In 2020, the European Commission awarded the city of Leuven in Belgium the title of European Capital of Innovation to commemorate its innovative ideas and frameworks to implement them. The city’s citizens are participants in testing these ideas, in a truly co-creation approach. This award was the culmination of the city’s work in putting its citizens at the core of municipal decision-making, through cooperation, co-creation and celebrating diversity.
One such initiative was ‘Leuven, Maak het Mee’ or ‘Leuven, Co-Create’13 : a project which called for citizens to submit their ideas on how to improve the city’s livability. By the end of 2019, more than 3,000 people had registered to submit proposals, and a total of more than 2,231 14 ideas were proposed, with over a 1,00015 making it into the city’s plans. “Thousands and thousands of ideas came in and were processed, and if they went into the budget, you got an answer and would be kept updated on the realisation of it”, commented Mayor Mohammed Ridouani on how Leuven Co-Create was implemented. Implementation for some ideas has already started, and citizens will be kept updated as part of the process.
Co-creation is also seen in Leuven as a pillar for the development its sustainability strategy, utilising collaboration to devise the roadmap for its flagship project Leuven 203016 . Leuven 2030 is a mission-driven NGO that was founded to establish Leuven’s climate transition strategy, aiming to transform into a carbon-neutral, resilient city, with a goal to cut carbon emissions by 65 per cent by the end of the decade17 . The roadmap for Leuven 2030 was co-created with 70 experts laying out a path to carbon neutrality and including 13 programmes centred on sustainable buildings, sustainable mobility, green energy, sustainable consumption, green and resilient spaces, and funding.18, 19, 20 Leuven 2030 engages citizens in an innovative model of cooperation. “It is a governance model, it's not just a network”,21 where every layer of society has an equal stake:22 government, the citizens, companies, the city’s knowledge institutions, and semi-public institutions like the public transport companies each have a 20 per cent share of the voting. These parties represent the Leuven ecosystem in a structural and systemic collaboration model, Quadruple Helix.23
Cooperation was also a key factor in Leuven’s policies in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, with projects like ’Leuven Helps’24 an online platform launched during the initial wave of the virus to connect citizens in need with local volunteers. Although Leuven was the first to implement it, this model has been applied in over 300 communities globally, from France to New Zealand.25
Another important feature in the development of Leuven is Leuven MindGate26 ”which brought the city, companies, and knowledge institutions together to create one of the world’s top innovation ecosystems. Companies cooperate with the government and knowledge institutions to create a thriving economy and jobs. The government invests in education to create a knowledgeable workforce, and invests in infrastructure to create an ideal entrepreneurial climate. “This is a platform, but also our common economic agenda. Leuven MindGate positions Leuven worldwide as the place where you have top-notch, high-tech health solutions and creativity and the crossover between these things, biotech for example, and in products that are very well shaped and that are ready to use.”27
The city aims to be a Future Lab for Europe, testing and finding solutions to future problems in the city and then scaling to other cities and countries.
Leuven stands out as a city where the mayor’s vision is fully committed to inclusion and participation, seeking to make co-creation the defining ethos of its city building process, and entrusting the city to its residents through collaborative practices. “We have been able as a kind to survive all over these thousands of years, not through survival of the fittest, or the struggle for life: it's because humankind has the ability to collaborate. That's how we overcame natural disaster and diseases.”
Mexico City, Mexico
With the fourth largest population globally, and over half its population under the age of 26, Mexico City faced geographic and social division. Known infamously for corruption and crime, only eight per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) came from the creative industries.
To tackle these challenges and become more agile, a government experimental and creative office was established, Laboratorio para la Ciudad (Lab for the City), as the very first programme of its kind in Latin America, to address the city’s problems through innovative, cross-team participation. It was active from 2013 to 2018.
The Lab became a space for prototyping and testing, in which new ways of approaching relevant city issues were launched. The Lab incubated pilot projects and promoted meetings around civic innovations and urban creativity, in collaboration with government agencies, citizens and the academic sector.
One success of the initiative has been a system for enhancing the city’s microbus network, which is used by about 70 per cent of the population daily. By leveraging open-sourced gamification, almost 3,000 citizens rode every route in the network, a distance of about 1.4 times the circumference of the globe. Peatoñinos was another successful initiative, aiming to close streets for play activities for children with the motto “Liberating the streets for children and play”. It was undertaken in areas of the city with high levels of marginalisation, large child populations, and few open play spaces.28
In a very short time, the Lab made substantial progress in breaking down barriers that have existed for decades. 29, 30, 31 The city now has a Digital Agency for Public Innovation, founded in 2019 and tasked with designing, implementing and monitoring the city’s policies regarding data management, open government, technology governance and interoperability.32
San Diego, California, United States
In 2015, an audit report highlighted several development opportunities for the city to engage with residents needing to report non-emergency issues. It concluded with a recommendation to establish a centralised customer service centre and mobile application to report right-of-way maintenance (ROW) issues such as potholes, illegal dumping and damaged sidewalks. 33 This recommendation was further refined after a 2015 City of San Diego Residents Survey revealed that most residents preferred digital methods (website or mobile app) for reporting issues, rather than phone calls. 34
In 2016, San Diego introduced an app for its citizens called ’Get It Done San Diego’35 for reporting non-emergency issues. Users could report problems and connect directly to the work tracking system. Designed for seamless usability, the app allowed users walking down the street to take a photo of a problem and upload it. Get It Done would then automatically utilise satellite technology to provide a report to city officials the precise location of the problem.
From a small beginning, the app has been scaled up, from “this platform that was affectionately referred to at the outset as the pothole app” to a platform that digitalises other aspects of city management. “We've since grown it to multiple departments beyond just streets and street repair, to include other types of city services that you can request, whether it's doing a passport appointment, whether it's missed collection for your house, your trash wasn't picked up that day”, says Kirby Brady, Chief Innovation Officer of San Diego.
In the future, citizens may expect to have an even more centralised platform, with a larger number of municipal services as the city continues its digitalisation progress.
“There's an opportunity to continue to provide more city services, we’re actually pushing to increase the number of departments that are on this platform because at the end of the day, if you are a resident of the city of San Diego our vision for a smarter city is that you have one point, one source of truth, one access point for all the services for the city and that makes it easy. So my version of a smarter City for San Diego is to make it kind of a stop shop for the customer and as quickly as possible”, says Brady.
Starting in 2016, the app had collected 38,500 reports, and was downloaded 9,500 times in its first six months. 36 As of March 2021 the cumulative total number of downloads was 130,552 across operating systems (including both Web and Mobile submission), with 1,000 reports received per day.
The app is being redesigned with a better user interface, and new reporting features are constantly added to the system to improve the customer reporting experience. Survey integration is being implemented for customer feedback and Online Web Portals are being implemented to improve the document submission process, which in turn will improve the department’s work efficiency.
For emergency issues, San Diego has developed a public reporting application ‘311’ that enables citizens to notify the city of problems in their community, using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). With the GIS technology in the app, citizens can view maps of their neighbourhood and see other problems that have been reported nearby. Through the app, citizens feel more empowered to participate in their community since they have a direct opportunity to engage from their mobile phone. The 311SA app received the Smart 50 Award in 2019 for being one of the world’s top fifty transformative smart projects. 37