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A more sustainable and contributive city: urban crowdsourcing and digital citizen participation

Studies N°04/2017. Iddri, 2017. 72 p.

Many municipalities are experimenting with urban crowdsourcing or digital citizen participation tools. Through three case studies (citizen-reporting apps, City of Paris, urban cycling), we show that these tools can support a more sustainable and contributive city. This study highlights achievements and challenges for cities and local governments, and provides guidelines to choose and design crowdsourcing tools in order to facilitate data collection and better engage citizens.

KEY MESSAGES:

  • NEW DIGITAL TOOLS FOR URBAN COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION
    Experiments using crowdsourcing tools are increasingly becoming common in municipalities around the world, showing that these tools can transform urban planning and citizen participation. At the operational level, these tools can be used to produce and collect data, conduct assessments and gather feedback to improve urban planning and management. At the policy level, they can enhance the visibility of local problems and provide opportunities for citizens to engage in learning and reflexivity. This active, collaborative approach is a departure from the technological and optimization-driven vision of the “smart city”.
     
  • PROMISES FOR A MORE COLLABORATIVE AND SUSTAINABLE CITY
    We identify three main uses of these tools: moving towards an “omniscient” city; sharing the urban experience and its evaluation; building the city’s future collectively. These correspond to three types of contributions from the citizen to support public decision-making: mapping and reporting, expressing preferences and expectations, and proposing ideas and projects.
     
  • CHALLENGES TO BE OVERCOME
    Our analysis of three case studies (reporting tools, City of Paris, tools to promote bicycle-use) shows that cities are faced with several challenges: selecting the right tools for their political projects; facilitating the internal uptake of these tools and obtaining sufficient citizen support and participation; processing and analyzing the resulting data, and so on. In addition to these challenges, the design of the tool is an essential yet often underestimated dimension by local governments. Digital tools come with a political/ policy “software”: their design directs and defines the level of transparency, the nature of interactions, the freedom to contribute and citizens’ capacity-building opportunities. Understanding this intermediary dimension is therefore important for any approach to be truly collaborative and fruitful.
     
  • A NEW APPROACH TO “CREATING” THE CITY: A TWO-STEP USER GUIDE
    In describing the possible applications for urban crowdsourcing, we propose to guide cities in the selection of the right tools for their goals and needs. We further propose to develop criteria for the design of digital tools and a visualization approach to understand their user experience.