HomeChannelsFundamentalsFour ways for smart cities to get innovation (‘co-creation’) on the cheap

Four ways for smart cities to get innovation (‘co-creation’) on the cheap

How do you make smart cities pay? One way is to reduce the cost of innovation, from the start, by inspiring and incentivising enterprises to collaborate on smart city solutions.

The rather woolly-sounding idea is to stimulate “value creation” around the role of technology in cities. Grass-roots innovation will stimulate the local economy, and augment the technological push. It is hardly new, but the thinking has been re-articulated by the City of Tampere, in southern Finland, in a new ‘smart city cookbook’, which outlines recipes for making cities smart.

“An effective business model needs to be capable of managing these partners from initial engagement, through to collaboration and creation of innovative smart city services. Such a model needs to ensure new businesses and partnerships flourish, supporting sustainable economic growth within a city,” the report says.

The only rule is to work more closely with the community, in an open act of collaborative creation (’co-creation’), and to keep in mind common goals around accessibility, effectiveness, and sustainability. Tampere outlines four engagement and co-creation tools to support collaboration with business and other partners, leading to innovation and investment opportunities.

1 | Hackathons

Hackathons represent the base-line for the smart-city rock opera – an urban tale of digital transformation, about going from the margins to the mainstream. Any city seeking to tap into its new digital roots, and its more youthful aspect, should be assembling community minded hackathons around city problems.

Tampere suggests they are organised around open city platforms, and challenge participants to develop ideas to leverage and enhance a platform’s capabilities. Academic and enterprise partners should be involved, to bring expertise and manage the transition from blueprint to application.

Importantly, ‘out-of-the-box’ inputs should be drawn from parallel fields – to bring to the boil a melting pot of ideas, which magics-up new discoveries. “Expertise drawn from outside of a technical focus area can lead to true innovation,” it says.

2 | Living labs

The idea of ‘living labs’ is for city agencies, private enterprises and citizens themselves to collaborate in a live research setting. The lab environment goes outside, and sets up camp in an operational environment, whether a town district, or a business park, or a shopping mall.

Ideas are conceived, tested, modified, and re-tested in a dynamic sample environment, in rapid fire simulations, which consider both performance and usage. The set-up works with the concept of ‘fast experiments’, says Tampere, where ideas are tested with users at the earliest possible stage.

“Effective co-creation involves testing of a prototype over a short period of time, to understand what works well and what doesn’t,” it says.

3 | Crowd-sourcing

Another effective means to cast around for light-bulb moments; crowd-sourcing presents a means to solve complex problems that are beyond a city’s, and indeed the smart-city collective’s, in-house capabilities. The objective is to source solutions and contributors from the crowd.

It’s a standard tactic, useful for cities in search of digital inspiration. A carrot is required; most crowd-sourcing exercises are run as challenge contests, with a winner and a prize at the end, typically leading to further development and commercialisation of their prototype.

“Such an approach is ideal for start-up businesses to grow with the success of a solution as it is piloted and then scaled up across cities and countries,” says Tampere.

4 | Inter-city collaboration

Sharing information between cities, about failures as well as successes, at International level as well as on national basis, is a part of the scene. An essential part of most EU funded programmes is they seek to establish a network of cities across the region to fund, trial and develop solutions.

Tampere says inter-city collaboration enables cities to share costs and experiment in a larger context. “This enables greater scalability for pilots at a national level – which in turn leads to improved interoperability and standards, shared platforms and costs, and increased potential for startup businesses to grow.”

That may be so, in theory, but it is arguable, at the same time, this sharing has not yet produced a definitive template for building smart cities. There is a busy conference circuit, and while libraries of best practices, and plenty of cook books, and yet every city is still seeking answers.

This is an excerpt and forerunner for a report and webinar, titled How to buy / sell a smart city – procurement models to make every city smart, to be published on November 5. Sign up to the Enterprise IoT Insights newsletter here to get the next instalment in the 5X5 series, updates about the report, and related news. Register for the webinar here to hear from speakers from AT&T, Cisco, the City of Cardiff, Cradlepoint and Navigant.

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