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Smart cities
Smart cities

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2 Co-creating smart cities: design thinking

Design thinking is all about structured processes that encourage creativity in problem solving. It’s a useful approach for cities that want to design meaningful solutions to city challenges by working with their citizens. You’ll be using it to create your smart cities project.

Businesses that create smart city solutions using supplier-centred design are often surprised when their products or services are not popular among city governments or citizens. They have often failed to seek out and understand the real needs of their users. Increasingly, design processes that place the citizen at the centre are recognised as being critical to the creation of successful smart solutions.

A graphic of the stages of the design thinking process
Figure 2 Stages of the design thinking process (Adapted from Stanford Design Program and the Standard Arts Institute, 2012)

The process of design thinking has five stages that focus on creating and testing a solution; through the process you continue to learn and improve upon initial ideas (Stanford Design Program and the Standard Arts Institute, 2012).

  1. Empathise: work with the user to fully understand their experience of the problem that needs to be solved by observation, interaction and immersion.
  2. Define: work through the outputs of the empathise stage to form a user point of view that will be addressed in the solution design.
  3. Ideate: explore lots of ideas and generate a wide range of possible solutions.
  4. Prototype: transform an idea into a simple version of the solution ready for testing.
  5. Test: trial the solution, use feedback to re-consider earlier stages, improve the solution and test again.

The first stage is where your rich picture of city challenges would sit, as it helps you to understand the challenges and who they impact. You’ll be returning to this later in the week and working through Stages 1 and 2.

Smart city solutions (products or services) can be designed using a variety of design approaches.

  • Supplier-centred design – a designer creates a solution they think cities or citizens need.
  • User-centred design – a designer shapes a solution to the user’s point of view.
  • Co-design – a designer works with stakeholders to help them design a solution for themselves.
  • Co-production – a designer works with stakeholders to produce a solution.
  • Co-creation – this is where co-design and co-production are brought together. Citizens work in partnership with a designer to co-create solutions.

In this course you’re learning how to co-create a smart cities project. Many cities use co-creation as a vital element of creating their smart city programmes. OrganiCity [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , for example, is an EU project with €7.2m in funding that puts people at the centre of the development of future cities. The project brings together three smart cities (Aarhus, London and Santander) and a total of 15 consortium members. The future city components of civic participation and co-creation are viewed by the project as having equal status with technology solutions. Two open calls will be made for citizen-driven experiments on the project’s digital platform in 2016 and 2017.