Policies on Innovation & Smart Cities

Open Data is not working – how to fix it?


Last April we organised together with the CTTI –  Generalitat of Catalonia (our regional gov) a workshop on Open Data. We have been working intensively on the subject for quite some years resulting in some papers, projects and a special article in the Communications of the ACM that will appear soon. We wanted to share our work with the Open Data community in Catalonia.

Since the early days when Marta Continente stablished the first Open Data portals in Catalonia we have witnessed an explosion an explosion of initiatives around Open Data. Lot’s of cities have their own Open Data portal with the ambition of ensuring transparency and stimulating the provision of services by third parties. Our reality though is not so different than the one in many other places, the scale and maybe the level of commitment is different, however results are mostly in the same line.

As in many other places, outcomes are a poor match for the vision, at most. Maybe it is time to acknowledge that Open Data is not working the way we expected and needs to be fixed.

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The rise of Citypreneurs



Entrepreneurship is back to cities, the evidence is clear, the action is no longer in tech clusters, but in the middle of cities such as New York, San Francisco, Boston, Austin, London or Berlin.

The ones that are not fully convinced of this transformation may take a look at the data. Martin Prosperity Institute whose director is Richard Florida released last year a study called “Startup City” that shows this trend of venture capital shifting from clusters in the outskirts of cities to metro areas.

Even further, together with seemingly traditional startups that Florida describes in his study we can find new forms and spaces of work such as co-working spaces, new ways of learning like Developer Bootcamps and MOOCs and new forms of incubation such as accelerators. All these three elements configure not only a changing landscape for the startup process and the policies that support it but also challenge our understanding of the concept of work.

Industry clusters were introduced in the 90’s by Michael Porter in his book The Competitive Advantage of Nations. Since then, the idea of cluster has dominated policy. Do these new developments mean that the concept of clusters and its resulting policies are now outdated? and if so, what are the implications?

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El Futuro del eGovernment



Hará cosa de un año asistí a la presentación de la nueva estrategia de eGov de una de las ciudades líderes en Smart Cities. Allí, lo primero que se abordó fue la necesidad de un replanteamiento de la estrategia en base a lo mucho que había cambiado el mundo Digital, desde la presencia web como eje central, al multi-canal, multi-pantalla. De cómo, especialmente las nuevas generaciones, dividen su atención entre varias pantallas y como desde la estructura de comunicación de la ciudad era necesario acomodarse a esta nueva realidad.

Finalmente, la propuesta se expresaba en forma de metáfora. ¿No sería fantástico tener todos los servicios de la ciudad disponibles en el móvil? ¡ La ciudad en tu móvil !

Las metáforas son elementos de comunicación muy poderosos. Nuestras habilidades como especie se singularizan en lo visual, de ello que las metáforas visuales sean no sólo las más recordadas sino también las que tienen una mayor capacidad de cautivar nuestra imaginación.

Sin embargo, para que todo esto suceda, éstas deben ser nuevas, no haber sido incorporadas a nuestra vida, no formar parte de lo cotidiano. Y en esa ocasión, buena parte de la audiencia estaba contestando mails con el móvil, haciendo tweets o mirando su Facebook …

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The future of eGov .-



Last year I attended a presentation of what it was supposed to be the new eGov strategy of a major Smart City. They presented to us the motivation, how much technology has changed from a web presence to multi-channel, multi-screen. How people now look at more than one screen at the same time – do you have friends working in marketing? Then you know it ! – how cities have to keep up with these developments …

Underlying the presentation was a message expressed in the form of a metaphor: Wouldn’t it be nice if all city services were available in your mobile? The whole city services in your smartphone! The city-hall in your pocket !

Metaphors are always compelling! Our abilities as a specie are dramatically skewed towards visual representations which makes visual metaphors extremely easy to grasp and capable of mobilizing our imagination.  However, for this to happen they must be new, they should not be already incorporate into our lives. And, let me tell you, everybody was checking Facebook and twitter during this presentation …

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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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Smart Cities 2.0: Cities of & for the people !!!


We are witnessing a transition point, a moment of change in the understanding of what a Smart City is.

Until very recently the predominant vision of a Smart Cities was defined around the use of centralized technology to aggregate information and manage cities more efficiently. The epitome of this perspective materialized with the command and control center. A centralized hearth and brains for cities that allow them to presumably manage almost everything more efficiently.

However, there was a big problem with this conception, a city is not a machine but a social structure made by and for citizens. Traffic, congestion and energy consumption matters, no doubt, but what matters most is how dynamic, fair, active, alive, entrepreneur and happy a cities and their citizens are. All of this has little to do with this vision of a centralized command and control center.

There is now a comeback to the basics: citizens and cities as the place for social interaction. The Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN), a peer to peer network of local government professionals from over 120 cities across the US and Canada comprising cities such as Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, Vancouver, etc., recently published a study Getting Smart About Smart Cities promoting the idea of Smart Cities 2.0 as putting “people first” and stressing the idea of technology as a tool to use in the service of citizens.

The idea is not really new. If you take a look at the Smart Cities projects in Europe you will find many going in this direction. Probably they were not as visible as the ones being backed by the industry but they are there.

However the devil, like in many occasions, hides behind the implementation. Implementing a centralized tech oriented view of Smart Cities is fairly easy, you can borrow decades of experience on developing technological systems and apply them, it is complicated, but not really complex.

However, using IT for redefining social interaction is in many ways, terra incognita.

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Do we want a Digital Government & a tech cluster in our Cities? The 3 essentials

Governments can do a lot, no doubt, we can have a long list of policies to implement and all of them are important, from tax policy to changing procurement. However, many times is important to reflect on the essentials. Are we on line? Do we have what is needed? Are we focus? So I wanted to share what I think are the essentials, the key things that we should do:


1.- Techies in the Gov.  It may sound obvious but it is not. If you are in a meeting for tech policy and you ask who knows how to program and still programs and you don’t get lots of hands raised, you have a very serious problem because you are among people who probably don’t really understand what they are talking about. We need to inject techies in the gov if you want to change it. Estonia is the most advanced eGov country in Europe, nobody has more Open Datasets than the US, and all this cannot be understood without the people in charge in the government.

2.- Build a community.  Groups need an identity if they want to function as such. The tech transformation of New York cannot be understood without Meetup. But not all instruments are equal, hackatons are competitions and don’t build a community as much as meetups, co-working spaces, Startup Saturdays, Unconferences, … Help to build a community and listen to it, give them a voice.

3.- Opportunities for techies.  If you are the most brilliant programmer + UX guru, is your gov able and wiling to take advantage of your capacity? Govs need a higher absorptive capacity if they want stay on top and groups need opportunities to flourish. Without opportunities, talent is not going to come neither to stay. For governments this implies to change the hiring and procurement policies, to establish a Digital Service emulating what the US and other countries did.

These three things are easy to check. For the first one just count. How many techies, particularly the new generation who program in python, ruby, node, Julia, hadoop, spark, … For the other two, imagine that you are a good techie coming from another country, how easy is for you to integrate in the community and make a living?

Geeks in the Gov !!!


photo: Fast Company

¿No seria fantástico que la administración fuese un ecosistema tan innovador y dinámico como Silicon Valley? Que las aplicaciones que dispusiéramos en lo público fuesen del estilo de whatsapp, Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, etc.

Aunque los gobiernos han sido los responsables de muchas de las innovaciones de las que disfrutamos, especialmente de iniciarlas, la realidad es otra. Sin ir más lejos, hoy al renovar el pasaporte no he podido evitar oir una conversación en la que se comentaba que la aplicación se cuelga regularmente por lo que hay que salir y volver a entrar. Lo que llama la atención, no es que suceda, sino que se acepte con la normalidad de lo inevitable.

Este no es un tema menor, unas aplicaciones mejores pueden cambiar de una manera radical no sólo la calidad de servicio de los gobiernos sino la forma en que éste se presta. De manera que, cambiar las aplicaciones – la interficie entre los ciudadanos y la administración – se convierte en el camino más corto, en la forma más fácil de cambiar la administración, de hackearla.

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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 (http://www.appsforeurope.eu) 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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