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Herman van den Bosch, professor in management development , posted

3. Ten years of smart city technology marketing

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This post is about the rise of the smart city movement, the different forms it has taken and what its future can be. It is the third edition of the series Better cities: The role of digital technologies.

The term smart cities shows up in the last decade of the 20th century. Most definitions  refer to the use of (digital) technology as a tool for empowering cities and citizens, and a key to fuel economic growth and to attract investments. Some observants will add as an instrument to generate large profits.

Barcelona, Ottawa, Brisbane, Amsterdam, Kyoto, and Bangalore belong to the forerunners of cities that flagged themselves as ‘smart’. In 2013 approximately 143 ‘self-appointed’ smart cities existed worldwide. To date, this number has exploded over more than 1000.

Five smart city tales

In their article Smart Cities as Company Story telling Ola Söderström et al. document how technology companies crafted the smart city as a fictional story that framed the problems of cities in a way these companies can offer to solve. Over time, the story has multiplied, resulting in what I have called the Smart city tales, a series of narratives used by companies and city representatives. I will address with five dominant ones below: The connected city, the entrepreneurial city, the data-driven city, the digital services city and the consumers’ city.

The connected city
On November 4th 2011, the trademark smarter cities was officially registered as belonging to IBM. It marked a period in which this company became the leader of the smart city technology market. Other companies followed fast, attracted by an expected growth of this market by 20% per year from over $300bn in 2015 to over $750bn to date.  In the IBM vision cities are systems of systems: Planning and management services, infrastructural services and human services, each to be differentiated further, to be over-sighted and controlled from one central point, such as the iconic control center that IBM has build in Rio de Janeiro (photo above). All systems can be characterized by three 'I's, which are the hard core of any smart city: Being instrumented, interconnected and intelligent.

The corporate smart city
In many cities in the world, emerging and developing countries in the first place, administrators dream about building smart towns from scratch.  They envisioned being 'smart' as a major marketing tool for new business development.
Cisco and Gale, an international property development company, became the developers of New Songdo in South Korea. New Songdo was in the first place meant to become a giant business park and to enable a decent corporate lifestyle and business experience for people from abroad on the first place, offering houses filled with technical gadgets, attractive parks, full-featured office space, outstanding connectivity and accessibility.

Quite some other countries took comparable initiatives in order to attract foreign capital and experts to boost economic growth. For example, India, that has planned to build 100 smart cities.

The data driven city
The third narrative is fueled by the collection and refined analyses of data that technology companies ‘tap’ for commercial reasons from citizens’ Internet and mobile phones communication. Google was the first to discover the unlimited opportunities of integrating its huge knowledge of consumer behavior with city data. Sidewalk Labs - legally operating under the umbrella of Alphabet - responded to an open call for a proposal for redevelopment of Quayside, brownfield land around Toronto's old port, and  won the competition. Its plans were on par with contemporary urbanist thinking. However, that was not Sidewalk Labs’ first motive. Instead, its interest was ‘ubiquitous sensing’ of city life’, to expand Google’s already massive collection of personalized profiles with real-time geotagged knowledge of where people are, what they are whishing or doing in order to provide them with commercial information.
As could be expected, privacy issues dominated the discussion over the urbanist merits of the plan and most observers believe that therefore the company put the plug out of the project in May 2020. The official reason was investors’ restraint, due to Covid-19.

The consumers’ smart city
The fourth narrative is focusing on rise of urban tech targeted on consumers. Amazon, Uber and Airbnb are forerunners disrupting traditional sectors like retail, taxi and hotel business. They introduced a platform approach that nearly decimated the middleclass in in the US. Others followed, such as bike- and scooter-sharing companies Bird and Lyme, co-working companies like We Work and meal delivery services like Delivero.
City tech embodies the influence of entrepreneurship backed by venture capitalists and at the same time the necessity for city governments to establish a democratic legitimized framework to manage these initiatives.

The smart services city
Thanks to numerous ‘apps’, cities started to offer a wealth of information and services to citizens concerning employment, housing, administration, mobility, health, security and utilities. These apps enable city administrators, transit authorities, utility services and many others to inform citizens better than before. With these apps, citizens also can raise questions or make a request to repair broken street furniture.
Some cities, for instance Barcelona and Madrid, started to use digital technologies to increase public engagement, or to give people a voice in decision making or budgeting.

All aforementioned narratives suggest a tight link between technology and the wellbeing of citizens, symbolizing a new kind of technology-led urban utopia. In essence, each narrative puts available technology in the center and looks for an acceptable rationale to put it into the market. The fifth one witnesses an upcoming change into a more human-centric direction.

An upcoming techlash or a second wave of smart cities

It is unmistakably that business leaders, having in mind a multi-billion smart city technologies-market overstate the proven benefits of technology. Garbage containers with built-in sensors and adaptive street lighting are not that great after all, and the sensors appearing everywhere raise many questions. According to The Economist, it is not surprising that a techlash is underway. As I accentuated in last week’s post, politicians are becoming more critical regarding behemoths like Google, Amazon and Facebook, because of their treatment of sensitive data, their lack of transparency of algorithm-based decision making, their profits and tax evasion and the gig economy in general. Skepticism within the general public is increasing too.

Nevertheless, a second wave of smart cities is upcoming. The first wave lacked openess for the ethics of urban technology and the governance of urban development. The second wave excels in ethical considerations and intentions to preserve privacy. Intentions alone are insufficient, politics will also have to break the monopolies of Big Tech

Besides, in order to gain trust in the general public, city governors must discuss the city’s real challenges with residents, (knowledge) institutions, and other stakeholder before committing to whatever technology.  Governance comes prior to technology. As Francesca Bria, former chief technology officer of Barcelona said: We are reversing the smart city paradigm. Instead of starting from technology and extracting all the data we can before thinking about how to use it, we started aligning the tech agenda with the agenda of the city.

Apart from Barcelona, this also happens in cities such as Amsterdam, Boston, Portland and the Polish city of Lublin. The question is no longer which problems technology is going to solve, but which exactly are these problems, who is trusted to define them, which are their causes, whose intersts are involved, who is most affected, and which ones must be solved most urgently. Only after answering these questions, the discussion can be extended to the contribution of (digital) technology. In a next contribution, I explore digital social innovation, as a contribution to a revised smart city concept.

This post is a brief summary of my article Humane by choice. Smart by default: 39 building blocks for cities in the future. Published in the Journal of the American Institution of Engineers and Technology, June 2020. You will fine a copy of this article below:

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Herman van den Bosch, professor in management development , posted

2. Scare off the monster behind the curtain: Big Tech’s monopoly

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This post is about the omnipotence of Big Tech. So far, resistance mainly results in regulation of its effects. The core of the problem, the monopoly position of the technology giants, is only marginally touched. What is needed is a strict antitrust policy and a government that once again takes a leading role in setting the technology agenda.

A cause of concern

 In its recent report, the Dutch Rathenau Institute calls the state of digital technology a cause for concern. The institute advocates a fair data economy and a robust, secure and available Internet for everyone. This is not the case now. In fact, we are getting further and further away from this. The risks are pressing more each day: Inscrutable algorithms, deepfakes and political micro-targeting, inner-city devastation through online shopping, theft of trade secrets, unbridled data collection by Google, Amazon and Facebook, poorly paid taxi drivers by Uber and other service providers of the gig economy, the effect of Airbnb on the hotel industry and the energy consumption of bitcoin and blockchain.

The limits of legislation

Numerous publications are calling on the government to put an end to the growing abuse of digital technology. In his must read 'the New Digital Deal' Bas Boorsma states: In order to deploy digitalization and to manage platforms for the greater good of the individual and society as a whole, new regulatory approaches will be required… (p. 46) . That is also the view of the Rathenau Institute, which lists three spearheads for a digitization strategy: Strong legislative frameworks and supervision, value-based digital innovation based on critical parliamentary debate and a say in this for citizens and professionals.

More than growing inconvenience

In recent years, the European Commission has launched a wide range of legislative proposals, such as the Digital Services Act package, the Digital Market Act and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). However, these measures do not get to the kernel of the problem. The near-monopoly position of Big Tech is the proverbial monster behind the curtain. The Rathenau Institute speaks in furtitive terms of "the growing inconvenience" of reliance on American and Chinese tech giants. Even the International Monetary Fund is clearer in stating that the power of Big Tech inhibits innovation and investment and increases income inequality. Due to the power of the big technology companies, society is losing its grip on technology.

Surveillance capitalisme

To curb the above-mentioned risks, the problem must first be named  and measures must then be tailored accordingly. This is done in two recent books, namely Shoshana Zuboff's 'The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power' (2019) and Cory Doctorow's 'How to destroy surveillance capitalism' (2021). Zuboff describes in detail how Google, Amazon and Facebook collect data with only one goal, to entice citizens to buy goods and services: Big Tech's product is persuasion. The services — social media, search engines, maps, messaging, and more — are delivery systems for persuasion.

Big tech's monopoly

The unprecedented power of Big Tech is a result of the fact that these companies have become almost classic monopolies. Until the 1980s, the US had strict antitrust legislation: the Sherman's act, notorious for big business. Ronald Reagan quickly wiped it out in his years as president, and Margareth Thatcher did the same in the UK, Brian Mulroney in Canada and Helmut Kohl in Germany. While Sherman saw monopolies as a threat to the free market, Reagan believed that government interference threatens the free market. Facebook joins in if it sees itself as a 'natural monopoly': You want to be on a network where your friends are also. But you could also reach your friends if there were more networks that are interoperable. Facebook has used all economic, technical and legal means to combat the latter, including takeover of potential competitors: Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp.

In the early 21st century, there was still a broad belief that emerging digital technology could lead to a better and more networked society. Bas Boorsma: The development of platforms empowered start-ups, small companies and professionals. Many network utopians believed the era of 'creative commons' had arrived and with it, a non-centralized and highly digital form of 'free market egalitarianism' (New Digital Deal, p.52). Nothing has come of this: Digitalization-powered capitalism now possesses a speed, agility and rawness that is unprecedented (New Digital Deal, p.54). Even the startup community is becoming one big R&D lab for Big Tech. Many startups hope to be acquired by one of the tech giants and then cash in on millions. As a result, Big Tech is on its way to acquire a dominant position in urban development, the health sector and education, in addition to the transport sector.

Antitrust legislation

Thanks to its monopoly position, Big Tech can collect unlimited data, even if European legislation imposes restrictions and occasional fines. After all, a lot of data is collected without citizens objecting to it. Mumford had already realized this in 1967: Many consumers see these companies not only as irresistible, but also ultimately beneficial. These two conditions are the germ of what he called the megatechnics bribe.

The only legislation that can break the power of Big Tech is a strong antitrust policy, unbundling the companies, an absolute ban on acquisitions and rigorous taxation.

Technology agenda

Technology does not develop autonomously. At the moment, Big Tech is indisputably setting the technology agenda in the Western Hemisphere. China is a different story. With Mariana Mazzocato, I believe that governments should take back control of technological development, as they did until the end of the last century. Consider the role of institutions such as DARPA in the US, the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany and TNO in the Netherlands. Democratic control is an absolute precondition!

In the chapter 'Digitally just cities' in my e-book 'Cities of the future: Always humane, smart where it helps' (link below), I show, among other things, what Facebook, Amazon and Google could look like after a possible unbundling.

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Herman van den Bosch, professor in management development , posted

Prologue to a new series: Better Cities. The role of digital technologies

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Next months, I will post a weekly contribution answering the question how digital technologies can contribute to the development of better cities. Here's what to expect from these posts:

According to the WEF Global Risk Report, anyone committed to the contribution of digital technology to solving  the problems facing society should realize that technology and the underlying business model itself is one of those problems. The last thing to do is uncritically follow those who see only the blessings of technology. Some of their prophecies will send shivers down your spine, like this one from tech company SiemensIn a few decades, cities will have countless autonomous, intelligently functioning IT systems that are perfectly aware of users' habits and energy consumption and provide optimal service. The aim of such a city is to optimally regulate and control resources through autonomous IT systems. The company precisely articulates the fear expressed by Lewis Mumford who wrote in his seminal book The Myth of the Machine: Emerging new mega-techniques create a uniform, all-enveloping, super-planetary structure, designed for automatic operation in which man will become a passive, purposeless, machine-conditioned animal. This was in 1967, before anyone could even think about the impact of digital technology.

Fortunately, there are of governments, companies and institutions committed to developing and adopting technology to address the challenges the world faces: Energy transition and other impacts of climate change, pressure on mobility, setting up a circular economy; making society inclusive and improving the liveability of cities. However, technology alone cannot reach these goals. Far-reaching social and economic reforms are needed, also to ensure that the benefits of digitization are shared by everyone.

I join those who 'believe' in the potential of digital technology for society, if done in a responsible and value-driven way, but also are skeptical whether this will happen indeed. This ambivalence will not have escaped the notice of those familiar with my previous publications. In my first ebook Smart city tales (2018) I explored the use and abuse of technology in so-called smart cities. In the second ebook Cities of the future, always humane, smart if helpful (2020) I presented the problems of contemporary cities, collected possible solutions and mapped out which digital techniques can contribute. The conclusion was that humane cities are still a long way off.

What you are reading now is the first post (Read the Dutch version here) in a new series that focuses on digital technology itself. In the first part of this series, I discuss the demands that can be placed on the design of digital technology for the sake of better cities. In the second part, I apply these requirements to a broad range of technologies. The integration of digital technology into urban policies will be discussed in part three.

I foresee the publication of about 20 articles. The link below opens a preliminary overview of their topics. I will take the liberty of adapting this plan to the actuality and advancing insight.

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Herman van den Bosch, professor in management development , posted

Can Amsterdam even better support growth of its startup ecosystem?

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This post is the third and last in a series of articles about the startup ecosystem in Amsterdam Delta (Amsterdam metropolitan region). The first dealt with the dual challenge for start-ups to become socially and environmentally sustainable and to empower employees to be entrepreneurial through shared leadership. The second one was a review of the strengths and weaknesses of the Amsterdam startup ecosystem by the authors of the 2021 Global Startup Ecosystems Ranking.

Weaknesses and strengths

The 2021 Global Startup Ecosystem Report revealed several weaknesses in the Amsterdam startup ecosystem, which – I accentuate - should not overshadow the city’s position of Amsterdam as the world number 13 startup ecosystem. In terms of market reach, the overall score is satisfactory (7), but the Amsterdam Delta startups are primarily focused on global markets and score low on the local market. In the field of talent, the overall score is more than sufficient (7), due to the quality of technology students and graduates, but their number is inadequate, resulting in high vacancies and salary costs. Partly related to this, the growth potential (scalability) of the Amsterdam startup ecosystem is also insufficient, due to a limited reservoir of experienced entrepreneurs. Overall knowledge success is assessed as poor (1!) due to the unsatisfactory number of life science patents.

Amsterdam Policy plan 2019 - 2022

Most of the underlying data of the 2021 report is from 2019 – 2021, a time frame that coincides with the start of the new policy plan for startups in Amsterdam in the period 2019 - 2022. The inventory of challenges in this report mirrors several weaknesses mentioned above. Looking at the future, the report states: We have reached a point where growth of the local ecosystem does not have to mean that the local government wants to encourage as many companies in Amsterdam as possible but encourages activity that adds value to the city in new ways. In the coming years, we must also lay the foundations for a more inclusive society, in which the local startup and scaleup ecosystem also plays a role. A step towards inclusiveness means significantly increasing the business sector’s ambitions for social responsibility. In other words, a focus on quality in general that is aligned with at least the first challenge in the first post I referred to above.

How cities can support their startup ecosystem?

Below, I discuss highlights from the policy report 2019 - 2022 within a broader vision of possibilities for municipalities to support start- and scale-ups, partly based on an earlier edition of a The Global Startup Ecosystem Report.

Financial support
According to the 2021Global Startup Ecosystems Report, the funding of new businesses is not a big problem in Amsterdam Delta, also because of the generous tax facilities(!) in the Netherlands. However, investment relies heavily on local investors and governmental grants: 54% of the capital flowing into the ecosystem comes from domestic sources, 25% from the rest of Europe, and just 21% from the rest of the world.
The City of Amsterdam subsidized the Innovation Center for AI (ICAI) at Amsterdam Science Park, requiring that at least 20% of its revenues will be reserved for innovative SMEs and startups.
While funding is not an overriding problem, Amsterdam can improve its coordinating role in providing financial support, as for example Seoul has done by the creation of the Dream bank, a one-stop agency for all financial matters.

Growth of markets
The market position of Amsterdam start- and scaleups can be improved, especially in the home market, but also internationally. Besides, every new startup must start from scratch by creating a market. An agency called Amsterdam Trade and Innovate has commissioned trade developers to organize domestic and international activities that support promising companies in clusters such as technology, health, life sciences, and creative industry.

Expanding the reservoir of entrepreneurs
Amsterdam focuses on women and young people with a migration background, most of whom never received tech-related training. Initiatives such as House of Skills, Action Plan W&T, House of Digital offer a range of technology-based courses to make up for these shortcomings, alongside startup schools such as BSSA, Growth Tribe and The Talent Institute.
In December 2020, the City of Amsterdam announced it will invest yearly US$ 856,500 in RISE, the Female Hub Amsterdam. There is a high demand in sectors such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, robotics, life science and energy storage, while relatively many university students in technology seem to prefer media studies and gaming and the fintech market is almost satorized. Studying will become more attractive by combining study and jobs and affordable (co-)housing and childcare options, both of which are both are seriously lacking.
In addition, the ‘Warm Welcome’ program aims to attract ambitious tech talent from abroad. Unfortunately, the pandemic has significantly reduced the influx of potential talent from abroad while market opportunities for innovative tech startups and scaleups were improving.

Campuses
Innovative and research-oriented start-ups prefer the proximity of comparable small and medium-sized companies in campuses.  They also prefer locations in mixed urban environments. A campus offers space for complementary companies, large and small, and facilities to collaborate, such as shared laboratory spaces. Amsterdam develops urban innovation districts through regional development and transformation. These areas that can accommodate rapid growth and opportunity for clustering ‘anchor companies’, leading (knowledge) institutions, startups, scaleups, incubators and accelerators. The main areas are: West Innovation Park, Amsterdam Sciencepark, Marineterrein , AMC-Amstel III and VU-Kenniskwartier/Zuidas.

Participation in the network of incubators and accelerators
Startups and scaleups need support. Incubators help companies to settle, accelerators help them to grow steadily. One of the best things any city can do is actively participation in these incubators and accelerators. They can become a one shop-stop for all prospective participants, providing virtually all the support start- and scaleups need. 31 of the 89 incubators and accelerators in the Netherlands, are active in the Amsterdam metropolitan area. A rich pallette of incubators and co-working spaces such as TQ, WeWork, Spaces, Startup Village, Rent24 and B.Amsterdam have been set up. Accelerators are Rockstart, Startupbootcamp, Fashion for Good, ACE and Collider.
Within an incubator or accelerator, the municipality can be primary responsible for legal matters, offering work- and living spaces (initially for free and later rented out at attractive rates), trade missions and procurement.

Internships
In some cities, startups can practice aspects of social and environmental sustainability in public administration. An example is the Startup in Residence program that started in Amsterdam and has now been spread over 20 other Dutch cities, regional governments, and ministries. The program is open to both Dutch and foreign entrepreneurs. Professional coaches provide intensive training and support. Workspace is available too. Under certain conditions, local, regional, and national governments become launching customers or partners. A report provides a detailed overview of the program in Amsterdam and its impact on the participants and the community.

Taking care of starters in general
Only a small but previously unknown part of all starters becomes a startup. Moreover, the number of starters outsizes that of startups and some can become valued companies too In the Netherlands, each year more than 100.000 starters are registered with the Chamber of Commerce.

Short evaluation Amsterdam policy plan 2019 - 12022

I doubt whether the current Amsterdam policy on start- and scaleups will result in a better ranking next year, also because in many cities startup ecologies are growing faster. Personally, I believe that consolidating a position in the top 20 is the best possible and still admirable result. This certainly applies if Amsterdam can achieve its ambitions in the field of qualitative rather than quantitative growth. Amsterdam wants to become an inclusive community and the first circular city in the world. The city wants that start- and scaleups becoming forerunners in reaching these objectives. I am partly disappointed in the content of the policy report 2019 - 2022 regarding this ambition. Indeed, becoming a more inclusive community is reflected in supporting the growth of the number female entrepreneurs. However, I looked in vain at policies encourage activity regarding developing start- and scaleups that add value to the city in new ways for instance contributing to the development of the circular economy. These businesses will make the difference in the future startup ecosystem.

I will regularly share ‘snapshots’ of the challenge of bringing socially and ecologically sustainable cities closer using technology if useful. These posts represent findings, updates, and additions to my e-book Humane cities. Always humane. Smart if helpful, chapter 4 in particular. The English version of this book can be downloaded for free below.

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Herman van den Bosch, professor in management development , posted

Breaking news for Amsterdam: The Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2021 is available

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In the recent past, the value of startups in Amsterdam Delta (Amsterdam metropolitan region) has taken a giant leap. In 2015, Amsterdam startups were valued at $11.1 billion. Today, Europe's number 3 ecosystem is worth $83.3 billion. The extraordinary success stories of Adyen and Takeaway have been a major contributor to this success, but its base is much broader. On the annually published Global Startup Ecosystem ranking Amsterdam Delta rose from the 19th place in 2015 to 12th place in 2020. Everyone was curious about the 2021 ranking. Well, as the table shows, Amsterdam Delta has been overtaken by Paris and Tokyo, but only lost one place due to a significant drop in Stockholm.

The value of rankings is easily overestimated. However, the value of startups should not be underestimated. More than 30% of the 4000 startups in the Netherlands are located in the Amsterdam metropolitan region. Together, the Dutch startups have created more than 100,000 jobs and are responsible for 60% of the annual job growth.

Globally, 2020 and 2021 were amazing years for startups as the pandemic fueled technology. According to the Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2021, Internet capacity increased by 35% and global broadband traffic by 51%. Consumers bought 30% more food online. Global venture capital funding nearly doubled to $288 billion in the first half of 2021, compared to the first half of 2020. Startups have benefited from the explosive technology market, supported by significant government support. Following China and the US, the European Union has been generous to startups, and the same goes for its member states. The Dutch government offers tax credits to innovative companies and environmentally friendly investments. The city of Amsterdam promotes startups that support inclusive growth and diversity, for example by subsidizing female entrepreneurs.

The Amsterdam Delta startup ecosystem can be characterized as vibrant. Still other ecosystems in the world are growing faster, including those in some European cities. In the global top ten emerging ecosystems, we find Copenhagen in second place and Barcelona, Madrid, and Zurich in places 5, 8 and 9.

To detect possible vulnerabilities in the Amsterdam Delta startup ecosystem, analyzing of success factors of the 30 highest-ranked ecosystems in the report is informative. In terms of performance, Amsterdam's composite score is in a middle position (6 out of 10 points). In terms of funding, the position is good (8). In terms of market reach, the overall score is satisfactory (7): The Amsterdam Delta startups are primarily focused on global markets and score low on the local market. Like most European ecosystems, Amsterdam Delta scores excellent (9) in connectedness, which is related to its strength on the global market. In terms of talent, the overall score is satisfactory (7), but the components differ considerably. The quality of technology students and graduates is good, but their number is insufficient, resulting in high salary costs. The scalability of the Amsterdam startup ecosystem is also insufficient, due to a lack of experience, which keeps many startups small. The overall knowledge success is assessed as poor (1) because the number of life science patents is disappointing.

When assessing the success factors, it should be considered that the population of Amsterdam Delta is about 10% of the population of London, and in this perspective the need to improve the global 13th place is not urgent. On the contrary, understanding why the Amsterdam Delta is performing so well is more relevant than looking for opportunities to improve it.

The explanation of Amsterdam's success has its roots in the fundamental strength of the Netherlands as a whole, which has at least ten other vibrant startup ecosystems. Against this background, one might be curious about the Global Startup Ecosystem ranking of the Randstad, including Eindhoven as a whole. According to the report, the strength of the Netherlands is its well-educated population, international orientation and English proficiency, excellent infrastructure, an 'extremely high quality of life' and business-friendly laws. Amsterdam is also the headquarters of many international companies, a large pool of potential startup founders.

In a next post, I will focus on Amsterdam's policy towards startups and evaluate whether a higher ranking is within reach or whether more qualitative objectives are preferable, taken into account the considerations in a former post on the Amsterdam Smart City website.

I will regularly share ‘snapshots’ of the challenge of bringing socially and ecologically sustainable cities closer using technology if useful. These posts represent findings, updates, and additions to my e-book Humane cities. Always humane. Smart if helpful. The English version of this book can be downloaded for free below.

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Herman van den Bosch, professor in management development , posted

Barcelona and Madrid: Forerunners in e-governance

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Barcelona is one of the oldest examples of a city that deploys technology as part of its government. Sensor networks have been producing an array of data on transport, energy usage, noise levels, irrigation, and many other topics without having much impact on the life of citizens or solving the underlying problems.

In 2015, Francesca Bria, chief technology, together with mayor Ada Colau started to reverse the smart city paradigm: Instead of starting from technology and extracting all the data we started aligning the tech agenda with the agenda of the cityshe said.

One of the first challenges was using technology to increase ordinary citizen’s impact on policy. A group of civic-minded coders and cryptographers created a brand-new participatory platform, Decidem (which means We Decide in Catalan). For more information watch the video below.

Spain offers more inspiring examples. The city of Madrid has also created a participatory citizen platform, not for chance called Decide Madrid, which is in many respects comparable with Decidem, as this short video demonstrates.

The most important features of both platforms are:

Active participation in policy making
Citizens are stimulated to suggest ideas, debating them, and vote. In Barcelona, more than 40.000 citizens have suggested proposals, which form 70% of the agenda of the city administration. The most frequently mentioned concerns are affordable housing, clean energy, air quality and the public space.
The Municipal Action Plan of Barcelona includes almost 7,000 proposals from citizens. Decidem enables citizens to monitor the state of implementation of each of them to increase citizen’s engagement.

Debating
Decide Madrid and Decidem emphasize the value of being informed as starting point for deliberation. Citizens can start discussions on their own and participate in threaded discussions started by others.
As soon as citizens feel informed and have exchanged opinions voting can start. Both Decide Madrid as Decidemhave a space where citizens can make proposals and seeks support. Proposals that reach enough support are prepared for voting. These votes generally are advising the city council.

Policy preparation
Decide Madrid enables citizens amendment legislative texts. The public is allowed to commend any part of it and to suggest alternatives. This also might result in discussions and the suggestions are used to improve the formulations.

Data governance
Decidem and Decide Madrid are also data portals that show data that have been collected in the city, partly on citizens themselves. Decidem has the intention, because of its participation in the European project Decode to enable citizens to control the use of data of their own for specific purposes.

Hybrid solutions
As not every citizen has a computer or is skilled to use the Internet platforms, both cities combine virtual discussions and discussion in a physical space.

It is not only the traditional rivalry between Barcelona and Madrid that has inspired the development of two comparable systems, independently from each other. It is also the fact that the Spanish people had to fight for democracy until rather recently. Democratic institutions that have long existed in many other countries had to be reinvented, but with a 20th-century twist.

The community of Madrid has developed Decide Madrid together with CONSUL, a Madrid-based company. CONSUL enables cities to develop citizen participation on the Internet quickly and save. The package is very comprehensive. The software and its use are free. CONSUL can be adjusted by each organization to meet its own needs. As a result, Consul is in use in 130 cities and organizations in 33 countries (see the map above) and reaches out around 90 million citizens worldwide.

In contrast with e-Estonia, the topic of a former post, the footing of Decidem and Decide Madrid is enabling citizens to make their voice heard and to participate in decision-making. Both cities offer excellent examples of e-governance. e-Governance reflects the mutual communication between municipal authorities and citizens using digital tools to align decision making with the needs and wants of citizens. Instead, the intention of e-Estonia is to improve the efficiency of the operation of the state.  Both aims are complementary.

I will regularly share ‘snapshots’ of the challenge of bringing socially and ecologically sustainable cities closer using technology if useful. These posts represent findings, updates, and additions to my e-book Humane cities. Always humane. Smart if helpful. The English version of this book can be downloaded for free below.

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