Commons for Europe: How American civic innovation sharing is crossing the pond

Despite their different appearances, on a functional level, every city around the world is the same: they are connected by their need to provide services to large numbers of people in a condensed area. It is clear that digital public service innovation is something that tends to be initiated on a local level, as citizens respond to problems they observe in their own environment. However, cities are reluctant to look to each other for the use of technological applications and platforms, which results in them wasting time and money in essentially reinventing the wheel. We don’t see nearly enough sharing and collaboration, whether nationally or internationally.

This is why Civic Commons was created in the US, a platform that provides a marketplace for open innovation in public services. It invites cities to share digital applications, and shows what applications have been tested where, effectively offering a pool of knowledge for civic innovation. Now called Code for America Commons, it allows innovators to share details about their applications – and in many cases, the source code, so others can put the idea in place in their own city.

In the spirit of sharing experience that inspired Code for America, Nesta has teamed up with the organisation to promote European use of the platform, and ultimately build a new one, Code for Europe. As well as collecting applications from cities across Europe to support their adoption elsewhere, we are working specifically with six European cities: Helsinki, Rome, Barcelona, Manchester, Berlin and Amsterdam. A fellowship programme will bring web developers into city authorities to develop new digital services, with the aim of making governments more open and efficient.

The most important aspect of the applications we are looking for is that they solve a problem, one which will in most cases be faced by cities around Europe and indeed the world. Promoting the reuse of public data is one step towards maintaining ‘smart cities’: with broader access to information comes greater community involvement, and ultimately increased human capital.

We are confident that digital applications can shift the service currently provided by city governments, strengthening civic engagement and supporting the role of data technologists in government. As fellows, these data technologists will identify new technologies to improve services. As they build relationships between the technology community and local authorities, they will act as a translator between cities and people with ideas, eventually making it easier for anyone to make an impact in their city.

View the apps we’ve uploaded from Rome here.


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