The 15th episode of the Better cities - The contribution of digital technology- series is about collaboration between Dutch cities within the City Deals in the Agenda stad en regio project.
Over the past years, the interest Dutch municipalities in digitization at urban level has increased, partly because of the initiating role of the VNG, G40, the Future City Foundation and forerunners such as Apeldoorn, Helmond, and Zwolle as well. Initially, these were small-scale and isolated projects. In this post, I'll discuss two projects that aim at scaling through collaboration.
A mission-driven approach to public sector projects
In her new book, Mission Economy, Mariana Mazzucato advocates a mission-driven approach to public sector projects at the local level in the way that a man was put on the moon. She refers at large-scale projects with a high degree of complexity, such as the energy transition, the construction of affordable housing, the well-being of the poor part of the population and the conservation of nature.
What is a mission-driven approach? At first, it includes an ambitious vision, followed by breaking down silos within the governmental organization, collaboration within the quadruple helix, and cooperation between higher and lower governments.
A mission-driven approach is appropriate for the major transitions facing the world and digitization as a part of these. The following pertains to a couple of projects that aim at such an approach. The first, Agenda city and region has been running for some time and will be dealt with extensively. The other is initiated by G40 will be discussed briefly.
Agenda stad and City deals
In Agenda city and region, cities, governments at different levels, companies, and organizations, including the VNG, G4, G40 and Platform31, work together to drive innovation in cities. The mission is summarized in SDG 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. The most important instrument are City Deals: collaborative ventures around a themes.
The first City Deals started in 2016, there are now 27, about half of which have been completed, but six new ones are about to start. 125 municipalities, 8 provinces, 9 ministries, 10 other government agencies, 5 water boards, more than 100 companies, 30 knowledge institutions and more than 20 other partnerships are involved. There are now 14 partnerships with municipalities outside the Netherlands.
Examples of City Deals are: Working and doing business across borders, cleantech, food on the urban agenda, local resilience against cybercrime, inner city building, the inclusive city, and smart city, that's how you do it. The latter will be discussed below.
Within a City Deal, the parties involved work together in their own way on concrete products, ranging from legislation to policy instruments. The main principles are:
- Formulating an ambition and a strategy.
- Enabling scaling through cooperation between and/or within (urban) regions.
- Realizing collaboration between public and private parties, including the central government
- Innovating by realizing new forms of problem-solving.
- Scaling up, also across national borders.
City Deals also work together and new deals are created from among them, such as ‘Smart customization', a new City Deal that arises from the existing City Deals 'Simple customization' and 'Smart city, that is how you do it'. If I had to imagine how a moonshot works, which I referred to in the introduction of this article, then Agenda city and region could be a good example.
City deal 'A smart city, this is how you do it'
The goal of this City Deal, as we read in the annual report, is to use digitization to tackle the major challenges facing Europe and the Netherlands, such as poverty, social cohesion, and insecurity, and to achieve a society in which everyone can live in freedom. 60 parties are now involved in this City Deal.
The aim is to change at least 12 processes by which regions, cities and towns are designed, organized, managed, and governed, and to make the most of the opportunities offered by digitization. The starting point is the existing practice and aimed at matching city’s demands.
The City Deal 'Smart city, this is how you do it', has 14 working groups. Each of those have chosen which a process to tackle, on the understanding that three municipalities must be prepared to test the results and can be scaled eventually. The City Deal 'A smart city, this is how you do it' has been underway for almost two years now, and the processes to be tackled have crystallized. In a few cases prototypes are ready, most are under development. Below is a brief description of the situation on November 15th, 2021. A lively description of some participants’ experience can be read in ROMmagazine, volume 39, no. 11.
1. Open urban data platform
This project is developing a procedure for tendering an open data platform, which is shareable and scalable, in which privacy and data autonomy are guaranteed and that offers sufficient precautions for cybersecurity. The result will be a step-by-step plan, in which technical questions (what it will looks like), legal questions (who is the owner) and financial questions (funding) are discussed.
2. Cookbook for effective data strategy
This project develops a procedure for the acquisition and storage of data. A 'data cookbook' has been developed that supports the collection, storage, and application of data. It offers an 11-step plan from the formulation of a measurable questions to the interpretation of the measurement results. It accentuates the importance to make explicit the assumptions behind the selection of data. The usability of the steps is tested in practice. A first concept can be found here.
3. Smart initiatives test
The aim of this project is to allow initiators (citizens, companies) to make optimal use of available public data, including those that will be provided by the DSO (digitaal stelsel omgevingswet). The DSO will provide information about which rules apply at a specific location and ultimately also about the quality of the physical living environment itself. Ideally, the ‘smart initiatives test’ will collect and optimize all data needed for a plan. The project group is currently investigating which types of (geo) data users need most ('usercases').
4. Sensor data and privacy
The aim of the project is to develop a tool that allows a municipality to tender for the installation of sensors that exactly match the type of data that will be collected and that consider ethical questions and GDPR rules.
5. Design of the new city
The growing availability of various types of (real-time) data, for example about air quality and noise pollution) has implications for the way in which cities and neighborhoods are developed. The working group is developing a canvas that functions as a ‘translator' of available data. The starting point for its development was a matrix with as inputs the phases of the design process (initiative, design and realization phase) and the area type (urban, Randstad and suburban area). This matrix must indicate which data is needed at what time. The usability will be tested through pilots.
6. Everyone (and everything) a sensor
Citizen measurement initiatives (via telephones and with sensors attached to bicycles, cars, and homes) have a double goal: to increase citizen’s involvement and to improve the insight into living environment of those who execute the measurement. It can also contribute to behavioral change, especially if the measurements match the needs of residents and they are also involved in the interpretation of the results. The working group is striving for a roadmap based on several user cases.
7. Local measurement: comparing projects
Measuring data locally – as was done in the previous project – may be redundant if data from elsewhere is available. In that case, comparability is required with data being searched for and standardization is needed to enable such a comparison. However, standardization can lead to mistrust and remove the incentive for resident groups to get started themselves. Ultimately, the working group opts for the development of a self-service portal, which will be developed together with the Healthy Urban Living Data and Knowledge Hub. Resident groups can then choose for themselves to participate in a standardized project that reads their measurement results directly or for a 'do-it-yourself' solution. A manual will be written for this last option.
Both projects are being further developed in collaboration with Eurocities, a network of 190 cities in 38 countries, under the name CitiMeasure - using citizen measurement to create smart, sustainable and inclusive cities.
8. Smart mobility: Towards a safe and sustainable city
Digitization in traffic has already taken off, for example by intelligent traffic systems (IVRIs), but usually the existing situation, for example private use of cars, is the starting point. The question is how to connect to the pursuit of a better quality of life. To this end, the working group has chosen three themes: better accessibility for emergency services, shared mobility, and city logistics.
A step-by-step plan is being developed for emergency services, with which municipalities can realize the necessary facilities to always priorize emergency vehicles – and possibly other target groups as well.
If everyone were to travel with the most suitable means of transport at that time (varying from walking, (shared) bicycle or scooter, public transport to (shared) car, private car use would decrease considerably and thus improve the quality of city live. Additionally, the working group is developing a 'map' to encourage shared mobility, which provides answers to all related questions.
Developments in city logistics are already taking place via other routes. Therefore, the contribution of the working group in this regard will be limited.
9. A business model for the smart city
New forms of collaboration between governments, the business community, knowledge institutions and citizens can result in new 'values' for areas, but also to the need to allocate costs and benefits in a different way. A new 'business model' may then be necessary. To this end, the working group is investigating the consequences for companies and organizations of entering partnerships for the successful development of products and services. This compared to more traditional client/contractor relationships.
10 Ethical Boards
Within the City Deal 'A smart city, this is how you do it', a rule is that digital instruments to be developed always comply with ethical principles. The implications of such principles are often situational. That is why municipalities are setting up an 'ethical board', which includes experts and residents. To support its work, the committee wants to create a knowledge platform that informs which ethical principles or tools suit best for different digitization projects.
11 Model Acquisition
Local authorities want to regulate the use of digital tools such as sensors in public spaces. Anita Nijboer, who works as a lawyer at Kennedy Van der Laan, who is also a partner of the City Deal 'Smart city, this is how you do it', has drawn up a model regulation for this purpose, which has already been tested in Rotterdam and Helmond. The most important learning effect is that departments within a municipality have fundamentally different view of the way in which these types of questions should be legally framed. In response to this, the working group is examining the question of whether a model regulation is an appropriate answer to obtaining consent for the use of digital tools.
12 Dealing with crowds in the city
Measuring (too large) crowds in parts of the city was a problem long before corona times. The aim is to develop a digital model ('digital twin') of the city - a so-called crowd safety manager - that provides real-time insight into pedestrian flows and concentrations. Such a model must also be able to communicate with people in the city. A prototype of a dashboard, developed by partner company Argaleo, is now being used in 's-Hertogenbosch, Breda and The Hague. This instrument does not use any personal data. It is being further developed at European level with external subsidies.
The instruments to be developed and existing instruments have been brought together via a website, the Toolbox. Other City Deals also develop knowledge, which is far from being systematically documented. That is why the best way to distribute this knowledge is investigated together with the Knowledge Lab for Urbanism.
G40: Smart sustainable urbanization
In March 2021, G40, the umbrella organization of 40 medium-sized municipalities, submitted a project proposal to promote digitalization and thus also create opportunities to the business community.
The project plan rejects the current approach of 'smart urbanization' and the realization of 'main social tasks'. Decentralization, broadening of tasks, narrowing of implementation funds and a fragmented central government policy have led to an impeding control gap and financing deficit in municipalities. Instead, a bundled approach is wanted, led by representatives of municipalities and central government, and the latter is being asked to invest € 1 billion.
When studying this plan, I was surprised by the absence of any reference to the activities of Agenda city and regioand the City Deals. Instead, one wonders whether Agenda city and region is the subject of criticism of the fragmented approach and G40 wants to get rid of it.
The strength of Agenda city and region is the cross connections between urban projects of all kinds, the involvement of citizens and intermunicipal cooperation. This is something to cherish.
In my opinion, G40 would be better off by ushering in a new phase of Agenda city and region, characterized by economies of scale and acceleration of the findings so far. The aims of this new phase could be consolidation of the cohesion between the themes of the individual City Deals within the framework of the major transitions facing the Netherlands. The theme of digitization thrives best in this context. After all, the ultimate value of digitization lies in the contribution to the energy transition, the reduction of traffic nuisance and the growth of a circular economy, to name a few examples. However, that requires a different plan.
In the meantime, I hope that in the foreseeable future we will be able to see the results of the working groups of the City Deal 'Smart city, this is how you do it', together with those of the other 'Deals'.
Follow the link below to find one of the previous episodes or see which episodes are next, and this one for the Dutch version.