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  • Writer's pictureIHS Alumni

The Smart City and its Citizens

Smart cities are associated almost exclusively with modern technology and infrastructure. However, smart cities have the possibility to enhance the involvement and contribution of citizens to urban development. This recently published article explores the role of governance as one of the factors influencing the participation of citizens in smart cities projects. Governance characteristics play a major role in explaining different typologies of citizen participation. Through a focus on Amsterdam Smart City program as a specific case study, this research examines the characteristics of governance that are present in the overall program and within a selected sample of projects, and how they relate to different typologies of citizen participation.

The Amsterdam Smart City program, has been recognized as an innovative initiative not because of the “smart” results, but also for the way it is managed – trough a platform involving in a horizontal network local and international businesses, public organizations, research institutions and third-sector partners – and for the focus on citizen-oriented outcomes.

Picture "Data visualization of all the buildings in the Netherlands" by Bert Spaan, Waag Society 2013, licensed under CC BY 4.0 

From the research, it emerges that complex smart city projects, with a significant technological component and involving a diversified set of both local and international actors require more stringent governance arrangements, resulting in citizen participation being limited to the provision of information. On the other side, projects involving smaller and more homogeneous sets of partners operating over a defined territory are characterized by more flexible governance systems and result in higher levels of citizen participation, leading to the co-production of services and possibly to socially innovative outcomes. In this context, “intermediary” organizations play a very important role in ensuring the participation of citizens by reducing the technological barriers.

The analysis and comprehension of governance characteristics plays a crucial role both for a better understanding and management of citizen participation, especially in complex settings where multiple actors are interacting. More intense levels of citizen participation in smart city projects can ensure that such projects are effectively benefiting local communities rather than just providing new business opportunities for established ICT corporations.

This research was performed during the summer of 2014 and was presented at the Conference “Local Government and Urban Governance: Citizens Responsive Innovations in Europe and Africa”, held in Lisbon on 9-10 April 2015.


Carlo is currently based in his hometown Milan, Italy where he works as an analyst for international real estate investments. Beside his work he is part of the team of I am my city, involved in grassroots projects for public spaces. Carlo is an alumnus of UMD10 and collaborated with IHS in 2014 and 2015 as part of the USP specialization team.


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