#citiesshare Session 2: Sharing solutions

Why are good solutions not spreading more quickly across cities? Scott Cain, Executive Director at Future Cities Catapult, and Sascha Haselmayer, Citymart CEO, challenged city officials during a peer learning session to ask themselves how good solutions could scale faster.  City officials were asked if they had bought or “copied” a solution from another city, instead of reinventing their own. One of the ideas stressed during the session, was the importance of embracing failure and learning from mistakes.

What did city officials take away from this creative session?

Sharing and borrowing ideas (or shameless “stealing”)

  • Take something that works 90% and improve it rather than trying to (re)invent something from scratch that is 100% right.
  • Collaborate: find partner cities and work together.
  • Political transitions can be complicated, but sharing can be enabled by political change (post-mayoral legacy), not for political gain.
  • Being a first-mover city means making more mistakes, and there is often political risk involved.
  • Define a process to collect bottom-up data.  
  • Solutions are not always transferable. It is important to adapt and align, taking the key elements, and analyzing the ability to implement it (considering organizational challenges, resources, economic environment, and citizens).
  • Seek innovation through start-ups, create capabilities and provide training to align departments. 

Embrace failure

  • Cities never talk about bad ideas or experiences, however, this information should be shared. Learning from what did not work minimizes risk. City officials should get together to discuss.
  • Open and honest sharing of failure (“permission to fail”) should not only be acceptable, but part of the scaling process. As an example, in Philadelphia, one out of three projects is expected to fail. It is important to agree on an acceptable amount of risk and failure.
If we do not fail we are not trying enough

Buying ideas and spending on scaling

  • Beware of provider “lock-in”. Cities are supersaturated with vendors all claiming to have the “best” solution, and it might become too overwhelming to choose one solution and be sure it is right.
  • In a snap survey in which cities were asked what percentage of annual budget they should spend on sharing solutions, all agreed that at least part of their annual budget should be allocated to this purpose (answers varied from 10 to 60%).

Creating a common framework for evaluation

  • Cities need a more coherent framework that focuses on their needs, starting with problem definition and service delivery.
  • Think fast-follower: see solutions and learn why they worked; let others make the mistakes and learn from them.
  • Evidence and KPIs: identify and engage what can deliver and measure priorities. Proven ideas bring more efficiency.
  • Consider the viewpoints of citizens on how to create trust and validate ideas.  Their opinion should be represented and they should be involved in identifying challenges through open innovation platforms.
  • It is important to break silos. You could either nominate and train a high-level team of “barrier-busters” as a “coalition of the willing” that can break down the silos between different departments through collaboration, or invite anyone that wants to join to a crosscutting innovation forum.
  • Change attitudes from “Nice idea, but it wouldn’t work here because…” to “Nice idea! Here’s how it could work here…”

What else can be done to share high-impact solutions among cities? Share your insights below. 


From 23-25 June 2014, Mayor of London Boris Johnson hosted Cities Summit | Solutions Worth Sharing together with Citymart and supported by Citi. The Summit brought together city governments, businesses and entrepreneurs with bright ideas to help improve citizens' quality of  life. The Summit kicked off with a Peer Learning Session for cities, creating a dynamic dialogue among city officials around four key themes on how to make innovation a tangible reality. Participating cities included London, Barcelona, Dublin, Fukuoka, Heerlen, Kristiansand, Krakow, Lobito, Louisville, Madrid, Malmö, Moscow, Newcastle, Philadelphia, San Luis Potosí, Sant Cugat, Seville, Sheffield, Tampere, Tartu, Valencia, and York. 

Next post will cover how to overcome public procurement barriers.

Civic Engagement, Community Development, Inclusion and Sharing - A debate at LLGA | Cities Summit

By Fedor Ovchinnikov and Ruth Doyle

20+ delegates interested in civic engagement, community development, inclusion and sharing took the opportunity to enjoy five inspiring presentations from speakers representing the UK, India, Argentina, the US, and Brazil. The presenters talked about resilience building at the city level, engaging the residents of a city yet to be built, co-creation as the ultimate goal of decentralization and participation, democratization of city space using the concept of pop-ups, and development of social intelligence through online civic engagement platforms.

Session moderator Allison Arieff (Editor + Content strategist, SPUR) opened the session by introducing the topic. According to Allison, civic engagement with city authorities is too much focused on complaints, so cities spend massive amounts of time and resources reacting to these complaints. In order to save time and resources, and to solve problems more successfully, cities need to move from adversarial to cooperative engagements based on action, innovation and citizen empowerment. Engaging the public in solution development cannot just be left up to high-technology or smart phone based solutions: simple low-tech measures are often capable of improving city services. Allison finished by calling for a “declaration of interdependence” to form the paradigm for reinvention of public participation in the 21st century and to make citizens feel that they have agency and are inspired to contribute to city development.

LLGA2013 15.5.13 Parallel Session A

James Togut (Founder, The Good Life for All) talked about resilience in Brighton & Hove, the first city worldwide to formally embed the “One Planet Living Framework” and concept of “resilience” within its city action plan (“One Brighton”). The core of resilience is the ability to transform and adapt to one planet living whilst providing good lives for all. Resilience implies fostering resourcefulness in material terms - meaning waste (“just a resource that is in the wrong place”) and in human terms – implying the cultivation of imagination, inventiveness, and enterprise. Cat Fletcher (Materials Coordinator for Brighton Waste House) introduced Brighton Freegle Group – an “online dating for stuff” which helps people to become personally resilient in their own lives by developing a peer to peer, and cross-sectoral sharing market place. This platform has 1.4 million users and contributes annual economic value of 120k. Drawing upon the concept of City Makers, Cat & James talked about the need to nurture passionate individuals (change makers and visionaries) within each sector – public, private and voluntary – who are not afraid of disrupting the norm. Cat suggested that City Councils should make dedicated efforts to identify, support and empower these people who are well connected on the ground and have catalytic qualities.

Scott Wrighton (City Manager, City of Lavasa) discussed his experience of building a new city from nothing. The City of Lavasa is the foremost lifestyle development project in India and represents part of the rural-urban migratory shift taking place where it is estimated that 350 million people will move to urban areas in the next 30 years. Lavasa is a private city that creates profit, sells real estate and invests in joint ventures with the private sector to enable the provision of city services. Interestingly, the biggest challenge that confronts this epic endeavor is not infrastructure or money, but acquiring land and dealing with poor governance systems that are not conducive to new ways of city management and public engagement and reduce autonomy for public private partnerships.

The assumption that most people want to engage with their government does not ring true worldwide. Scott suggested that dealing with government can be very off-putting in India where local governments are micro-managed by state government. In this case he stated that there is a desperate need for a change in paradigm to make new inhabitants of Lavasa eager to engage with the city to build organizations that they hope will evolve sustainably and extend citizen engagement. So how do you engage the residents of a city yet to be built? Who should decide and design the mechanisms? Scott noted that after starting with a paternalistic approach where the provision of infrastructure prevailed, the next challenge is to look at the invisible social fabric so that civic engagement mechanisms are in place.

Daniella Rosario (Technical Coordinator, Ministry of Public Utilities and the Environment, Municipality of Rosario) introduced the efforts of the Municipality of Rosario, Argentina to shift to embed sustainability within its city governance and shift to a more decentralized and participatory governance model. Introducing two successful projects – Rosario Mas Limpia (Cleaner Rosario Campaign) and the Green Homes Network Program – Daniella emphasized the need to move beyond government as service provider to paradigms of co-creation with citizens.

Mariella and Pete Watman (Co-Founders of Pop-Up Brands) talked about how pop-ups create a multitude of economic and personal opportunities.. Pop-Up Brands addresses the problem of underutilized and poor listing of available city spaces by providing a marketplace for short term commercial space of all kinds. This approach gives entrepreneurs and artists an opportunity to prototype their ideas in spaces they could not previously afford. Pop-ups can create vibrancy in vacant neighborhoods and regenerate the area. Some pop-ups become permanent while others recycle and evolve thus contributing to the resilience of the area. The growth of the Pop-Up Movement is linked with the trend for the democratization of space – championed by the “Noisebridge Group” – the makers space in San Francisco, focused on citizen empowerment and action over deliberation, through their paradigm of “Do-ocracy”.

The session concluded with a presentation from Brazilian entrepreneur, Daniel Bittencourt (Co-Founder, Lung) who introduced an engagement system called Wikicity. Wikicity is a collaborative platform where, through use of mapping systems, residents highlight city problems as well as projects that may be developed by communities themselves. Each point on the map turns into a lively discussion on the Internet, through the debates promoted on Facebook. The ideas are then sent to local governments who help to create and implement these concepts. In Brazil, the initiative mobilized over 15,000 citizens in, and a growing number of cities around the globe are starting to use this innovative solution to become better places to live!

Why should cities share their solutions?

Cape Town's Louis C H Fourie presents GeniUS York with their LLGA2012 award

With participation, open source and shared practice the buzz words of city governance as we kick off 2013,LLGA offers cities the perfect opportunity to share what they’ve been doing with their global peers. Whilst municipalities have a duty to explain how they’ve been spending public funds and what the results are, this opportunity goes much further. By showcasing their newly developed technology or innovative approaches on Citymart, cities are capitalising on their hard work. The result can not only be international recognition and shared continued development but even a new revenue model.

Problem solving crosses cultures and national boundaries comfortably. The City of York in the UK submitted their GeniUs community innovation platform for LLGA2012 and were selected as winners by Cape Town, with whom they are currently formulating a pilot. Similarly when Sant Cugat presented their Local Innovation Plan for LLGA2010 they were selected as the winner by the jury for the City of Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Since then, Sant Cugat have provided training and helped Eindhoven to adopt the formula of citizen and business leader engagement in defining its own local innovation plan.

Further successful projects that cities are showcasing on Citymart include:

Transport for London

London: Work, Play and the Games

City of Chicago

Chicago’s Green Alley Program

City of Austin

City Supported Community Bicycle Shop

City of Hamburg

Little Bicycle-Sheds – Fahrradhaeuschen

City of San Francisco

SFpark – a new way of managing parking

City of Vienna

Smart City Wien

Traditionally there are various reasons why cities develop their own technology. While at times they cannot find what they are looking for on the market, at others they simply feel they can do it better or seek the independence of proprietary solutions. In recent years, however, cities have begun developing with the express intention of sharing their technology with other cities. In the US in particular this has led to numerous forums for sharing reusable technology and methods of working, such as the many solutions like SF Park presented by cities on our own or Code for America’s platform for sharing software on Civic Commons.

By sharing their creative thinking, cities benefit from a wider user base so that the technology is improved and developed quicker than if they were working on their own. The City of Stockholm and Astando have taken this approach with E-adept, an enabling-technology for visually impaired citizens that is actively marketed to other cities with the objective of sharing further development resources. Other cities that use the technology then advance it and provide feedback to Stockholm in a mutually beneficial relationship. Similarly, Boston has offered several apps including Street Bump for other cities to help build on and make development more efficient.

More recently cities have started developing technology with the express intention of licensing or selling it to create revenue and help offset the significant sums invested in development. With their document management platform SmartPDF, San Francisco have done just this with the objective of licensing the technology to other cities and organizations.

Whether looking for international exposure, wishing to publically recognise the work of their employees, aiming to share practice and further develop their technology or planning to raise revenue for the city, sharing approaches and technology will be an increasingly popular way for cash-strapped cities to improve services and lower costs in 2013.

Do let us know your favourtie resources or forums where cities are sharing their technologies and any additional cases of sharing.

LLGA2013 | Cities Pilot the Future. A global call for solutions to improve the lives of millions. Submit by 31.1.13.

Fare/Share NYC

[youtube=] The concept of mobile carpooling and ride-shares are nothing new. Las week alone, we highlighted Cabulous and Weels on this platform. But, we've also seen, that the success of these platforms and services are often directly related to the number of users because you can't share a ride when there isn't another user around.

That's why I'm keen to see the splash when a new, FREE, application makes when it hits NYC in a few weeks. From numbers provided by the New York Taxi & Limousine Commision, we know that 69% of cab rides transport single patrons while one in four cab rides within the city could potentially be shared. Clearly there is a latent need for such a service in this city.

Even better, the application design seems to be pretty good. It features one-click ride requests, fare calculations, identification by photo or apparel, PayPal integration and a rating system. For increased safety, Fare/Share allows users to rate travelling companions after each trip and offers gender-specific riding requests. And, best of of all, the technology helps divide the cab cost based on the distance travelled by each rider, suggesting payment amounts that make sure riders don’t end up paying for the few extra blocks travelled by their companions.