by Christophe Ponsard, Robert Viseur and Jean-Christophe Deprez

The Smart City concept is actively being discussed in many places across Europe. However, turning this ideal vision into a practical roadmap is challenging because it requires effective coordination and cooperation between the range of organizations involved in the city operations. In this article, we discuss the use of co-innovation techniques in a number of Belgian cities which gather people with complementary skills for collaborative projects, thus enabling a range of potential projects to be considered. In these projects, information and communication technologies (ICT) would play a key role.

Many European cities are currently aiming to become Smart Cities, with more than 1000 having already joined the European Smart Cities Stakeholder Platform. However, many face problems in defining a ‘high-level inclusive vision’ that is not just driven by a few decision key makers. Using such a top-down process is risky, not only because of the risk that it might address the wrong priorities, but because it doesn’t accurately reflect the complex web of interactions between multiple people and organizations that cities are built on. A key factor of success is to actively involve stakeholders and empower them as actor in the process of change. Over the last decade, a number of new concepts have emerged to support this preferred collaborative approach including co-creation, user innovation and open (source) innovation [1]. They involve specific instruments such as Living Labs [2], multidisciplinary incubators, co-working spaces and creative hubs.

It is widely recognized that ICT plays a key role in supporting the development of Smart Cities. Automating and optimizing the management of transportation, energy and water requires the efficient monitoring and processing of data, making use of concepts such as sensor networks, Internet-of-Things (IoT), big data and open data. It is essential that ICT experts are involved in the co-creation process of a Smart City.

Here, we share some lessons learnt from two co-innovation stories that feature a strong ICT component, currently taking place under the eGov Wallonia initiative with which our research center is deeply involved. The co-innovation process is organized at the regional level because multiple cities share similar concerns and many have common public transportation systems, power management systems and water distribution networks.
Story 1: How open public transportation data can be enabled
The Walloon public bus transport system is operated by the public TEC company which has its own website offering a few services (e.g., timetables) but leaves a number of needs unanswered. These include questions around mobile access and multi-modal schedules. This gap led to some independent actors developing their own mobile apps using web-scrapping techniques. The TEC responded aggressively to this move, a common reaction in these situations. The company put pressure on the web application developer, accusing developers of data theft. Subsequently, the company realized that the transport data belonged to the public and learnt about the open data movement. They then joined the eGov hackathon initiative, providing open access to their data at a hackathon specifically dedicated to enhancing mobility organization in the co-working space of Wallonia’s capital city, Namur. This move resulted in a “TEC Real Time” project which is currently exploring how best to exploit (anonymous) data from registered users and the bus GPS information. This scenario illustrates how important it is to first establish trust and then explore new possibilities together, many of which are made possibly by ICT.

Story 2: How communities can be mobilized efficiently to improve the accessibility of public infrastructures
This issue is particularly important for people with reduced mobility. Changing public infrastructure is a long-term process, however, it is possible to improve information flows regarding accessibility issues, thus making short-term adaptations possible. Associations all over Europe are currently fighting for this. In Wallonia, CETIC is helping the local association, CAWAB, to use ICT tools to achieve a balance between mobilizing communities (using many non-expert volunteers) and relying on just a few experts (who are unable to cope with massive workloads) [3]. This resulted in the deployment of two community websites. The first, Access-i, is mainly dedicated to informing people about accessibility with a possible return channel. The second, CENA, is a Moodle-based open collaborative platform for accessibility experts, enabling new comers to learn from the established experts.

The stories showcased in this article illustrate the smart use of tools like hackathons, co-working spaces and community platforms can yield benefits which make a concrete contribution towards developing Smart Cities. Our next step is to optimally use the Living Labs that are currently being deployed (or will be deployed are as part of the next FEDER program 2014-2020).


[1] A. Kambil, G.B. Friesen, A. Sundaram: “Co-creation: A new source of value”, Outlook Magazine, 1999
[2] B. Bergvall-Kareborn, M. Host, A. Stahlbrost: “Concept design with a living lab approach”, in proc. of 42nd Hawaii International IEEE Conference on System Sciences, 2009
[3] C. Ponsard, V. Snoeck: “Unlocking Physical World Accessibility through ICT: a SWOT Analysis”, ICCHP’14, 2014.

Please contact:
Christophe Ponsard
CETIC, Belgium
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Next issue: January 2023
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