Gaining the interest and engagement of citizens is key to success for smart city projects. To do so, several social and behavioural obstacles need to be tackled. First of all, it is always challenging to get citizens engaged in issues they do nothing know about, especially for new technologies as digital solutions but also renewable energy production. Also their age and (technical) knowledge will differ immensely which makes finding a common vocabulary to make the topics understandable quite challenging. This can become even harder when different languages are utilised within a community. Since the whole community needs to be engaged, person in charge should definitely keep an eye on financially vulnerable target groups. Therefore, it will always be difficult to utilize the local knowledge and to consider the community’s different priorities. But challenges can also be found on technological (imperfect or inaccurate data quality) and regulatory levels (relationship between decision makers and residents/citizens and the strategic thinking of politicians locked in election circles of approximately four years). The governance in turn has to deal with the missing of a single representing organisation causing people in charge having to tackle each tenant individually, the insufficiently taking into account citizens’ activities outside the project, the challenge to identify good ways to approach all citizens, the obtainment of a sufficient tenant agreement, the consideration of the diversity of the target groups as well as the redundancy in participation processes.
To engage citizens easier, persons in charge should not only focus on telling stories but need to visualise the content to make it understandable and personalise it to make it tangible. Citizens should be directly asked how they want to engage. Moreover, one has to incentivise to get buy in and participations from residents/citizens. Citizens can be reached by a variety of tools: via the implementation of workshops, and contests, via social media and apps. It is also advisable to engage with schools and students since citizens are more likely to follow if the youth is already enthusiastic about the topic. Furthermore, a living lab budget can be invested in different ways (like in Vienna). Attention should also be payed to the relationship between decision makers and residents/citizens and whether the strategic thinking of politicians is locked in election circles. The suggestions for user incentives are almost endlessly since their engagement is a long process. Before the engagement process starts, people in charge have to define the budget and need to understand the costs and duration before they can proof the relevance of an issue being discussed to the citizens. Subsequently, citizens should be involved in product designing to give them not only recognition and empowerment but also to gain their understanding for the product. Making use of co-creation to (re)design prototypes and solutions is definitely a winner. It is also advisable to specify tailor-made actions for each target group and to involve local citizen engagement enterprises. Tenants need to be convinced about the improvement of their everyday lives resulting from the solution, e. g. by performing measurements. It will also be useful to engage with as many diverse stakeholder groups as possible (a representative for each group can also be assigned for each group). Furthermore, presentations to give feedback to citizens and have technicians answering questions and solving problems is equally useful as working together with the replication manager to assist Follower Cities in implementing their solutions. An overall visibility is also key to success. People in charge should not only set-up central information sharing spots but should be visible in the streets and use the living lab budget to plan a mobile pop-up truck/trailer in the project area. They can also make use of the “traveling circus” concept. Moreover, huge numbers of participants in dissemination activities should be avoided since people will be more comfortable to ask questions in smaller groups. Citizens should also be informed about the outcomes the product (which should also come in attractive packaging) will deliver. Since a community consists of a variety of individuals, cultural differences in citizen engagement should also be considered. Additionally, they need to be prepared to change their initial ideas and allow citizens to take the lead. Finally, they can make use of a circular methodology and keep in mind that typically no tenant agreement is needed until there is a predefined increase in rent.
Plan for Implementation
Project implementers should not develop more citizen sensing sensors, but might also think about how and by whom data can be used. They can also offer showcased products to community organisations and might develop a common methodology to identify what is relevant to citizens. It is also advisable to continue working on the participation and engagement plan and to offer free use of the product of a predefined time when applicable. Of course, the costs of using the listed recommendations need to be checked. Moreover, listed solutions and ideas can also be presented to Follower Cities in order to open up their horizons on how to approach citizens. The completion between users could also be increased. It is also useful to target children to get other family members on board and to make use of mobile information sharing centres. Concluding, citizen engagement can be up-scaled by sharing the lessons learnt and understanding the culture of a decision-making process.