Citizen engagement in mySMARTLife

All of us that work in smart city projects are aware of the fact that citizen engagement is key to the implementation of interventions in the urban environment. After all, what are urban centres all about? They are about the citizens that live, work and play here. As part of mySMARTLife, the Lighthouse Cities Nantes, Hamburg and Helsinki are continuously involving residents in various ways. In this article, we explore some of the measures used when it comes to entering into a dialogue with citizens.

Nantes – there is a lot of energy in the workshops

As part of mySMARTLife project, Nantes Metropole has launched a series of workshops engaging stakeholders in the concept of self-data, applied to the energy issues in the Nantes region. These workshops are organised with several partners from the energy sector (ENEDIS, GRDF, ENGIE, EDF, ADEME) with the support of the think tank "FING" specialised in digital transformation.

The workshops are complementary to the citizens’ workshops led by Nantes Metropole during the great debate on energy transition, which took place from September 2016 to March 2017. Read more on the great debate on energy transition here and the roadmap on energy transition here.

The objective of the workshops on self-data is to make citizens and local actors aware of this concept. They also aim at thinking about new tools and digital applications that are useful for residents and at transforming the citizens and local stakeholders to actors in the energy transition through their control and their use of their personal data. Workshops were held in November, December 2018 and January 2019.

Nantes Métropole also organised a lunch meeting on energy transition focused on energetic exploitation of roofs, where citizens, companies as well as associations came together to exchange on best practice as well as projects like the citizen photovoltaic power plant which is part of mySMARTLife.

mySMARTLife partners Nantes Metropole and Enedis have also contributed to "The Innovation Campus Day" in Nantes, an event series organised by the University of Nantes to promote entrepreneurship amongst students. This year’s event focused on energy transition.

About one hundred students from different faculties of the University of Nantes participated in the Campus Day to learn more about renewable energy and actively contribute to the energy future in Nantes by discussing innovative solutions. Seven regional organisations, among them mySMARTLife partners Nantes Metropole and Enedis, proposed different topics for working groups dealing with questions such as how to promote renewable energies, and how to raise awareness among citizens, especially considering a collective approach for the energy transition. The students had the opportunity to present their ideas in pitch presentations in front of a jury.

Hamburg – walk the talk

"Walks & Talks" is an event series in Lighthouse City Hamburg where mySMARTLife is presented to the interested public. Talks are organised on a regular basis on different topics related to the project. Besides, thanks to regular walks through different buildings, the City of Hamburg will give the opportunity to interested citizens to visit various demonstration sites where innovative smart city solutions are tested. To reach even more citizens, the virtual walk was introduced in May 2019, where the public has the opportunity to experience the mySMARTLife project area with the help of virtual reality glasses.

The fourth mySMARTLife Talk on the 12th June 2018 attracted about 25 participants to the castle museum of Hamburg-Bergedorf. This edition provided an overview about the actual transition in energy production in Germany. Professor Dr. Schäfers started with an interesting presentation on the challenges of the fluctuating availability of renewable energy and referred to the climate protection goals of the German Federal Government. Mr. Lange from the energy grid operator Stromnetz Hamburg focused in his presentation on the technical challenges the local grid will have to face in the future due to an unsteady energy production. Furthermore, he explained the backgrounds of smart metering and multimetering to the audience. After the presentations, an intense discussion with the participants followed.

Helsinki – let’s do it together

The citizen engagement in Helsinki is all about ownership and co-creation with the aim of feeling proud and recognising the value of one’s own surroundings, lifestyle, home and current environment and understanding the increase of these values. In Helsinki, there are plenty of platforms through which residents can give ideas and feedback. There are also many opportunities to participate in pilot studies regarding low carbon interventions through the mySMARTLife project.

The residents of Merihaka have been participating in an intervention and study on smart ways to reduce the energy consumption of heating. The intervention in the Merihaka area includes installing smart thermostats in one building. All the residents of the building were informed of the action through different information channels. Moreover, info evenings were held before and after installations. In addition to smart thermostats, energy efficiency reports comparing the profitability of different energy efficiency investments were done focusing on two buildings and the whole area. A workshop was organised in which the board members of housing associations could discuss the results together. In this intervention, the focus has been on the whole district.

In an energy visualisation intervention, the focus has been on engaging people through the visualisation of energy data. The visualisation platform includes the Helsinki city office buildings where the city’s employees work and meet their citizen customers. The initial range of the communicated data was broad: the project has studied the energy data that is available from the buildings themselves as well as any data that could be relevant for the people to rethink their own habits. One of the starting points has been to communicate the inspiring energy data from Viikki green office building. On this basis, service design experts have been creating concepts for presenting energy data in innovative and engaging ways.

Yet another way to engage citizens is an app called “CarbonEgo”. It is a “training app” that motivates people to evolve their lifestyles into a more environmentally friendly direction. The app does this through gamification, enabling the setting of goals, and tracking progress.

Citizen engagement – multiple opportunities

When it comes to citizen engagement, there are ample opportunities to involve them (might be students as in Nantes, or residents of a block of flats as in Merihaka). In some cases, joint workshops help promote interventions and gather additional input, in others, it might be the on-sight experience as in Hamburg’s Walks & Talks. What they all have in common is listening to the citizens, their concerns, wishes and ideas and they are a continuous process.