Organising a bottom-up strategy process in a smart city: The Digital Agenda Vienna

The City of Vienna is one of the most liveable cities on this planet, aims to stay in this league and wants to become even smarter over time. This demands – amongst many other things – sound structures that support the increasing digitisation of the economy and society, involve citizens in decision making, improve the business location, and foster efficient and pleasant dealings between the City administration, citizens, enterprises and other stakeholders. These are precisely the challenges for the Digital Agenda Vienna (DAW) – a strategy to be developed by the magistrate of the City of Vienna.

See their smart city strategy.

To live up to these challenges, it was decided to design a process that strongly involves citizens in the deliberations and decisions on the future course of the City of Vienna. The resulting 3-step process was based on an idealised strategy formulation process: 1. ideation, 2.  organising ideas and document drafting in working groups, 3. validation of arguments contained in the document (see figure 1). Phase 1 and 3 are done online to allow broad participation. The second phase was to be elaborated in workshops which involved experts but also “volunteers” that participated online.  

Figure 1: The Digital Agenda Vienna process

We are now to enter in the third phase and – so far – the whole process is producing more and better results than comparable approaches in the past. Phase 1 took place from September, 1st, 2014 to October, 18th, 2014. Participation was open to everyone. Citizens were asked to upload their ideas to www.digitaleagenda.wien – a taylor made version of discuto.io. The process was actively propagated in the City, meaning that  existing social and print media channels were used.

Users took up the opportunity to bring in ideas that would shape the digital agenda of the City. This ideation process yielded about 170 ideas which received 2.451 votes and 296 comments from about 400 registered users. A mindmap and an open dataset of the ideas is available.

The ideas were then carried over into phase 2 – a traditional offline strategy process – in which working groups blended the ideas with the expertise of invited experts coming from academia, ICT companies, consultants and participants in the online process. The working groups were led by external experts and Vienna city government team members. The matching of citizen ideas with expert knowledge substantially enlarged the “action space” and led to proposals that would have been neither developed by citizen or experts working in isolation.

At the time of writing this article, the first and the second phase were completed. The 3 phase will start on the 8th of April. There, again in an online process, the text of the DAW is up for validation by everybody interested in the matter. Voting on paragraphs will quickly reveal controversial issues and - via comments - potential ways to improve the arguments laid out in the paragraph may be proposed. This phase will be finalised by the end of April. The whole process will then have taken 8 months which is extremely fast for strategy processes in the public sector. Indeed, the effect of (online) participation has been to speed the process up rather than slowing it down.

A precondition of such an agile process is support by the politicians in charge of the issue as well as an efficient City administration. Actual responsibility for the process and execution was with the CIO of the City and her team which worked in close cooperation with cbased – that´s us -, CSC and a number of external experts. cbased was responsible for the design of the process, programming and implementation of the platform, and moderation and management of the online processes.  CSC took care of the offline process while a number of experts managed and contributed to the working groups.

The process so far was very smooth and rewarding. It has helped the City of Vienna to master the 3 core challenges each institution developing a strategy faces:

1. Understand the state of the art in the specific field and work out how this relates to the City.

2. Identify and use the knowledge and potential of the people inside and outside of the institution to collect and process relevant knowledge and transfer this into a workable strategy.

3. Execute steps 1 and 2 in a cost-efficient and timely way.

The core challenge is to appropriately deal with knowledge: Given the massive amount of knowledge available on almost any topic it makes sense to take what is available from wherever you can get it and only start producing new knowledge (i.e. doing research)  when there is no alternative. Consequently, information retrieval is key. Traditionally this is done by employing experts. Given the massive dispersion of knowledge nowadays this might be a necessary but not sufficient step.

The online elements in this process helped to convert it into an “open innovation” effort that (theoretically) allows to integrate somebody at the other end of the world and the shop floor worker that hold solutions to some of the issues tackled by the DAW.  In other words, opening these processes and practising open innovation is in many instances a very rational choice and far easier to execute than often reported. Given that there is always more knowledge on any topic outside any organisation than inside and that online participation tools are an increasingly cost-efficient way to tap this knowledge, this is an obvious way forward for many institutions.

After the finalisation of the DAW, a more detailed description of the process will be published here. Please discuss the above blog here: http://www.discuto.io/consultation/8480

A scientific analysis of the participation patterns and the intensity and depth of discussions can be found in May, J., Leo, H., Taudes, A., Evaluation of E-Participation Efficiency with Biodiversity Measures - the Case of the Digital Agenda Vienna, paper to be presented at Cedem Conference, Krems, May 2015,  for more information see http://epub.wu.ac.at/4479/

About the author :

Hannes Leo