Becoming a smart city: are digital platforms the holy grail?

Hugo Hegeman, a master's student in Urban Governance at the EUR, investigates the relationship between smart city pilots and open innovation platforms. In doing so, he looks at the platform "The Digital Twin" in the municipality of Rotterdam. The goal of that platform is to gather all real-time data in the city into one 3D representation of Rotterdam. The central question in his research is: "What is the role of the Digital Twin in upscaling processes of smart city pilots in Rotterdam and how can this role enhance these upscaling processes?"

Scaling up smart city pilots

Cities are trying to overcome complex urban planning challenges by transforming their city into a 'smart city'. A key policy instrument that seeks to contribute to transforming into a 'smart city' is the initiation of smart city pilots. Smart city pilots are popping up in every major city, but they often fade out after the pilot phase and do not develop scalable solutions. To solve this problem and promote smart city pilots, cities increasingly realise so-called 'open innovation platforms'. However, the scientific evidence on these platforms' added value in the scaling-up process is limited. 

'The Digital Twin'

To determine the added value of 'The Digital Twin' platform, the municipality is initiating a wide range of pilots: citizen participation through 3D planning visualisation of construction projects through augmented reality, automating building permits and visualising the inside of public buildings for emergency purposes. To gain insight into the relationship between pilots and platforms, Hugo analysed various policy documents and conducted qualitative interviews with different actors involved in the pilots studied. 

Conditions for scaling up

In the academic literature, there are several conditions for scaling up pilots, namely technical conditions (1), human conditions (2) and institutional conditions (3). Moreover, there are two ways in which the platform The Digital Twin could contribute to these conditions: the integration of technology (1) and the fostering of collaboration (2).

Conclusions and Recommendations

A significant insight is that creating a single digital environment can boost institutional scaling conditions because the realisation of a single shared reality improves coordination and communication among actors. 

Moreover, the platform is mainly suited for facilitating technical conditions, such as defining data standards and realising a marketplace for data. Human conditions are only partially enabled by the platform due to their complex and face-to-face nature. Therefore, these conditions should be organised in a non-platform environment. 

The study concludes that the Digital Twin platform improves coordination and stimulates data sharing among stakeholders in Rotterdam. 

Follow-up study

This case study shows that technological innovations are not the answer to all complex collaboration processes. In the future, more research is needed on balance between technology and social, interpersonal interaction in smart city innovation processes. 

More information

Vital Cities and Citizens

With the Erasmus Initiative Vital Cities and Citizens, Erasmus University Rotterdam wants to help improve the quality of life in cities. In vital cities, the population can achieve their life goals through education, useful work and participation in public life. The vital city is a platform for creativity and diversity, a safe meeting place for different social groups. The researchers involved focus on one of the four sub-themes:

•    Inclusive Cities and Diversity
•    Resilient Cities and People
•    Smart Cities and Communities 
•    Sustainable and Just Cities

VCC is a collaboration between Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB), Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC) and International Institute of Social Studies (ISS).