Citizen City – empower to co-create future cities

At FreeUp, we do quite some work with and for city governments. More and more cities face challenges that can not be solved in isolation. There is a need for engaging with society to create our cities’ futures. To find ways to tackle the challenges, cooperation is needed, not only with businesses and knowledge parters, but especially also with citizens. “Successful cities will be designed around the needs and desires of increasingly empowered and enabled citizens – who are expecting personalized services from the organisations that serve them.” (Future Agenda)

FreeUp is involved in an initiative called Citizen City. This initiative emerged within the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities (EIP-SCC), a program initiated by the European Commission several years ago. After a few years of conversation about Smart Cities the idea of focusing on citizens emerged, and from this the Citizen City initiative developed. There is a clear need in city governments to engage with citizens and broader society, but currently, government officials in cities tend to find it hard to involve citizens in discussions or in decision making. There are lots of methods and tools and knowledge ‘out there’ in the market, but project staff in cities don’t seem to find their way through the vasts amounts of information – and they don’t read 100 page reports to decide the best way to engage with the public.

Citizen City’s main deliverable will be recommendations to local authorities and cities on co-creation and co-design with citizens, based on a toolkit of best practices and success stories. Not by getting a big EC budget and spending it a few years to tell cities the answer… there is very limited funding, it is very much a bottom up, market driven environment. We are engaging with cities and stakeholders early in the process to help us create a solution that works for them; that addresses their needs and fits the real habits of how they work. Also, attention will be given to ways on how to involve vulnerable citizens, the less literate, elderly, youngsters, who are less likely to be included.

The Citizen City project is led by John Zib, a social entrepreneur originally from silicon valley, California, who has lived and worked in various places across the globe and is now based in Germany with his family. He made the connection with Liesbeth of FreeUp, as well as many other enthusiastic and entrepreneurial professionals from across Europe, all skilled and motivated to develop a future where co-creation with citizens becomes easier and natural to do.

Citizen City is holding a series of pan European 2-day design workshops. These will be highly facilitated events with minimal presentations. The focus is engaging with city authorities to understand the needs and habits for a useful useable toolkit. In June 2017, the first Citizen City design workshop took place in London, which Liesbeth co-facilitated together with Marie-Hélène Elleboudt of Faciliyo (Belgium) and Jose Barco of Community_CoLab (United Kingdom).

Collectively, we made the first exploratory toolkit-prototypes. These will be further developed into concept versions of a toolkit that will then be field tested in cities. The learning from the field testing will go into another series of design workshops. The process will be repeated and the solution will evolve. The goal is to make a scalable toolkit that has a positive impact on inclusive society.

This toolkit will be an extension and implementation of the EIP-SCC Manifesto on Citizen Engagement, created by the Citizen Focus action cluster. It has been endorsed by more than 120 public and private sectors representatives with input from more than 50 stakeholders contributing to shape its contents.

“Get Crazy, Get Naked, Get High. We want you to leave your egos at the door and open your minds to helping us build a solution for city authorities to engage with society in a positive inclusive approach to building a better city.” (John Zib – part of his opening statement for the Citizen City design workshop in June 2017)