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2.5 Crowdsourcing citizens’ ideas

An aerial photograph of Milton Keynes.
Figure 5 Aerial view of Brooklands, one of the new housing areas under development in Milton Keynes, England.

One method of generating ideas for smart city solutions is to crowdsource citizens’ ideas using an online platform. If the ideas are used in local policy making this use of IT is a form of e-democracy.

In Iceland Better Reykjavík [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] is a platform that allows citizens to propose, debate and vote on ideas for improving their city. Top ideas from Better Reykjavík are added to the city government agenda every month and the city commits to process and answer them all, creating a dialogue between citizens and the city – a form of open policymaking. So far, over 1,000 ideas have been formally reviewed and hundreds accepted since 2011.

NextBengaluru is a platform engaging citizens of Bengaluru (also known as Bangalore) in urban planning. It was created by a non-government organisation (NGO), the MOD Institute. It’s a space for residents to express their ideas and wishes, to discuss the future of the city and create a joint vision. From December 2014 to March 2015 the platform brought together residents online and offline to create a community vision for the re-development of Shanthingar, a neighbourhood of the city. Tapping into their knowledge of the area to promote a vision that matches citizen needs, it has crowdsourced more than 600 ideas. The MOD Institute now plans to work with local urban planners to try to get these ideas adopted by the city government.

Our MK is an ideas platform launched in 2015 as part of the MK:Smart project. It empowers citizens of Milton Keynes to put forward ideas that will impact the community and help shape the future of the city. People are encouraged to innovate, collaborate, share ideas, build projects and change their community. Awards of up to £5,000 were offered for citizen groups to support ideas that might impact on issues of sustainability concerned with Milton Keynes.

For city ideas platforms to be effective they must be clear about the types of idea that citizens are being asked to propose. Another critical factor is transparency concerning the incentives being offered to citizens to encourage their participation. Clarity is also crucial in developing strategies for assessing ideas, for funding and implementing them, and for communicating all of this to citizens. Without these strategies there’s a risk that citizens will quickly become disengaged. Finally, be mindful of the fact that not all citizens will engage in the initiatives and so the viewpoints expressed will be representative of the people who use the platform.