Home Citizen Engagement Smart Innovation Through Active Citizen Participation

Smart Innovation Through Active Citizen Participation


If people are given the power to decide and be part of the decision-making process, their mark is felt all around. The city of Zaragoza manages not only to aim for active citizen participation but to actually reinvent itself with the help of its people.

With intelligent management of its resources and human potential, the city has implemented some of the most efficient Smart City projects. By taking into account all social categories and working closely with national agencies the municipality of Zaragoza managed to create a stable bond between the people and authorities.

One of the top five largest cities in Spain, Zaragoza is a timely example of well adapted Smart City solutions, as well as a people oriented policy brought together by clever management strategy and implementation.

Ahead of Nordic Smart Cities – The City 2.0 we conducted an exclusive speaker interview with Daniel Sarasa Funes, Smart City Program Manager, City of Zaragoza about Economic Development and Citizen Engagement.

Daniel Sarasa is Urban Innovation Planner and Smart City Program Manager at Zaragoza City Council. Team ideologist and launcher of “Etopia. Center for Arts and Technology”, Zaragoza’s Open Urban Lab (@openurbanlab) and Digital Mile’s business and innovation ecosystem. Co-author of “Zaragoza’s Open Government Strategy 2012-2015. Towards a Smart Citizenship” and co-editor at openyourcity.com. Daniel also participates as a speaker in numerous international events.

How can municipalities realise their potential for innovation?
The potential for innovation in municipalities truly lies in cities and in the citizens. There is a lot of talent in cities, hence we, the city hall and the public servants, have to make sure that we can gather as much talent and ideas as we can and put it into these Smart City projects or into the innovation process. That is the main issue and the main challenge. The reason why this is not easy is because we are so used to planning the city with a top-down perspective and it requires a complete shift from Smart City project managers or from the public servants to change their perspective. We need to open up and be able to take into account the ideas of our citizens, the ideas of our local ecosystem.

What are the most valuable Smart City projects implemented in Zaragoza and what are the technologies used in the projects?
I don’t know if they are the most valuable, but I will speak about two projects which I think are quite relevant. First, our ecosystem for start-up incubators which was a direct response for one of our most acute problems which were unemployment, five years ago. Subsequently, we created this municipal ecosystem of four start-up incubators which were followed by other public incubators with the help of which we have been able to create a lot of wealth. About the technologies used, I can say that one of the incubators is also a low carbon or a zero emission building and we were able to implement all sorts of bioclimatic technologies within that building to make it consume zero energy. Another important Smart City project which has the potential to change the nature of citizenship is our citizen card project. Essentially, it is a RFID card, that is a basic technology upon which the project is built, which allows the delivery of twenty different services from the bus, tramway, public libraries, public Wi-Fi, public bikes. Everything that you can think of in terms of public services can be carried out with it. Even theatres, swimming pools, these sort of things, are implemented within the card which we call “All in One Digital Key”.

With it, we offer different discounts depending on a profile which can be a social or economic profile. For example, if you are in a situation of unemployment, you have discounts in public transport, or if you are a woman who is under threat of sexual violence you are under social protection. Disabled people also have special discounts with this card and you don’t have to tell anybody about your profile or about the situation that makes you eligible for a certain discount. It also allows the city management to establish smart pricing policies. For example, we can decide to apply discounts for the people who combine public bikes with public transport or for those who are heavy users of the libraries so it is a smart tool in this regard. The good thing about it is that you don’t have a different card for every service and nobody has to know why you get such discounts when you hop onto the bus or go to the theatre.

How are these profiles made?
We lean on trusted agents to establish these profiles. For example, we have an agreement with the association for disabled people, when they tell us that someone is disabled we trust them and we update the profile in our database. Then there is an economic transaction. For example, there is a very nice project where we have been able to put our subsidies for disabled people into the taxi association. With these subsidies, many taxi firms are adapting their vehicles to be able to transport disabled people so it’s a win-win situation because they get better services and the taxies have more customers.  Another benefit, which is really nice, is that we have a policy which states that a person who is disabled pays for his/her transport roughly €0.70 which is the cost of a bus ticket so when a disabled person get a taxi and the ride is €10 they only pay €0.70, but the taxi driver gets the full cost of the trip and everything is done automatically through web services.

What were the most valuable tools for citizen engagement you have used so far and why do you think they worked so well?
We created an innovation hub called “Etopia Centre for Arts and Technology” and we have a long record of online participation, online engagement, but we think that there is nothing like physical participation and we feel that people are willing to take part in what we call collaborative city making. This is the reason why we created this centre three years ago and inside the centre, we created what we call the R&D laboratory of the city which is called “Open Urban Lab”. Within this lab, we co-create and conduct open innovation sessions with entrepreneurs and citizens, people from the universities and municipal public servants. This way we try to integrate the participation of all stakeholders in the new definition of public services. It’s not a bottom-up approach, it’s a collaborative approach and I believe this is one of the most valuable tools that we have at the moment. In September we are going to begin a new project inside the Open Urban Lab which is based on the philosophy of the laboratory; the people working in the Mobility Department of the city want to strengthen the link between private bikes and the tramway and they asked us to help them in signing a new service where people can park their bikes next to tramway station, lock their bikes and then get some benefits included in the price of the tramway ticket or in the price of parking. We want this to be a local project to measure its success and people to feel more engaged and we expect potential criticism for the project to be much lower than if we would approach the project with a top-down perspective. So we are going to conduct a series of open innovation sessions where we will ask local entrepreneurs to come to our lab and discuss with us this challenge, we are going to explain how the tramway works, how the citizen card works, how we can connect one system to the other. Hopefully, we will be provided with a project from the entrepreneurial ecosystem for which the city hall is going to pay. Instead of issuing a request for proposal we will do this the collaborative way and I think it is an interesting example of how we can engage citizens to create and launch new digital or non-digital public service. It doesn’t mean that every new service is created like this, but it’s a new approach and a very promising way of doing things.

What is the role the city of Zaragoza plays at the national level?
We are referencing in some fields, Zaragoza is the fifth largest city and an important one in Spain, maybe not so well known at the international level, but we have a few aspects in which we are somehow a good reference.  One is open data, along with Barcelona we probably have the most advanced open data policy in Spanish city halls. Another thing to mention are the start-up incubation centres, in fact, our model for municipal start-up incubators has been replicated in other cities. We are also referencing the citizen card, there are many cities asking us about the system or trying to implement similar models. Outside the field of technology we are also a reference to water consumption policies, we held the International Exhibition dedicated to water and sustainable development in 2008 before Shanghai and Milan. We managed very well to implement measures to save and reduce water consumption. I think we also reference in mobility, we are a city with more than 500.000 inhabitants with fewer traffic jams according to TomTom Traffic Index and this is because we conducted an aggressive policy for reducing and taking the cars out of the city. We implemented a combination of measures, a good policy to boost the use of public bikes and the use of bikes in general and hardcore measures to put the tramway at the very centre of the city. In some places they put the tramway outside the city, our tramway project goes right by the middle of the city taking out road lanes that were previously allocated for cars and this reduced enormously the number of cars in the city, then we have also taken a lot of measures to pedestrianize streets, especially in the city centre.

If you could name one thing that is at the core of every attempt to innovate, what would it be and why?
The driver for these changes and the main character in this play is the citizen. We don’t just want to make good services for the citizens in the centre, but we want the new services in the city to be done together with the people and this is what we could call ‘engaging by doing’. Then there is a parallel set of projects that deals with fab labs and teach yourself initiatives that are very linked to this – so it is all about giving away power and the capacity to make things to the citizens.