Why cities open problems and share solutions

Together with our partner cities we promote the vision of cities sharing solutions. It seems obvious, but today even the most successful solutions such as public bicycle systems scale at a pace that reached just 0,1% of communities in over 10 years. Over the past 3,5 years we have learned much about the barriers, but have also found some solutions to overcome them. So, when we talk about cities becoming more open, agile and empathic it is because they fundamentally do two things: open their problems and share solutions.

When you imagine this model applied to 557,000 communities and 10% of world GDP, it would be an incredibly active marketplace. We remain far from it, but after running more than 90 challenges with global cities we are, ourselves, impressed to see just how actively cities collaborate to solve their problems.

And in many ways, this is just a beginning. Increasingly, as at our recent Cities Summit hosted together with the Mayor of London, cities are making much bolder commitments to open problems and share not just solutions, but the methods that will transform their procurement.

Citizen engagement in procurement on is primarily considered a government to business marketplace, helping cities procure smarter by getting full exposure to all approaches to meet their needs. But also provides a very important asset for citizens in opening up a decision-making process typically handled behind closed doors.

This, in fact, is quite revolutionary.

If we take a look at traditional public spending in cities, we find that rules and regulations focus on the correct tendering process, which legally starts when you send out your specifications to solution providers for bidding. In most global cities, these are today published. What the citizen doesn't know, and cannot know, is how the need that this investment is to solve comes about, how the specification was determined, and whether preferences were given to certain types of providers in the process. The process of identifying the need and specifying the tender are still treated as 'discretionary', i.e. it is up to each official to do this as they please - which usually means doing it behind closed doors, constitutes a breeding ground for bad practices and wastes public resources. unfolds this discretionary process into a shared methodology, today adopted by 47 cities. Each step is documented and offers new opportunities for citizens to engage:

1. Opening Needs, Opportunities as Challenges

Each city working with receives a methodology on how to identify needs, or as we call them: challenges. Many cities, such as Sant Cugat or Cape Town, have chosen to run challenges to find new methods to engage citizens in determining priorities. Genius!York and Mindmixer are to examples of solutions now being used by cities to engage citizens in prioritizing city needs.

Cities publish their challenge on, as for example the 22 partner cities of LLGA2013 did - meaning that long before specifications are done, cities share their intentions. All information is public, and cities commit to publishing local press releases to assure citizens are informed.

2. Finding Solutions, Engaging Communities takes these challenges and proactively invests in a 3-month research process, to find all available solutions. Citizens can follow and interact with the research team on our Storify feed, and through our extensive social media campaigning. Not only can they see what we find, but they get access to valuable background resources to learn about the key issues.

Special emphasis is given to explore all possible approaches to solving a challenge, a key feature for a public debate on how we would like our cities to develop.

All solutions that are submitted to a city are published, meaning that citizens can see exactly what options their public leaders had when they considered their course of action. This is an unprecedented step forward. is an open catalogue, meaning that any citizen can search relevant solutions for their needs and interact with providers, or share these with other members of the community.

3. Decisions & the Jury Process provides cities with a jury tool, to which they can invite decision-makers, but also members of the public or civic leaders in an effort to arive at best decisions. In fact, provides cities recommendations on diversity and composition of juries. documents the jury behaviour, and each member of the jury has clear guidelines on potential conflicts of interest. Should citizens seek information about any part of the process, the data is available and can be shared on instruction by the city.

Names of Jurors are published on, to provide full accountability. Each solution provider receives the original jury evaluations directly in their showcase.

Result: Citizen value becomes central

As a result of this openness, like in many other aspects of open information, cities have become more considerate in how they frame their needs and interests. In our experience of running 87 challenges, cities are increasingly moving away from technical concepts to citizen value and impact concepts. See our related article on the Rise of Citizen Engagement.

Further, creates opportunities for citizens to take matters into their own hand. McKinsey has shown that in Dublin, for example, would be a significant opportunity to create new start-ups that respond to the challenges and needs of the community. 90% of challenges on are won by SMEs, of which about 25% are NGOs or citizen organisations that have the most meaningful solutions to community challenges.

A new era of trust - Cities endorse validated project references has begun working with cities to recognize independently validated project references, meaning that over the coming months they will take part in a 6-step process leading from endorsing the practice to making it a condition for procurement. [slideshare id=18118363&doc=validationforcitiesr403-04-2013-130403110711-phpapp01]

Independent validation of project references is a tool enabling solution providers to guarantee that information about their track record is accurate, not manipulated, and has persons with no conflict of interest vouching for the accuracy of the information.

To deliver this result, has implemented a new online service by which providers can build their own certification community, drawing on stakeholders such as users, customers, partners and regulators with first-hand knowledge of projects to validate facts.

Cities can adopt validation at no cost and is available to support you in all stages of the process.

If you are interested in helping your city working with more accurate information and thereby enabling more innovative, accountable and accessible procurement for all, get in touch and we will provide you all necessary support.

A First Step Towards A New Era of Trust in Public Procurement: Validated Project References

Today we are extremely excited about a small box appearing in the Connecthings Showcase: Connecthings Validated Project Reference

For and our many partners, this is an important step towards building a global infrastructure that allows high-impact solutions for cities to scale quickly. Why? Because it delivers unprecedented transparency and accountability.

This summer, we carried out a survey of 54 global cities under the Agile Cities initiative which showed that 87% of cities do not trust the information supplied by providers. Too often, cities reported, companies submit project references that over-state achievements or give no credit to project partners.

66% of cities, consequently, reported that they rely on informal contacts into the business community and often patchy follow-up on project references through calls to former customers. This is often not documented, and can lead to an overrepresentation of local companies winning contracts.

Yet, companies like Connecthings have proven they have technologies worthy of scaling globally. As winners of 4 LLGA|Cities Pilot the Future Awards in 2012, Connecthings was selected to pilot their solution in Rio, Derry~Londonderry, Hamburg and Barcelona.

The team at searched for providers that could certify project references to address this trust issue. Nothing could be found. So we looked at ways to build trust online, inspired by the practices used by journalists in the Arab spring to triangulate facts using Twitter and other sources.

The result is our Project Validation service, which allows companies to describe projects involving the product/service featured in their Showcase and invite stakeholders (such as customers, users, partners and experts) to validate the basic project facts.

Why basic facts?

Trust starts with the basics. Did the project really happen, or is it under discussion? Was it a full implementation or a pilot? Who was involved? When did it happen?

These are binary facts - either true or false. Our validation model works by establishing these facts and requiring three independent stakeholders (who have declared commercial independence from the project) to confirm such facts.

Project View of Connecthings

What can trust deliver?

Cities are always going to carry out due-diligence when awarding a contract worth millions. Yet, our primary aim with this new Project Validation service is to help cities manage the perceived risks associated with contracting small providers and using new approaches to solve their challenges.

If cities cannot trust project references, they have no way of evaluating what is state-of-the art in the market. How can you believe that a technology is mature if you cannot trust its past implementations? The same is true when cities attempt to establish the viability of new and different approaches, which is an issue that most companies consider the most significant barrier to market-entry. Whether your solution tags urban spaces, prevents breast cancer by making use of the sensory skills of blind women, or involves citizens in logistical tasks - cities rely on getting an accurate picture of project implementation history.

Trust in an unconsolidated marketplace.

We have often written about the challenge of a marketplace with 557,000 local governments dealing with complex technological, service and regulatory decisions. Our vision was to create a trust-building Project Validation service that was scalable in such a marketplace because, unlike other markets, cities are never going to merge and consolidate. This means that there is limited room for the specialized decision-making found in other industries. Hence, our eyes turned to sourcing validations though project stakeholders as the only viable method for validating basic project facts.

And this is just the start. Validated references are not just useful in the context of, but in all business activities (tenders, pre-qualifications, RFIs and corporate alliance building) in which increased trust can get you more attention from cities and create better business opportunities.

10 Steps: Taking an Innovation for a City from Idea to Deployment

After a first round of consultation of experts and city professionals, Agile Cities is launching the first draft of its 10 stage process to take innovative ideas to full implementation in cities.

You can comment on the 10 Steps and the Draft text here.

One of the objectives of the Agile Cities initiative is to provide more reliable communication in the marketplace around innovative solutions that can transform communities.

A key element of this is to begin to establish a process to track the stages which a typical innovation passes through from Idea to Deployment. After an initial consultation process, we have edited a 10 Step Process which is now open for comment in an iterated editorial process.

You can add ideas by going directly to the open text document here or by commenting on this post.