involve as many groups of citizens as possible. Programmers, teachers, students, pensioners, entrepreneurs – even though some of them might lack the technical skills, they all have ideas on what kind of services they really need in their city.
2) Use a targeted approach to engage different groups of citizens. Offer workshops and tutorials for citizens without coding skills. Organise competitions for the more tech-savvy ones. Showcase what others have developed to a wider audience.
3) Help data providers and data users meet. Organise events where data providers and data users can discuss their expectations and technical details, such as the preferred data format.
Following these recommendations is no guarantee for success, but they proved beneficial in many of the Citadel partner cities. So don't hesitate to use Open Data and let citizens co-create the future of their cities.