In my last blog post  I talked about the importance of collaboration in driving the smart city agenda forward, but how can you make certain that collaborations deliver results?

Achieving truly successful collaborative partnerships are reliant on picking the right team from the outset and in this case, it needs to be one that combines the correct mix of skills and knowledge with people from a diverse cross-section of the community. The reason for this is twofold:

1. Both an in-depth community knowledge (its history, inherent issues etc.) and the right    people and skills are required to address challenges and ensure activities have a positive impact

2. You need to prevent a disconnect between what a team of specialists and the community think are the priorities and potential solutions

It might not sound like rocket science, but most people can recount experiences where new "solutions" have been introduced without any community consultation – only to fail miserably.

Despite smart’ s tech focus, teams don’t need to be technology centric, and neither do they have to contain tech savvy people. In fact, embracing team members with varying levels of technological capabilities is key to ensuring that tech-based ideas can be adopted by all end users. Similarly teams need to bring together people of all ages and backgrounds, so that everyone can play a role in shaping their community. No one is ever too young or too old to have a good idea or a valid perspective.


Online platforms such as Citizen Lab offer cities a vehicle to engage with citizens on a variety of civic topics, asking them to make suggestions and vote for the ideas they think have the most potential. This type of platform is already operating in Medellin in Columbia, where citizens have put forward 14,463 ideas to resolve a variety of issues including how to increase mobility and improve engagement between citizens and the government.

However it is not just about sharing ideas. Co-collaboration is also about encouraging people to be creative, making and designing things that will have a positive impact on community living. Events such as the Aarhus Mini Maker Faire bring people of all ages and backgrounds together, to showcase their products, come up with designs for buildings and spaces and identify opportunities to create solutions and business models using technology and design. In the UK, Hands on Bristol brings together architecture students at UWE and citizens to collaboratively design and build solutions that will enhance spaces across the city for the end user.

Despite a growing number of exemplar projects, the biggest problem with co-collaboration remains a lack of awareness. If citizens don’t know it exists or how to access it, they won’t participate. Therefore, cities need to look at ways to engage people and help them to see the benefits this type of approach can bring. A failure to address this will mean that co-collaboration will only reflect the views of a minority, which could sway policy and innovation in favor of very vocal or well-connected citizen groups and disenfranchise others. This is why I believe it is crucial to support this type of activity with a clear communications strategy, while also offering multiple touch points for people to engage both on and offline, ensuring that all citizens get their chance to be heard.

About the author

Stephanie Whittaker

Senior Marketing Communications Manager for BAM Design

Stephanie Whittaker is the senior marketing communications manager for BAM Design. She is also the leader of ENCORD’s Foresighting work group which aims to provide construction industry leaders with the insight and knowledge they need to develop business strategies for the medium to long term.  

Stephanie has spent more than 15 years in the construction industry, working for Arup, Capita Symonds and Halcrow before joining BAM in 2013. During this time she has worked on a variety of projects with a particular focus on creating resilient communities, high performing buildings, sustainable corporate strategies, building information modelling and energy.    

Most recently she has developed an interest in smart cities and how this approach can be used to have a positive impact on the wider city agenda and residents’ lives.

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