A challenge-driven approach to open data innovation within cities

Why a challenge-driven approach for open data and public service innovation?

The idea of cities opening up public data to the market and expecting public sector solutions to pour in has proven unsuccessful. From the data, solution providers mainly develop products that do not necessarily improve public services such as tourist apps. This is why we encourage a challenge-driven approach to (open) data innovation for cities.

Despite the innovativeness of solution providers, they are generally not aware of what city operations really need. Therefore, cities are encouraged to engage with the market more effectively and to bring forward those challenges that really need solving; such as the need to optimise and automate the watering of (public) green spaces in order to realise water and labour savings.

Certain activities are vital for cities defining their challenges – having interdepartmental discussions to map relevant challenges and find internal support, engaging stakeholders such as citizens to ensure the desirability of the challenges and increasing their understanding of the market to frame the challenges in an attractive way.

In the meantime, cities also open up the datasets required to solve these challenges. This is another advantage of a challenge-driven approach towards open data innovation. Many cities, especially smaller ones, do not have the resources to open up huge amounts of datasets. So why not just open up those that create immediate value for your city and citizens?

SCIFI, a challenge-driven urban innovation project

SCIFI is a collaborative innovation project, initiated and managed by Bax & Company, that aims to activate the international Smart City market for innovative solutions to improve public service delivery using data. In SCIFI, the cities of Delft, Mechelen, Saint-Quentin, and Bruges apply a challenge-driven approach to address their urban challenges.

The University of Southampton, Faubourg Numérique, Cambridge Cleantech, and Agoria support the cities through two challenge definition phases followed by two open calls to bring the city problems to the European Smart City market. The market is then requested to solve these problems in innovative ways with data-driven solutions.

The first SCIFI call brings 7 challenges to the market and is open from 02 July 2018 to 02 October 2018. The challenges are in the sectors of energy, mobility, and environment, which can be shared by several cities. For example, Bruges and Mechelen share the mobility challenge “How can we use data to encourage cycling for journeys around the city?”.

The second round for open calls will be in 2019.

A challenge-driven approach – first recommendations

Clearly defining your city’s needs for the market, while leaving room for innovation and creativity, is not the only important aspect in the challenge-driven methodology developed within SCIFI.

Firstly, it is important to “sell” your challenges to the market. Cities have to frame their challenges in such a way that high-quality companies want to create solutions. What do you offer them in terms of datasets to work with? Is there a potential business case for them?

Secondly, cities should think from a very early stage onwards about the feasibility and applicability of the challenge. They have to answer internal questions such as whether or not the necessary data is, or will be, available, how much support and resources there are for solving this challenge, etc.

Finally, the SCIFI methodology also focuses on how smaller and medium-sized cities can better pool their innovation potential and resources in this process. Cities can, for instance, co-define common challenges to act as a wider market for solution providers and share datasets for higher-quality solutions.

The next steps after the open call, such as the procurement of solution providers and the solution development, will be used to continuously reflect on the selection and definition of challenges, to keep on improving the methodology. We will present more experiences and reflections in future posts, so stay tuned.

If you want to find out more about challenge-driven innovation and improving the liveability of cities with open data, get in touch. We build on our experience from challenge-driven data-innovation projects we created such as Be-Good with Rijkswaterstaat, SCIFI with the University of Southampton, and SCORE with the City of Amsterdam.

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