The smarticipate project will end in February 2019 after three years. Below, Patricia Hernandez and Claudio Bordi of Risorse per Roma, who were tasked with designing and testing the smarticipate platform for the City of Rome, reflect on how smarticipate has evolved in the city.

The smarticipate platform is now in a more advanced state. How is it being used/tested in your city?

The smarticipate platform is being tested by citizens, smart implementers and city administrators within the City of Rome. The area selected for the test is the city’s District 8. The stakeholders testing the platform simulate the creation of new urban gardens in the city, selecting a specific area, setting the perimeter and selecting different items to be placed in the urban garden such as sheds, wells, paths, and so on.

How did you decide to use the smarticipate platform for the planning of urban gardens?

Urban vegetable gardens have existed for a long time in Rome. Many consider the modern versions to be leftovers from those that emerged during World War 2, which are seen as being haphazard and untidy rather than adding a note of beauty to the city.

This richness of experience of citizens’ associations in the field of urban agriculture in the city, usually organised independently, together with the importance and growing recognition at international level of urban agriculture, led to the approval of the Regulations of Urban Gardens of the City of Rome in 2015.

The increasing demand for plots of land by citizens’ associations and the excessive bureaucracy that makes the assignment procedures lengthy and complex have opened the possibility of using a technological tool such as the smarticipate platform.

What do you see as the future of the smarticipate platform in your city?

Co-creation is gaining more and more terrain in the governance methodology of our cities. Policy-makers and politicians have come to terms with the fact that citizens are no longer satisfied with a voting exercise every four years: they want to actively participate in the planning processes of their city too.

Up to today, citizens could send their views and opinions through traditional communication channels such as e-mails or letters. Using an app, however, to vote for a planning, development or requalification proposal from the City Administration brings a completely different perspective to the participatory process and gives the citizens a real-time voice in the matter. In this sense, we see the smarticipate platform as an innovative tool with great potential, since it provides the possibility to develop apps to cater for very diverse services: designing a new network of charging stations for e-mobility, designing new cycle paths, and so on.

Collecting data and the concept of “open data” was a large part of smarticipate. Has the project changed the way in which you approach the collection or use of data?

Data collection and open data are a key factor of smarticipate: without data there can’t be a platform, and without open data the platform can’t be properly used. In the case of the City of Rome, the data were available but were neither in the right format nor open. The reason for the data not to be open was a concern from the city administrators regarding the possible inaccuracy of the data, which could have led to criticism from the citizens.

What are the key lessons from the smarticipate project journey for your city?

In the case of the City of Rome, there are two main lessons learnt: the first is the importance of open data. Not only is it needed to feed the platform, but it is required for the development of any application. Having the data but not making it open is of very little use as any process of co-creation requires citizens to have access to updated information.

The second lesson learnt is the great potential for innovative technological tools to facilitate co-creation through participatory processes, which can reduce the bureaucratic burden overwhelming our cities’ administrations.

What is your overall feeling towards the smarticipate project?

The project has brought to light the importance for cities to have accurate and up-to-date data available, and to have it open, as its uses are countless. In particular, the possibility to build a platform in which to feed city data and from which to create a series of apps to cater not only for citizens’ needs but to give them the possibility to have a voice in their city’s planning processes is certainly the most innovative aspect both in terms of the use of data and in terms of social and governance impact. This is, in our opinion, the greatest success of smarticipate.

The smarticipate project will come to an end in February 2019 after 3 years. Has the vision of the project been realised for your city?

It has been realised. The objective was two-fold as far as Rome is concerned: Firstly, it is to allow citizens to participate in the city’s planning processes and make their own proposals on a given matter. Secondly, it is to reduce the bureaucratic burden and simplify governance processes. This has been achieved in the field of creation of urban gardens in Rome’s public areas and we believe the same success can be achieved in other fields of the city’s governance.

When you least expect it, the changes take place. During the Informed Cities conference on 7 November, the Department of Urban Planning in Rome highlighted the importance of publishing open data. A few days after the conference, the Department of Urban Planning published the open data – this is the proof of the impact that Horizon 2020 projects such as smarticipate can have on cities.