Last year, at Westminster City Council we launched our Smart City for All campaign with the mission to solve our community’s issues by listening to their concerns and working to improve the lives of everyone who interacts with the city. 

We hoped to reach all corners of the community by launching initiatives that everyone could get involved in. As the spearhead of this ambition, we launched our inaugural Innovation Challenge. Similarly to Barcelona’s smart city programme which has witnessed citizens participating in 70% of the city’s development proposals, the Challenge invited ideas on how the Council should improve the city, with the winning idea due to be brought to life later this year. The idea behind the challenge was to put our citizens at the centre of our plans for the city, but how does a citizen-centric smart city work in practice?

Letting our citizens decide the city’s future 

When launching our inaugural Innovation Challenge, we had little expectation of how many people would enter or what the outcomes would be, and we were truly astonished by the level of response that we received. 

The challenge was open for less than two months and managed to receive 219 ideas from a broad spectrum of the community – even from one Westminster resident who, at the impressive age of 90 years old, talked through her entry with one of our colleagues so that it could be submitted online on her behalf. The level of response has been truly heart-warming and has allowed us to hear directly from those who live, work and visit our city about their creative ideas for how to improve Westminster.

What creates a truly smart city

To create a smart city, we knew that our citizens would be at the heart of everything we did. Although encouraging digital inclusion remains crucial for the future of our residents and businesses, we have found that human touches within our community are what can make a city truly smart. For instance, without the in-person interactions of the Smart School Challenges or the sessions held at our Innovation Hub, we would not have received such interesting ideas from diverse communities. In fact, the age group that was most responsive to the challenge was 16-24 year olds. With young people often cited as the group that is hardest to engage with, these results are really encouraging and highlight how future generations are embracing their role as leaders of a more progressive future. 

Plans for the future

Embarking on the Innovation Challenge has been so rewarding as it has demonstrated that we are able to reach a broad spectrum of people within our community and, moving forward, it is crucial that we maintain the engagement that we now have with some of the hardest-to-reach communities. Indeed, our aim is to continue to listen to the problems faced by our residents so that our city can evolve with the community that inhabits it.

Currently, we are in the process of shortlisting the ideas from the Challenge which will go to an expert judging panel in the coming weeks. The winning entry, alongside four theme winners spanning clean tech and digital inclusion, will then be announced and helped to be brought to life by the Council and our partner, GovTech accelerator PUBLIC. We are looking forward to unveiling the amazing ideas that our citizens have imagined in due course and are so grateful to all who entered and are working with us on our mission to create a smart city. Watch this space!

Aruj Haider, Chief Digital and Innovation Officer,
Westminster City Council

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