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Amsterdam Smart City

Amsterdam Smart City

A few minutes ago we were all nodding our heads in agreement but now everyone in our meeting room fell silent. None of us had an answer to the question that had just been raised: “Involving citizens is important to our project but how do we make it happen?” As the silence continued, I realized: we are all citizens ourselves but as professionals we struggle with how to get ‘them’ on board with ‘us’. How odd…

Citizens never really central and seldom part of project partnership

When I started doing a bit of research on the subject, I found out we were not the only ones having a hard time. Recent research on smart city projects from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) said: “In most smart city definitions, citizens are considered to be the key users and should be the main focal point for the smart city technologies that are being developed. In the projects we evaluated, we rarely found evidence of this. Citizens were never really central and seldom an official part of the project partnership”

I sighed with relief – thank goodness, it’s not just us! Apparently many of us working in energy transition or smart city projects struggle when it comes to engaging citizens.

But off course that wasn’t actually good news. If we want to create change, and have an actual impact, we need people to (want to) join our projects or causes. But how?

Good communication alone is not citizen engagement

For many of us it’s common practice that, after the project is carefully planned and designed, we bring in the creatives and ask them to develop a sticky campaign to arouse citizen enthusiasm and involvement. When this doesn’t get the response we hoped for, we blame the campaign. This, as it turns out, isn’t quite fair (according to the UvA research):

“Often assumptions were made about what citizens wanted or needed, without being thoroughly verified by consultation with those citizens. Moreover, many mistakes were made in determining the way of involving users in the project.”

So, as communications expert Alec Walker-Love[1], working extensively on the subject, puts it: “Citizen engagement requires good communication – but good communication alone is not citizen engagement.”

So what is? What is the secret to citizen engagement? The subject started to feel like a mysterious black box to me; what on earth gets citizens going? Or, even better, gets them to stand still and reconsider their thinking or behavior? Read Full Article amsterdamsmartcity.com

 

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