Cities of Data: #SCE2015

Cities of Data: #SCE2015


On October 14-15-16 Bologna will confirm its role as one of the “smartest” cities in Italy when it will host the fourth edition of the Smart City Exhibition (SCE) under the title: “Knowledge, collaboration and implementation in cities of data”. The aim of the festival is to continue to transnationally study, analyze and share best practices for the governance of cities. The focus of this edition will be the “raw material of innovation,” information.

The three main focus areas of this edition are: sources, models and technologies. The intersection of these areas is the basis of this Festival, and so to speak, of the social innovation in urban contexts. Let’s start with sources. Open data are becoming more and more familiar to a majority of governments, both nationally and locally. Indeed, it is very possible that your own city has an open data website. Even more familiar is the role and the diffusion of social media; it is almost certain that you use or take information from social media. Unfortunately, these two elements – open data and social media -, which are the reasons why a staggering amount of data are at our disposal on a daily basis, do not go hand in hand as they should. There is significant potential for the fruitful use of information that basically goes astray in today’s world wide web.

On the other hand, there are already thousands of projects and best practices all over the world that are trying to meet the potential of these Cities of Data. Social innovation practices, and, on a broader scale, new models of social innovation— as anyone who frequents the Commons Post already knows – are stemming from almost everywhere, seamlessly. A complete understanding of these models, built on existing data and on first hand experiences, is at the basis of the whole social innovation phenomenon.

How? To respond to this question one must insert the third area of interest into the equation: technology. In fact, an effective use of both data and models can only be possible through a widespread and grassroots use of new technologies. “From data mobility infrastructures, to systems of data storage – today more rational thanks to a massive use of cloud computing – from web aggregative platforms to the mobile App, to sensors (smaller and with high performance).” (SCE). New technologies are opening up spaces and opportunities that used to be uncharted, for both governments and citizens.

Today we live and make decisions through piles of information. In fact, one of the greatest challenges ahead of us in the foreseeable future will be based on the management of three features that are at the core of the data/information revolution: 1) the size of data/information at our disposal; 2) reliability and trust in the existing system of sources; and 3) useful and lawful use of data/information. The greatest reform in the governance of the city in the next 50 years will an answer to these three problems. The ultimate goal should be the use of all of this data in citizens’ and governments’ favor.

To know more:

(LabGov will be in Bologna too for the First IASC Urban Commons conference on November 6-7).


Dal 14 al 16 ottobre, Bologna sarà lo scenario della quarta edizione della Smart City Exhibition. Il tema principale sarà incentrato sul ruolo dell’informazione, nella sua accezione di open data. Le tre aree di approfondimento saranno: fonti, modelli/pratiche e tecnologie.
Esperti del settore, con diverse esperienze, si incontreranno con lo scopo di discutere delle potenzialità e delle problematiche nella gestione degli open data all’interno dei contesti urbani. L’obiettivo infatti è quello di creare le giuste sinergie tra tutti i soggetti in causa per rendere questa rivoluzione utile nella gestione delle città del futuro: le smart city per l’appunto.

City century

City century


Cities have played a leading role throughout history. After a relative short spell where states had the upper hand, they seems to be ready to gain their role back. A simple fact solidify clearly this assumption: twenty to thirty years from now, 70% of the world’s population will be crowding in urban areas. This figure appears as even more remarkable if compared to the already staggering percentage of today, when more than half of the world’s population lives in cities.

The phenomenon of urbanisation is a two-sides coin; on the bright side, living in the city can be as funny and exciting as it can get; on the dark side, most of us, in the daily routine, can grasp that life in a big city has become unbearable. The biggest challenge of our time is to defeat this common perception, since improving life in the cities is basically our main hope for a better future.

As pointed out by Micheal Bloomberg (former three-terms mayor of New York City) in this article, published by Foreign Affairs:  “Influence will shift gradually away from national governments and toward cities, especially in countries that suffer from bureaucratic paralysis and political gridlock.” A fully fledged application of the principle of subsidiarity, in a word, will be the key for our future development. In fact, we are already inside this process of power-shifting.

How did we reach this point? According to Bloomberg, and more unassumingly by us at LabGov, the political and economic standstill of our time, worked as a sparkle for innovations – mostly in urban contexts. Cities are getting smarter and smarter. They are very often the main national hub of knowledge, creativity, new technologies, and so forth. Vertical farmers, smart lampposts, zero carbon buildings, and many many more. In the words of Bloomberg “cities eventually recognized that the best replacement for lost federal funding was local policy innovation.”

Majors and city’s administrations are transforming their cities in policy lab. This trend is always more evident on a daily basis all over the world, in a way that big metropolis are collaborating cross-nationally with small urban centers sharing ideas and best practices.

C40, for example, is the network of megacities aiming to spread climate friendly practices within its member cities. In 2011 only 6 cities of this network had bike sharing programs; by 2013, 36 had them. The same thing is happening for many other good practices, and it is very likely that this trend will gain even more momentum in the foreseeable future.

The upcoming IASC Conference  organized in Bologna by LabGov in collaboration with Fordham University of New York and the ICEDD of the LUISS University of Rome will deal extensively on topic such as this, thanks to the contribution of some of the most innovative and relevant scholars in this field.


Il secolo in cui viviamo si sta connotando sempre di più come “il secolo delle città”; se da un certo punto di vista ciò non è una novità nella storia dell’uomo, il fenomeno rappresenta un’inversione di tendenza rispetto ad anni di centralismo statale, soprattutto nel vecchio continente. Le città di tutto il mondo saranno la casa di circa il 70% della popolazione mondiale da qui ai prossimi 20-30 anni. Non c’è dunque da stupirsi se sarà proprio nelle città che si giocherà il destino e il benessere di milioni di persone. Le pratiche di innovazione sociale nei più disparati ambiti stanno diventando sempre più frequenti; c’è dunque bisogno di non fermare questo fenomeno, ma di renderlo sempre più efficace ed efficiente. LabGov, in collaborazione con la Fordham University e lo ICEDD della Università LUISS di Roma affronterà questo tema, insieme a molti altri, il 6-7 novembre a Bologna nel corso della prima edizione della Conferenza tematica sui beni comuni urbani.

City’s administration and backing up social innovation

City’s administration and backing up social innovation


Collaboration with citizens to realize potential benefits deriving from practices of social innovation is an emerging challenge for European cities. Examples are increasing in number day after day, and the growth is so consistent that is almost impossible to get in line with it. What is rather possible, and in a way desirable, is to cluster them and to underline some features that are becoming more and more paradigmatic, even at the cost of breaking some conventional wisdom. And by doing so, promoting the spread of best practices across national borders.

Administration’s budget are under tight constraints. It is becoming some sort of a refrain in the last years, but it is also an undeniable fact. Cities in particular, are in the unpleasant situation of being asked improvement in their social services (mobility, housing, food, and so forth) with no extra budgets.

That settled, it is also true that difficult situations are the perfect humus for innovation of any kind. This is even more true in urban contexts. Amersfoort (The Netherlands) and Gdansk (Poland) are just two of these. Here, both the central administrations and citizens are working together to go beyond old problems, problems made even worse by the above-mentioned economic context. The two cases are also paramount examples of two different cultures of governance, which have grown up amid different historical backgrounds: a  bottom-up approach in Amersfoort, and a top-down in Gdansk.

Amersfoort offers an example of a design process that was progressive and based on the collaboration with the city administration. In 2014, the city launched the Year of Change, a year to rethink the governance of the city towards a model based on shared responsibility and collective leadership. The city administration was witnessing a fait accompli: beyond the retrenchment of the administration, citizen-driven initiatives were blooming. Citizen-initiatives were quickly seen as an asset, and above all as an opportunity. The field in which initiatives were spreading were: urban development, sustainable food consumption and many other. The only thing the administration was asked to do was to assume a new position towards social innovation, to leave the floor to social innovators and to limit its role in the action of removing old barriers (legal in particular).

In Gdansk the situation was and still is slightly different. Once that acceptable standards of living were reached, in fact, the administration, putted under  pressure by the citizenship, decided to move towards social innovation practices. Immaterial values, such as happiness, quality of life, cultural development and so forth, gained relevance once again on the political agenda. An important role to support this vision was taken by some experts and practitioners: the Club of Gdansk  an informal think-tank – had a crucial role in bringing together civil servants and NGOs representatives with the aim of prioritizing issues for the city. The common values of the group were: trust, participation, honesty, responsibility and transparency. The outcomes of this club’s meeting were used to co-design programmes and strategies. In Gdansk is a limited èlite that started the revolution, but the result is nonetheless remarkable, and the citizenship is starting to have its say in the process.

As already said, if we could just step back and look at the whole continent, what we would see could resemblance a session of acupuncture – with projects instead of needles – throughout Europe. Amersfoort and Gdansk are just two of these needles. That being said, their relevance lies in the different theoretical and functional approach to social innovation that they engender. On the one hand, Amersfoort looks like the textbook example of social innovation (citizens-driven, and so forth); while on the other Gdansk seems to throw that same textbook out of the window (a city that change under the tutelage of an enlightened leadership, policy-makers and some experts). What it truly does, however, is to cast a new light on the idea of social innovation. The idea of social innovation is just an “hollow shell” without first-hand experience of each society’s characteristics (culture, history, social structure, civil society – see Robert D. Putnam’s Making Democracy Work – etc.). A process, successfull in a city, might be a colossal failure somewhere else, if blinly replicated. Good thing is that citizens and administrations seems to already acknowledge that.


I contesti urbani sono da anni i luoghi in cui professionisti, cittadini e studiosi possono mettere in pratica progetti di innovazione sociale. In tutta Europa si moltiplicano questo genere di esperienze con una velocità mai vista. Se da una parte dunque è impossibile analizzarli uno ad uno, quello che è possibile trarre da una loro analisi, è l’estrapolazione di pratiche. Gli esempi di Amersfoort (Olanda) e Danzica (Polonia) sono importanti dunque ben al di là dell’innovazione e dell’efficacia dei loro singoli progetti. Quello che ci consentono è infatti la possibilità di analizzare delle pratiche all’interno di contesti che si differenziano per situazione economica, culturale e storica. La lezione che ne traiamo è che non esiste un singolo modus operandi per innovare la governance di beni e servizi nei contesti urbani, ma che l’innovazione sociale, per rendere onore al proprio nome, deve adeguarsi alle singole realtà, senza alcuna pretesa di standardizzazione.


Sharing economy: challenges and opportunities of a non-traditional business model

Sharing economy: challenges and opportunities of a non-traditional business model


According to Google it was in 2009 when someone typed for the first time the term “sharing economy. It goes without saying that things have changed in these 6 years, and now, knowingly or less, everyone is aware of this non-traditional business model.

A recent study published by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research, is a good scientific benchmark against which comparing the approach to “sharing economy” on both the shores of the Atlantic.

Designed in the US, a sharing economy model represents a paradigmatic shift from an “ownership based” economy to a “use based” economy. Aside from that, to underline the basic features upon which this model of business is not that easy; and the scientific literature still needs to fully address this sort of shortcoming. However, a broad definition, that is generally accepted is the following: “(a sharing economy model) includes all economic activities that focus on sharing goods, services or knowledge”.

Basicly the human being share goods and services with his peers since time immemorial. In the last decade, new IT technologies have boosted these practices to the skies. Let’s just think of online platforms able to match demand and supply instantaneously. Therefore, it is possible to say that technology was and still is the main driver of new sharing economy businesses. Day after day, they are easier, cheaper and more flexible. Car2Go, AirBnb, Bla Bla Car, and Uber, are just some of the most successful experiences of the last years.

The main focus of the study is however to put in the spotlight the interaction between these companies – which are all very different – and traditional business companies on national or European markets. On the one hand, because of their often “platform-based” nature, sharing economies companies find it easier to enter markets in comparison to traditional entrants; on the other hand, they need to work in a legislated environment which was not conceived for them. The consequence is a negative reaction, often an open conflict, with traditional companies who complain about unfair competition in markets that used to be uncontested for some time.

The conclusion of the study is that basically, pre-sharing economies regulation is inapplicable to sharing economies companies, especially P2P model – let’s just take the case of private accommodations: if a private should oblige to regulation in the matter of fire safety, pollution control or hygiene, almost no private accommodation would be suitable for rent.

Therefore, a different approach is needed. The legislator, according to the author of the study, should work following these policy directions:

  • level the playing field quickly for both traditional and non-traditional companies;
  • provide resources for competition in Europe
  • foster venture capital
  • foster the ease of starting business
  • promote entrepreneurship in school

At the the end of the day, and this is in my opinion the most important conclusion of the study, “sharing economy” is an opportunity for everyone; to some extent also for traditional business model actors. For example, when a “sharing economy company” enters a market, it also contribute in increasing the demand for that particular market – i.e. consumers interested in sustainable consumption, and so forth. If a traditional company understand that, new market segments are open for everyone to take it.

LabGov welcomes the beginning of this debate in Europe, and especially in Italy. We are in fact well aware that good ideas are worthless in unregulated environments, and we are also working to fill this gap.


Un recente studio pubblicato dall’Istituto di Ricerca Economica di Colonia, ha messo in evidenza le sfide che la diffusione di modelli basati sulla sharing economy stanno ponendo nei mercati tradizionali. Connotati da caratteristiche uniche – in particolare ll’idea dell’uso dei beni e non dalla proprietà – questi modelli vivono e prosperano grazie a nuove tecnologie in grado di mettere in contatto diretto domanda ed offerta di beni. L’altra faccia della medaglia è rappresentanta dal vulnus normativo che crea tensioni con le imprese tradizionali. L’Europa, ancora indietro rispetto gli Stati Uniti sotto questo punto di vista, deve aggiornare le proprie leggi e regolamenti per fare in modo che la “sharing economy” diventi un’opportunità di crescita per tutti, nel rispetto delle regole e della concorrenza.

Marco Quaglia

Subsidiarity, urban regeneration and car-pooling: some interesting aspects of Pope Francis’ last encyclical

Subsidiarity, urban regeneration and car-pooling: some interesting aspects of Pope Francis’ last encyclical


“Praise be to you, my lord” is the recently published encyclical written by Pope Francis. The sub-title is “on care for our common home”. “Care” and “common” made a ring bell here at LabGov, so we decided to take our time to read the text carefully and critically in order to understand the point of view of the Pope on these topics.

To be very clear the whole encyclical embrace many topics, spirituality and faith of course, but the whole structure is organized to put at the center our “common home”: the Earth. In the 6 chapters, the Pope challenges mainstream paradigms of our society, such as consumerism, short-termism and industrialisation at all costs. Climate change, water scarcity, air pollution and loss of biodiversity are just some of the consequences underlined.

More interesting to us, as LabGov, is when the analysis moves to human activities. Along these lines, on chapter 4, it is launched the concept of “cultural ecology”. Citing from the encyclical: “together with the patrimony of nature, there is also and historic, artistic and cultural patrimony (…). This patrimony is a part of the shared identity of each place and a foundation upon which to build habitable city” (par.143).

This ecology is worth considering and needs to be fostered. It is the ecology of our daily life that makes us work for an “integral improvement” in the setting of our lives: our home, our workplace and our neighbourhoods. According to Francis, mega cities, the experience of overcrowding and social anonymity are creating social bombs within our societies; a communitarian salvation is possible only through creative ideas. Taking into consideration how important is the interrelationship between living space and human behaviour, often to save a building or a neighbourhood, can be enough to save a community. The same can be said for the necessity to protect common areas, visual landmarks and urban landscapes (par.149-150-151).

Another issue is the one of the importance of a re-balance between politics and economy; specifically in the light of our institutional framework. The Pope reminds us the principle of subsidiarity “which grants freedom to develop the capabilities present at every level of society, while also demanding a greater sense of responsibility for the common good” (par.196).

The last part of the encyclical is devoted to the “environmental education” of a new “ecological citizenship”. Little daily actions can contribute directly to the world around us; among those cited – less consumption, social housing and so forth – there is, interestingly, car-pooling as an example of a successful sharing economy practice.

At the end of the day, the encyclical is an interesting read and a must read for all of us. It draws fully from a vast literature – religious and scientific – offering a fresh and inspiring insight on some of the most debated topics of our time. In particular, the focus on life in the cities – with the care and regeneration of urban landscapes, the re-thinking of common spaces and the development of sharing economy practices – is a much welcomed news for LabGov and the international community we are part of.

To read the encyclical: full text


“Laudato Si’” è il titolo della nuova enciclica di Papa Francesco. Il testo, di ampio respiro, prova a mettere in discussione il modello di sviluppo della nostra epoca a favore di una nuova ecologia integrale. Secondo il Papa, è necessario ribaltare questo modello con il fine ultimo di salvare la nostra casa comune, il pianeta. Interessante è l’attenzione dimostrata per le tematiche familiari anche a LabGov e la sua comunità internazionale: la vita nelle città, la cura degli spazi pubblici, e la promozione di pratiche di sharing economy. Sono queste le pratiche che, secondo il Papa, dovrebbero diffondersi tra i nuovi cittadini ecologici.


Marco Quaglia