Open Innovation

A call to arms ! Cities should invest in Civic Tech Accelerators & Marketplaces !



Traditionally there is only one reason for the public sector to invest in projects, we call it market failure and basically means two things: (i) it is not happening, the market doesn’t provide it naturally and/or (ii) the benefits of doing it outweigh its costs, normally here we evaluate also social benefits and externalities. So far economics 101.

Cities dream on reproducing the wealth of apps that we enjoy in the private space in the social and civic sector. Wouldn’t be great if our city engages in a discussion the way we do in facebook or public services were as easy and efficient as Amazon is?

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Citie – A Smart City Ranking that you should use !

CitieFrameworkOh no !!!! One more Smart City ranking !!!!!

Who didn’t think lately this when confronted with another Smart City ranking? Indeed, in the last years, in spite of the lack of indicators, it has been an explosion of smart city rankings attempting to bring something new to the table.

However, two main problems plague Smart City rankings.

First, the lack of data. There is little data at city level and therefore you have to resort to interviews, self-declared assessments or use national or at most regional data, which makes non-sense for individual cities. Also, there isn’t any data that could allow a fair comparison of city initiatives. Again surveys take the main role and with them a very subjective view, if not bias, of the impact and worth of these initiatives.

Secondly, the polyhedric nature of the concept. Smart City is usually defined by its impact in many areas ranging from resilience to citizen participation or economic growth. Having cities different priorities it seems logical that they push in different directions. How can you compare them? The classical example refers to new cities recently build versus the old ones where many infrastructures cannot be changed. They obviously confront very different priorities.

When in spite of these difficulties you attempt to produce an index, any index, comes the question of usefulness. What is its contribution? Rank the efforts that cities do around Smart Cities, why is this useful?

Most of them rank existing assets in the different categories of the index, which honestly adds little not only to our understanding but in terms of guiding political action.

Once you gave up comparing potatoes with oranges, resilience with citizen participation or the rise of the sharing economy, the idea of a ranking that can provide a framework that could orientate Smart City initiatives can certainly be of some interest.

Very recently (June 2015), Nesta, Accentrue and Catapult have produced one of these: Citie that aims to rank city initiatives for technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. Citie doesn’t cover the whole spectrum of Smart Cities but maybe its most interesting part because it talks about growth and these days we all need growth, don’t we?

I am sure that you want to know the winners first 🙂

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Do cities need one more hackathon?



These days apps4Europe ( is ending. In the last 3 years apps4Europe tried to redefine the dynamic of hackathons making them more effective resulting in more and better apps putting into practice concepts such as the Business Lounge. This is the last of a series of European projects (Open Cities, Commons 4 Europe, CitySDK, apps4Europe, …) aimed at transforming cities into ecosystems where app services were provided not by the cities themselves but by developers and startups. It is therefore time for a reflection.

Over the past years European cities promoted lots of hackathons with the hope of fostering the development of city & civic apps. Hackathons have become a staple in cities’ policies with the ambition of promoting the development of a tech ecosystem.

However, very few startups graduated from this process and for the ones who did you can argue to what extend hackathons have been a decisive factor. Moreover, if we look at the apps that we have installed in our smartphones and we normally use, only very rarely we can find one resulting from this process. None is in the list of top 100 either.

Therefore, confronting results with the ambition it is hard to argue that we got far away with this strategy and it becomes pretty obvious that we have to rethink the whole process, because … it has not been working and it is not working. And in this case, it has not been that we didn’t try, we did and we did a lot.

In spite of this evidence however, cities continue investing in hackathons. It seems quite reasonable to ask us why is this happening and to what extent this is the best possible move.

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Smart Cities y Infraestructuras Invisibles


Siempre que pensamos en infraestructuras pensamos en aeropuertos, lineas de AVE, autopistas, elementos que generalmente nos permiten conectarnos y conectar. Cuando nos referimos a las infraestructuras de la sociedad de la información, inevitablemente hablaremos de redes de fibra, redes de wifi, … también estamos hablando de conectar. Pero, ¿son éstas las únicas infraestructuras que ha creado este mundo de Internet? Quizás no …

Pensemos en un problema sencillo y como se le ha dado solución a lo largo de la historia: los taxis. Se trata de un problema de coordinación sencillo, taxistas que buscan clientes con clientes que necesitan un taxi. Inicialmente, y aún hoy en ciudades pequeñas, la única forma de conseguir un taxi es llamar por teléfono y concertar hora y lugar. En situaciones de demanda pequeña, esto funciona bien, aunque no deja de ser una lata para turistas y viajeros poco familiarizados con el lugar. Si la demanda crece y hay más taxis, aparece un nuevo sistema de coordinación. Los taxis dan vueltas alrededor de las zonas más concurridas y los viajeros los llaman alzando la mano. Funciona bien para zonas concurridas aunque es poco eficiente, pues genera tráfico innecesario, polución, desperdicia combustible y desprecia las zonas de baja demanda.

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Entrepreneurial Cities should become Urban Labs

illuminatedminds-labs-urbanRemember the days when Nokia and Motorola owned the phone market? They are not so distant, only a few years ago. Yet how many of you have a Moto or a Nokia now? Let me guess: none!

If you are sceptical about the power of innovation for shaping markets and destroying fortunes, these two examples are a reminder of how fast things can go. But they tell us more; they describe a change in the way we compete.

Not so long ago, firms competed on price. In a way all societies started here, taking advantage of low wages, natural resources or any other factor that might provide a sustainable advantage, difficult to replicate. As we know now, these advantages were far from sustainable. Low wage countries, if successful, became richer, raising wages. Shifts in extraction technology, such as fracking, made extraction advantages less relevant, and so on. So, let’s forget about sustainable, ok?

Competing on innovation needs early adopters, experimentation and fast market validation of proposals.

Productivity replaced low costs as the main form of competition. Knowledge became the new buzzword. Nowadays however, knowledge is everywhere and while some sectors strive to maintain their knowledge advantage, engineers in India or China have become just as competent as their rivals in Europe or America, and with them the productivity level of these different societies is levelling out.

We are no longer competing on productivity. Some of the biggest, most thriving companies such as Apple, Google, Airbnb, Tesla, Facebook, GE, Amazon and Apdo still compete on productivity of course, but they earn their huge surplus and tremendous market share from innovation. They compete not on making similar things more efficiently but on transforming the world with completely new products and services.

This Copernican change in the way we compete has huge implications.


Innovation – We need better tools !


We all experienced this frustration, anybody familiar with the field knows it. We live in a hyperconnected world where form and function merges, interaction is key and the action is  in ecosystems and networks.

However, we enter this world equipped with brainstorming techniques popularized by Osborn in the 50s, ethnographic journeys that we borrowed from anthropology, focus groups and user interviews that we stole from ethnography and marketing and yes, lots of post-its and crude prototypes that work well as a starting point for a conversation but probably not much more.

Tools thought for capturing user needs and user feedback on products and services already known by users or that users could easily imagine, and  we try to apply them to develop radically new proposals. How many times in the midst of this process you remembered Henry’s Ford quote: if I had asked people what they wanted they would have said faster horses ?

It just doesn’t work !

Todays’ proposals need to invent new business models, take advantage of network effects in on-line ecosystems, create virtual infrastructures … and the tools that we are using were aimed at developing physical products and services … they help little, face it.

Where is the future? We know is here,, although not evenly distributed. Then where is the future of innovation tools? If we look at the software industry we will see a very different scenario. Lots of experimentation but not with crude prototypes but real products in the real world using statistical tools such as A/B testing. Capturing user feedback with platforms such as Kickstart where people back their opinions with their money. Lot’s of co-creation, in open source, not with ideas, but writing code.Jim Barksdale the former CEO of Netscape summarized it pretty well: If we have data, let’s use data, if all we have are opinions will go with mine !

The software industry shows us the way: data, real data. However, this is only one half of the story. We need more than data certainly, but  we also need frameworks where to fit it. Frameworks that could help us in understanding business models, growth models, networking effects in ecosystems and networks …

We need better tools !


¿Por qué necesitamos Living Labs?


Allá por el 2010 los Living Labs estaban en auge y ciudades pequeñas o grandes de todo el mundo pugnaban por disponer de uno. Como veis en el gráfico adjunto, aquello pasó, ya no es el caso. Después de cerca de 10 años de Living Labs es hora de hacer balance, pero éste no es un artículo tan ambicioso, sólo quiero aproximarme a una pregunta simple: ¿Necesitamos Living Labs?

Pero, ¿qué es eso de los Living Labs? Parecen una de esas cosas de las que todo el mundo habla pero cuestan de precisar, de concretar y no digamos de poner ejemplos de éxito. La primera impresión que nos viene a la cabeza no es desacertada: laboratorios vivientes, convertir las ciudades en laboratorios donde se experimente con nuevas cosas junto con los ciudadanos y así convertir nuestras sociedades en más innovadoras- yeah ! Sencillo ¿no?

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