Netwerkdiscussie: Smart Cities and Public Values

John van de Pas
Jan 22, 2019 · 6 min read
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In Smart Cities, digital technologies developed by tech companies are applied. These services are usually based upon business cases, in which commercial or economic considerations prevail. However, in a triple helix context other goals are equally relevant, making it imperative for digital city services to support and further public values.

illem van Winden, professor of Urban Economic studies at the University of applied Sciences Amsterdam, interviews professor Alessia Neuroni, deputy head of the E-Government Institute at Bern University of Applied Sciences.

Willem: “What is your definition of Smart Cities?”

Alessia: “A city must enhance quality of life and provide benefits to the people living and working there. The main goal of a city is to find an efficient way to manage the challenges arising from tensions between environmental, economic, and social conditions. A Smart City addresses society’s most pressing problems with new forms of problem identification, gathering of information and service delivery. Data-based decision-making, problem-solving and service delivery increasingly become core competences of public authorities in the digital society.”

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“What makes a city smarter? As Dameri suggests, it is about the creation of public value. Creating it with citizens, open the service delivery and decision-making process makes a modern city smarter. However, local governments often struggle with how to systematically incorporate public value thinking into their decision-making practices.”

“Furthermore, resilience competencies of a city become more and more relevant. Such cities take into consideration appropriate forms and infrastructure to be prepared for a physical, social, and economic challenges. It is not just about a robust disaster defence, it is also about social cohesion.”

“A Smart City deals with its challenges with modern technologies, social innovation and users’ centricity approaches. It is open and ready for change and transformation.”

Willem: “What is your definition of smart citizens?”

Alessia: “I do not use this term, it seems to me too pleonastic. Citizens are smart: I chose to live in Zürich because it offers a good quality of life. Technology meets participation opportunities: you expect digital infrastructure and the right to participate to contribute maintaining the quality of life. If it does not fit anymore, you change. Nowadays, citizens are not anchored anymore and — at least, I observe the trend in Switzerland — are very active in their neighbourhoods (e.g. school system, helping elderly).”

Willem: “Which Smart City is your ‘ideal’ Smart City?”

Alessia: “I do not support a merely technocratic approach. We use ICT to enable organizations and citizens. I have sympathy for the Catalan approach in Barcelona. They focus on transformation, innovation, and empowerment. I like it, very much.”

Willem: “Which thinker is inspiring for you, regarding Smart Cities?”

Alessia: “Well, in the core, I am a public sector transformation researcher. I recommend all authors seeking for the public value creation (e.g. Moore, Meynhardt). The idea behind this concept is that it is not just about efficiency and effectiveness. Thus, it is also about contributing to the common good, about increasing the quality of life, about creating a value for citizens and a wide range of other stakeholders, especially when market mechanisms are unable to guarantee the service production, as, e.g., for public transportation or public health infrastructures or in the education system. The approach provides an alternative for thinking about government activities, policy formulation, and service delivery, emphasizing collective preferences and expectations.”

“As a researcher dealing with the question ‘what does the state in the future look like?’ I have a particular suggestion, that accompanied me all this years. ‘Dialectic of Enlightenment’ by Horkheimer and Adorno works also for Smart Cities — we need to avoid dialectic developments. Especially on the local level — there, where public services are vital for citizens.”

Willem: “What should be the role of citizens in the Smart City?”

Alessia: An active one. A critique one. An avant-garde one. A holistic one.”

Willem: “Which publication/TEDTalk would you recommend?”

Alessia: There are not so many TEDTalks on Smart Cities. I would suggest Robert Muggah’s one on the biggest risks facing cities — and some solutions. I am Swiss. Our big cities are small ones (not more than half million citizens). It is inspiring watching people dealing with challenges in metropolis in south America.”

Willem: “Can you describe your Smart City research approach? What is your focus, what are the main questions and methods?”

Alessia: In our team at the E-Government Institute we have different foci in this area — from the conceptualization and realization of an IoT-platform to the support of the strategy development process.”

“As mentioned above, we are interested in creating public value. To model the public value creation, we suggest using an ecosystem approach and address the value proposition from different perspectives: (a) the different given strengths and weaknesses of the city, (b) people, processes and infrastructures as enablers and challenges in the ecosystem, as well as (c) the existing public policy that determines the political commitment, shows power structures and defines activity foci.”

“The Smart City framework for public value creation regards four assessment areas: city peculiarities, city ecosystem, city strategy and public value. Each area includes different criteria with relevant manifestations. The idea is to have reference points and information on framework conditions, relationships and networks, as well as politics.”

Willem:How do you collaborate with municipalities, companies and or utilities in Smart City projects?”

Alessia: We do strongly believe that applied research can have a stronger impact in a “triple helix context”, meaning in a context, where public sector, industry, and academia can work together. We do not conduct big R&D-projects without a significant collaboration with cities and enterprises.”

Willem: “What are the main challenges/difficulties?”

Alessia: “Funding. Once started: Making sure that the project creates an added value for the city and provides concrete benefits to the people living and working there. Once finished: Ensuring the continuity of the service. Sustainability is in my opinion one of the biggest difficulties.”

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Willem: “Are there platforms/communities of Smart City researchers and/or practitioners in which you participate?”

Alessia: “I track passively the European activities in the Digital Single Market and the local offline initiatives here in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.”

Willem: “How would you see the role of Universities of Applied Sciences in Smart City research in Switzerland?”

Alessia: “Smart City is about public sector transformation in the digital society. It is about develop competencies that enable municipalities, citizens, and companies. It requires a good combination of knowledge, ability and willingness of all participants. I see the role of academia in fostering such competencies.”

Willem: “What could be the value added of universities/knowledge institutes in creating useful and acceptable applications, and how can it be improved?”

Alessia: “Designing and implementing smart services contribute to improving the quality of life in a concrete municipality and help promote it as an attractive location (catalysator) for living and for doing business. Diffusion of best practices is a well-established mechanism in this area. The collaboration between research and knowledge institutes and municipalities and/or enterprises emphasizes the impact of such activities.”

“Public value creation is not just about efficiency and effectiveness. It is also about contributing to the common good, about increasing the quality of life, about creating a value for citizens and a wide range of other stakeholders, especially when market mechanisms are unable to guarantee the service production.” (Alessia Neuroni, Professor, deputy head of the E-Government Institute at Bern University of Applied Sciences)

Platform Smart Cities & Citizens

Het platform Smart Cities & Citizens brengt onderzoekers…

John van de Pas

Written by

Editor, researcher, teacher @Saxion University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands

Platform Smart Cities & Citizens

Het platform Smart Cities & Citizens brengt onderzoekers van HBO-instellingen, stedelijke actoren en vertegenwoordigers van kennisinstellingen en kennisnetwerken samen. Het sluit aan op ambities van de topsectoren HTSM en Creatieve Industrie.

John van de Pas

Written by

Editor, researcher, teacher @Saxion University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands

Platform Smart Cities & Citizens

Het platform Smart Cities & Citizens brengt onderzoekers van HBO-instellingen, stedelijke actoren en vertegenwoordigers van kennisinstellingen en kennisnetwerken samen. Het sluit aan op ambities van de topsectoren HTSM en Creatieve Industrie.

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