Eight European cities are at the core of the SynchroniCity project, the largest European-funded project to support smart cities & communities to create a digital single market for smart city data and services. Recently, 12 new cities have joined the project through the open call – from Donegal in Ireland, to as far as Seongnam in South Korea.

Achieving a single market for city data and services is a complex task. This is why cooperation among cities is crucial. Building on the experience from the SynchroniCity project and the Open & Agile Smart Cities network, we collected three simple reasons why cities & communities across the world need to collaborate and exchange to create a city-driven open market for data-based services.

  • Cooperating for Change

Henry Ford allegedly said that “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success”.

This is not only true for companies, but especially for cities. Cities have long enough been offered ready-made, quick and easy IT solutions and platforms based on proprietary standards and closed environments that have chained cities to a single vendor.

Now this paradigm is changing towards an open ecosystem based on Open APIs and open source building blocks to enable smart cities & communities. This change happened also thanks to increased city cooperation and cities sharing their experiences with others.

  • Be Open About Failure

Urbanisation, transformation to knowledge societies, high emissions and energy consumption: Cities are under immense pressure to solve societal, economic and environmental challenges on tight budgets. Technology (in particular data sharing & analysis, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things) is promising to solve many challenges in cities – from optimising water and waste management to better traffic management and reducing air pollution.  

Cities are hence experimenting and implementing digital services to tackle these challenges, but they are not always successful at once. While publicly we are not often hearing about these failed attempts, it is nevertheless important to share these stories with fellow cities. By cooperating closely and in a city-only environment, like the SynchroniCity Cities Forum or the OASC Council of Cities, they can also talk about these failures and lessons learnt in an open environment. 

Talking about failed attempts matters because often it’s not the success stories that encourage others, it’s the failures and how a city deals with them that is truly inspirational for fellow smart city and project managers.

  • Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Different cities are at different stages of digitalisation. Some might just be starting from scratch, others are already publishing open data, and a few might already have experience in operating smart city test-beds or piloting IoT-enabled and data-driven services.

However different cities might be, or how different their stage of digitalisation, cities encounter similar challenges, especially when it comes to the implementation of technical enablers of interoperability. Implementing what we call Minimal Interoperability Mechanisms – or MIMs in short.

By asking one simple question – “How did you do it?” – follower cities can learn quite a few tricks from frontrunner cities who have already implemented such technical enablers. By asking this question, they avoid making the same mistakes and save precious time. This is especially important when, as in the case of SynchroniCity, 12 new cities have to come to a quick understanding of shared technical underlyings.

In SynchroniCity and OASC, cities come together to discuss and advance the implementation of lightweight open standards for (open) data exchange – with the objective to avoid vendor lock-in in the future and to stimulate a local innovation ecosystem. By piloting 16 solutions in 20 cities and with a total of 50 implementations across cities, countries, and continents, SynchroniCity is now demonstrating that cooperation can make an open market for smart city data and services happen – based on terms and conditions set by cities & communities. 

Author: Lea Hemetsberger, Open & Agile Smart Cities