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Smarticipate: Grab your potential to open up the smart city

Marek Vogt, Urban Planner and participation expert at WeLoveTheCity
26 April 2017

The term Smart City has many definitions. Most of them are made by scientists, researchers and industry experts. But often, cities use an abstract definition without considering the practical requirements of citizens. So why are citizens not directly asked about their expectations? Doing this would help cities, since they often don’t know how to bring the Smart City to the ground to serve the real needs of their population.

In the EU-funded project smarticipate, we’re following a user-centered approach to develop a digital platform. That means directly connecting ‘smart’ citizens with their cities. We’re doing that with different European partners and in close collaboration with the three pilot cities. Smarticipate provides automatic and immediate feedback on citizen ideas based on open data. It also supports an urban planning dialogue between different stakeholders.



Smarticipate provides the basis for decision-making and offers citizens the precise, real-time information they need to participate in their city. That’s why The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg and Roma Capitale are participating as pilot cities and sharing their data. For an introduction to smarticipate, please see the animation on the project website.

From my experience in various projects at WeLoveTheCity, a partner in the smarticipate project and the company in charge of the piloting in the three cities, I know that residents and entrepreneurs have plenty of ideas for the neighborhood in which they live, work and play. Unfortunately, they don’t always have access to the right information to develop their ideas into a concrete proposal. But what are the expectations of residents and entrepreneurs? We therefore invited them to Smartathons, together with experts from each city. These interactive events had the goal to identify the requirements of residents, entrepreneurs and city representatives.

Do you have a great idea for a better neighbourhood? Join the Smartathon and discover how new technology can help you to share your idea, improve your idea and make your idea happen.

More than 150 residents, entrepreneurs and city representatives accepted our invitation and joined the Smartathons in London, Hamburg and Rome. Smartathons are lively, hands-on events. It all happens around the smart tables. At each table, six to eight residents and entrepreneurs dive into an urban story, open data and essential features, with a focus on developing smarticipate into a user-friendly and relevant tool. To ensure lively sessions around the smart tables, it’s crucial to form diverse groups with different knowledge and views. That’s beyond the normal categories of gender, age and education level. The smarticipate team therefore worked with cities to find participants beyond the ‘usual suspects’. To encourage a further free flow of discussion, the events were not rigidly structured. Participants had the freedom to change table settings, put new items on the agenda and develop disruptive solutions. For a brief glimpse of the Smartathons, see the video interviews.

The raw information and data that resulted from the Smartathons can be found in the manual ‘How to organise a Smartathon - Grab your potential’, which is available here. This has been distilled into eight key lessons, which together form a manual for opening up the smart city.

1. Doers vs. receivers

Smarticipate has to focus on not only active ‘doers’ who want to change their neighbourhood, but also ‘receivers’ who express concern for their surroundings in a more responsive way.              

2. Let’s make knowledge great again

Smarticipate has to offer a full range of information – beyond just statistics – that covers memory, dynamic present and projected impact.                               

3. Multiple captains on the ship      

Smarticipate has to support co-creation so that not only government, but also residents, businesses and NGOs can contribute solutions and invest in realising them.                                

4. Tell me the rules (so I can break them)

Smarticipate has to let users understand on which rules the immediate feedback is based and then provide a clear procedure for adding and changing these rules.                             

5. Mayor, where are you?

Smarticipate shouldn’t be a digital shield that keeps residents at a distance; instead, it should allow users to track & trace their ideas through the policy and decision-making process.

6. No dead-end streets     

Smarticipate has to offer users suitable alternatives whenever it gives negative feedback on their ideas or proposals.                                               

7. Finally, a gadget for my grandma

Smarticipate has to offer the top technical features, while also accommodating residents with a language barrier, a disability or a lack of digital access.                                     

8. Flash in the pan or 2.0, 3.0, 4.0...              

Smarticipate’s technical platform has to be complemented by a robust service ownership concept to ensure long-term sustainable operation.

To better illustrate the results and to give an example, I’ll zoom in on the first lesson: Doers vs. Receivers.

Participants at the Smartathons emphasised that smarticipate should not only focus on active people who want to change their neighbourhood, or so-called ‘doers’. It should also focus on ‘receivers’, who comprise the majority of citizens. This second group cares equally about their surroundings, but expresses that in a more responsive way. Reaching them is a big accomplishment because it means many more people are engaged. Participants in the Smartathons agreed on at least one point: you need the specific qualities of both doers and receivers to get an idea or proposal successfully on the ground. Participants know exactly how they want to use smarticipate; that is, sometimes as a doer and sometimes as a receiver. The role they take depends on topic, distance and time. Certain events can turn a receiver into a doer overnight. A participant in the London Smartathon provided a good example. In this case, the city had recently installed a bicycle rack in front of Notting Hill Gate tube station. However, it turned out to partially block the station entrance, resulting in a lot of complaints. The city ultimately removed and relocated it at great cost. According to the participant: ‘That’s my tax money. If I had smarticipate, I’d point out all suitable locations for cycle racks within 150 metres of the 12 stations in the Borough. That would’ve saved the municipality a fortune!’.

To find out more, please see the manual: ‘Grab your potential - This is how to do it’, which is available here.

The Smartathon results set out what is important for citizens in Hamburg, London and Rome. They are now being used to develop smarticipate into a user-friendly tool that serves the expectations of city government, residents, entrepreneurs, NGOs and other stakeholders and will fuel the development of a first prototype in late 2017. Stay tuned at to find out how you can keep in touch and test it.

Dipl.-Ing. Marek Vogt is an Urban Planner and participation expert at WeLoveTheCity, with more than 12 years of experience in connecting intelligent ideas of citizens and entrepreneurs with innovative solutions that hit the ground. You can find more information about WeLoveTheCity on 

The smarticipate project is funded under the Horizon 2020 Programme of the European Union. It runs from February 2016 to January 2019.