From cities to platforms: the future lies in participatory governance

This week LabGov recommends “The city as a Platform: How Digital Networks are Changing Urban Life and Governance” by David Bollier, an insight into the digital challenges our cities are facing. It is the result report of the 24th roundtable on Information Technology, hosted by the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program. Thirty leaders and experts from local administrations, the private sector and academia gathered in San Francisco, US, in July 2015 to share, analyze and foresee the impacts networks and networking have on cities from different technological, economic, social, cultural and political viewpoints.

Do you ever think about how our ordinary life would have been so extraordinary just a few decades ago? Imagine about every single action we carelessly and repeatedly take every single day that couldn’t be conceived in the near past. Think about our smartphones, our super-fast internet connection, how we can find everything we need in few seconds or even talk face to face with friends thousands of kilometers away.

Our lifestyle has changed tremendously. So have not the political and administrative structures which we live in, or at least not at the same hectic pace. That’s the challenge launched by David Bollier in its “The city as a Platform: How Digital Networks are Changing Urban Life and Governance”. It’s all about “keeping up” with ourselves, using the spread of digital connections and networks in a strategic fashion. The American activist, writer, and policy strategist argues that city administrators have to realize that the explosion of digital technologies is no longer escapable and it must be a key element in policy making at the local level. In fact, this proliferation has changed how we live in cities. It is time for them to adapt to the digital revolution, showing creative leadership in fostering economic growth, urban development, social inclusion and political participation.

In his own view, the future of cities lies in platforms, i.e. networked cities, virtual loci where to use digital and network technologies and make the best use of citizens’ mastery.  Inclusive processes aimed at exploiting their digital expertise would be key to solve urban problems through urban agenda co-setting.

Redoing the template of the city implies shifting from a physical locus marked by representative democratic structures and a centralised administration, to a virtual space where power, information and expertise are diffuse, inclusive, shared, open thanks to bottom-up processes.

But how can open networks, online cooperation and open data benefit economic growth, urban development, social inclusion and political engagement? The evolution of the digital era, he elaborates, has already a huge potential for urban planning and city administration.  There is a lot that could be already done by starting to leverage and act on four main assets: infrastructure, people, technology, data. Open data, crowdsourcing, and urban prototyping would be the means to improve public administration and social exchanges.

According to Steven Asler, Chief Information Strategist at IBM, it is all about making cities “self-aware” by letting their citizens participate in their governance. A new configuration fostering inclusion, the networked city is “a vision of city governments engaging with citizens in acts of co-creation” (Pethe Hirshberg).


Abbiamo letto “The city as a Platform: How Digital Networks are Changing Urban Life and Governance” di David Bollier, un interessante report sul ruolo che la digitalizzazione di massa sta assumendo nei processi di policy-making. Dalla città alla piattaforma, passando per la governance partecipativa, il futuro è sempre più condiviso.