Cities should involve citizens as soon as possible if they want to have the best possible results

Interview:
Nikolaos Kontinakis
13 April 2016
Nikolaos Kontinakis

Nikolaos Kontinakis works as a project coordinator for the knowledge society and smart cities projects of EUROCITIES, Brussels. He coordinates the Green Digital Charter initiative, EUROCITIES work for the development of a performance measurement framework for smart cities under the CITYkeys project and the promotion of green ICT via the ICTfootprint.eu project. He also represents EUROCITIES in the SSCC-CG of CEN/CENELEC. For the last 15 years, he has worked as a project coordinator and researcher in the areas of ICT, energy policy and the smart and sustainable development of local authorities.

Was there a particular inspiration behind your career choice? Briefly how did you first come to work in the area of sustainability and energy management at the EU level?

Sustainability was always one of my interests. Regarding energy, I first started to work in the areas of energy markets and national energy policies. It was at the time when the Covenant of Mayor was launched and the EPBD started being implemented in Greece, especially in the public sector. I soon realised energy management could be the missing link to quickly and efficiently tackle some of the challenges that Europe faces especially after working with cities which proved to be maybe the most ambitious and fast reacting level of public authority.

What is your most valued skill or personal attribute in carrying out your daily work?

If you try to wrap-up our job in EUROCITIES in one word it would be networking or facilitating. This means bringing people together and helping them to exchange knowledge and work together for solutions. Thus, no matter what or how important the content is and the needed intuition or readiness involved, it’s these social or networking skills that are most needed and valued.

EUROCITIES has 140 cities as members – what is the greatest challenge of coordinating so many cities and their different priorities?

Coordinating 140 major European cities is a challenge in itself! But actually it’s better if we invert the question. For sure all these cities have strong and common starting points: their willingness to be part of the solution; their proactiveness; their belief that cities have the qualities and expertise to play an active role in the design and implementation of EU policies; their care to offer a better quality of life to their citizens. Then, having 140 different cities actually offers a wealth of different approaches, ideas and solutions to test, use and share. Not a bad challenge after all!

Do you have a favourite story of a city and their efforts?

I would be unfair to 139 cities if I had to pick only one story as my favourite!  In any case, my “cross-cutting” favourite story is how much I like and enjoy working with people that their enthusiasm and commitment go well beyond what we usually think of a “public servant”. This makes me optimistic that cities can deliver what they aspire and promise but also re-establish the necessary trust and commitment of citizens to communal and public structures and services that we so keenly need.

Due to your experience and Greek background, what are your conclusions about the role that culture plays in energy management?

Indeed it plays an important role. Nevertheless, there are no differences in the reasons for which we need energy management: better use of resources, financial benefits and protection of the environment are common challenges across Europe. The differences come in play when you ask people to share these objectives. Fortunately, there is always a good advice: try to involve citizens and stakeholders as soon as possible if you want to have the best possible results!

You have a coordinating role in the Green Digital Charter? How is this being taken up by cities? Thus far, what kind of impact has the Green Digital Charter created?

The Green Digital Charter is well received from the cities: 50 large European cities, representing more than 26 million citizens, have already signed it and made the political commitment to work for its objectives. We are also glad for the impact the charter has created: within the cities where the charter has been used as a motivation to design and implement digital strategies and between cities where the charter has managed to become a European brand name in the effort to deploy and use ICT that helps them become smarter and more sustainable.

Do you believe that Europe through initiatives such as EUROCITIES is making good progress in energy management? Where do you think greater effort is required to meet the EU vision?

Definitely! A network like EUROCITIES not only gives voice to cities in the European level. It also helps them move forward and work towards European aims and objectives without each time re-inventing the wheel. For example in energy management, even If we are used to start our discussions by pointing out our  “climate” and “culture” differences, we shouldn’t forget that in the areas of technological solutions, funding and business models, political commitment and citizens participation there are far more common and replicable examples than not.