IDP2015 (II). Wim Vanobberghen: The Politics of Governance, Citizen Participation and the City: is the smart revolution on its way?

Notes from the 11th Internet, Law and Politics Congress: Regulating Smart Cities, organized by the Open University of Catalonia, School of Law and Political Science, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 2-3 July 2015. More notes on this event: idp2015.

The Politics of Governance, Citizen Participation and the City: is the smart revolution on its way?
Wim Vanobberghen. Researcher, iMinds-SMIT (Vrije Universiteit Brussel).

The smart city should be a citizen platform to bring all the actors involved in the city together.

Top-down vision is important because of policy, regulation, governance and businesses can provide a level playing field an set the rules of the game; and they seek efficiency gains in light of sustainability issues. However, this vision entails issues and questions: on control; on technological centeredness; on the status of citizens, which are seen as consumers and passive innovators, in citizens’ consultation in design only in the last phase; or turning the smart city as an “achievement” in itself.

Bottom-up vision: the smartest cities are the ones that embrace openness, randomness and serendipity — everything that makes a great city (Greg Lindsay, 2011); embrace complexity; attention to local innovation. However, this vision entail issues on scalability, long-term vision and barriers and incentives to entry.

Smart cities as a platform: collaborative, contextual, collective (Breuer, Walravens & Ballon, 2014, Beyond defining the smart city: meeting top-down and bottom-up appraoches in the middle).

The living lab definition: a real-life test and experimentation environment; where users and produces co-create, test and validate innovations; in a trusted, open ecosystem that enables service and business innovation. Characteristics of living labs: exploration/idea, experimentation/prototype, evaluation/minimum viable product.

From ICT to urban living labs: adaptation of living lab to smart city service delivery; focus more on public value than economic value as in traditional ICT-living labs; the user here confronted directly as citizens with his environment (“sense of place”); the city as an enabler: vision, allocate resources, strategic leaderhip, promote networking (Juujärvi & Pesso, 2013).

Governance and citizen participation:

  • ‘Participatory turn’ in media technologies: online, collaborative platforms on the Internet (e.g. social networking sites); blurring of ‘production and consumption’ practices.
  • Since recent years, open government practices in (smart) cities: creating thematic portals with open government data; facilitating citizens in the production of (local) information and services; supported by institutional-provided toolkits.

Research on how two local city administrations (Ghent, Athens) can facilitate and optimize citizen involvement in the co-production of city services (tourism, transportation).

To what extent is this citizen involvement a revolution? ICTs in the city present great opportunities:

  • Active citizenship.
  • Creative communities.
  • The city as a process of collective production and co-design.


Ismael Peña-López: you presented a view where smart cities and new social movements are complementary one to another, instead of the usual confrontational approach where new social movements frontally oppose to the concept of smart city. Why do you think it is so? Wim Vanobberghen: there surely is an ideological opposition from social movements to what they see it is a mostly technological and business fostered initiative, instead of seeing it as a piece related to community building and technology appropriation. Of course, the bias towards financial sustainability that city councils have is also opposed to a more communitarian point of view led by social movements.


11th Internet, Law and Politics Conference (2015)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2015) “IDP2015 (II). Wim Vanobberghen: The Politics of Governance, Citizen Participation and the City: is the smart revolution on its way?” In ICTlogy, #142, July 2015. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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