Citizens in focus - smart cities are more than technology


An interview with those responsible for maing sure that people stay at the heart of Smart Cities, the leads of Sharing Cities work package 2, 'People'.

Francesco Marchet, City Futures Team Lead, Future Cities Catapult
Euan Mills, Future Cities Catapult
Jarmo Eskelinen, CITO, Future Cities Catapult

• Can you talk briefly about the WP you are responsible for and its aims? 

WP2 – People is the work package devoted to citizen focused activities. We provide user research and citizen engagement methods and activities for the reference zones of the project. Our core outcome is the Digital Social Market, which will incentivise the uptake of sustainable services in the partner cities and support positive behavioural changes through rewards, information and community activation.

• Why is active citizen participation in smart cities so important?

Active citizen engagement in cities, in general, has three key benefits:

  1. It forges good relations between citizens and city decision makers, helping to facilitate trust and support for the particular project and beyond. The more participatory the engagement practice is, the higher the likelihood that there will be greater support for the initiative.
  2. By engaging citizens in project and programme development, the city enables citizens to take ownership of the initiative which increases the probability of approval. These ‘champions' or early adopters are then more likely to encourage their social groups to also adopt or positively support the initiative.
  3. Citizens experience the city in day-to-day life, and their collective knowledge and expertise far exceeds that of decision makers themselves. Harnessing collective intelligence can fill the knowledge gap and ensure solutions are positive, workable and relevant for the city.

For smart cities there two are further significant benefits:

  1. For many, the concept of ‘smart' is a frightening or confusing one. Through proactive citizen engagement, cities can help their residents overcome the fear of the unknown (this is a development of the uptake reason above, but more tech related).
  2. In the last decade, the emergence of ‘smart cities' has seen technology adopted before understanding how that technology can best help peoples' experiences of their home town. By engaging citizens in smart city challenges, technology can better respond to problems and experiences of the city.

• How do you overcome the challenges of working with different demographics, geographies and economies within the demonstrator areas?

Hosting engagement activities at various times of day is key to enabling high numbers of people to participate. Beyond that, we encouraged our partners who undertook recruitment to adhere to specific demographic profiling which we provided, including multiple demographics. They recruited business people, full-time workers, students and retirees from the demonstrator areas. We encouraged central locations that would be readily available for our target audience and introduced remote engagement tools to involve those with commitments that prevented them from coming to physical meetings at specific times.

It is also important to recognise that processes and tools which succeed in activating people to participate in decision making or co-creation processes are difficult to develop. In order to succeed, the processes and tools have to be designed for real world users. Civic platforms compete with numerous other ways busy people can spend their time.

Participation has a price in time and effort for the citizens. In order to activate the citizens, the benefits they get from the process are designed to be bigger than the price. The solutions we introduce will be easy to use and provide useful information. Cities also need to be serious about engagement - participation needs to lead to tangible, positive changes in the environment. 

Contact Francesco Marchet:

These interview questions were prepared by Science Impact for the article SHAR-LLM, Sharing Cities, HORIZON2020 included in Impact publication, December 2017. Click here to download the full article.



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This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement N°691895


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