Veronica Bluguermann has recently joined Citymart.com as an Early Stage Researcher under DESMA program, an Initial Training Network in the area of Design Management funded by the European Commission’s Marie Curie Actions. Veronica’s work will be focused on research and service development for engaging citizens in the procurement process through Citymart.com platform.
A new opportunity for empowering citizens
Currently, cities don’t have a process in place to involve citizens in the procurement process nor handle unsolicited proposals. It means that citizens cannot participate in prioritizing needs, taking part in discovering, evaluating and selecting possible solutions. Citymart.com is a platform that offers an opportunity to engage and empower citizens in the procurement process to ensure that an implemented solution is the best that fulfill their needs. City representatives might be well aware of their local problems but citizens are the ones who know best in order to articulate and prioritize problems; they can help to reduce risk by sharing decisions; they can find better solutions or co-create new ones; they can evaluate solutions and provide feedback for improvements; they can bring new roles for co-financing, creating / sharing data. Involving citizens would also benefit solution providers: Companies could improve their products and service to targeted citizens; and citizens can raise interest on the authorities to implement a solutions they consider a priority (which would help a company to reach the market)
What does Citizen Engagement mean?
The process of citizen engagement has been defined as the “ability and incentive for ordinary people to come together, deliberate, and take action on problems or issues that they themselves have defined as important” . Citizen participation is often used for gaining information, assistance and support from citizens, but does not necessarily stress citizen engagement . Research has shown that effective citizen engagement can foster a sense of community, engender trust, enhance creative problem solving, and even increase the likelihood that citizens will support financial investments in community projects. In any of their interactions with citizens, local governments should look for the opportunity to encourage engagement rather than simply seeking an exchange of information .
Citizen engagement is a growing area of research and action. In recent years many online platforms have emerged with the aim of bridging city planners with citizens. These platforms allow collaboration in diverse degrees. Citymart.com, through “call for solutions” service, helps cities define their needs, publish them to the marketplace and discover the available solutions. This is one of Citymart.com services that offer great possibilities to involve citizens, for instance, in helping to find the best solution in the market.
The growth and Impact of collaborative creation platforms for engaging citizens
“The integration of information technology and civic life is here to stay, but how exactly we use this technology to improve civic life is still unclear.” Diana Lind, Executive Director and Editor in Chief at Next American City
Online platforms for engaging citizens is growing. These ones have different approach in how they engage citizens and other stakeholders. The citizens’ roles range from mere commentators to idea generators. In some cases cities are active in the generation of projects, while in others, cities’ representatives are completely absent. Some of them seem to be just list of dreams (citizens expectations) while other platforms provide plans for implementation. Following there are some platform examples:
- City planners inquire citizens to improve specific problems: under these platforms decision makers give the space to citizens to comment or give ideas on how to solve a problem. Then, it is responsibility of the city to develop the project and implement it. Examples: Give a Minute or Mindmixer
- Citizens share ideas and knowledge: These type of platforms bring together citizens that are concerned about a problem or they have an idea on how to improve something. Examples: City 2.0, winner of the 2012 TED Prize.www.thecity2.org
- Cities delegate tasks to citizens: These platforms allow citizens to contribute to specific tasks to solve their own problems or other citizens' problems. The tasks are either delivered by the city planners or organized by a community. Example: ‘Investigate Your MP’ invited citizens to analyze expense reports submitted by MPs, and to fl ag those that deserve closer scrutiny. ‘FixMyStreet’ is an application that allows citizens to report street related problems on a publicly visible map.
- Companies offering services to the city: Platforms that allow companies to promote their products and services for decision makers. Example: Citymart.com is a global marketplace that connect cities with solutions providers.
The potential of these platforms seem to be immense. In the private industry crowdsourcing mobilized nearly
$300 million in 2011. The study by massolution™ also reveals that the number of workers participating in crowdsourcing projects is rising at over 100% a year. However, when it comes to city development, it is still unclear the impact of these platforms. At the same time, the research in the matter is scant.
“Creating a website is not terribly difficult. But creating a project that actually has an impact on communities? That’s really hard. From my experience, the website is a great way to gain attention and motivation and traction, but to actually make real change happen, it’s people.” Jake Barton,founder and principal of Local Projects.
The research focus and methodological approach (work-in-progress)
Veronica’s work will be focused on research and service development for engaging citizens in the procurement process through Citymart.com platform. This research also aims at generating contributions in the definition and mechanisms of citizen engagement through online platforms. Finally, it is expected to measure the impact of the services (e.g: citizens well-being; the process for cities to achieve better results; the costs and deployment times)
Involving millions of citizens from 557.000 local governments with diverse problems is major challenge. To approach this scale, this research will first, build case studies framed by a locality and challenge to be solved. For example, a case study could be based on designing services for prevention of diabetes in the city of Copenhagen or Urban Prototyping and Piloting in San Francisco. It is expected that the case study will provide understanding on the issue of citizen engagement and will help to scale up the solutions: services that can be used for any city with any challenge to be solved. Facebook is one example that shows how is possible to scale up a service. The platform, when it was first developed, intended to serve only in the university campus. Today, it used by hundreds of million users around the world.
Designing Services with a Participatory Design approach
Designing services is a multidisciplinary and participatory approach; an approach to design that attempts to actively involve the users and stakeholders through the design process to ensure that the designed product/service meets their needs 
The design process will follow five phases as it’s shown in the figure:
In the initial phases of the service development process, the methods are aimed to unveil the stakeholder’s needs and wants. While in the latter phases, Participatory Design methods will help stakeholders to contribute in the creation of solutions. Each of the case studies will follow this service loop while the methods will vary according to the need. As a result, Citymart.com service and tools for engaging citizens will emerge from the case studies learning.
 Gibson, Cynthia M., 2006. Citizens at the Center: A New Approach to Civic Engagement. The Case Foundation.  Lukensmeyer, Carolyn J. and Lars Hasselblad Torres, 2006. Public Deliberation: A Manager’s Guide to Citizen Engagement. IBM Center for the Business of Government.  Svara, J. H., & Denhardt, J. (2010). White Paper The Connected Community : Local Governments as Partners in Citizen Engagement and Community Building. Creativity, 125.  Service Design in the Age of Collaboration. Veronica Bluguermann. MA thesis.