Nesta, in partnership with 6 European cities, is launching Code for Europe to put the talent of data technologists at the heart of city halls. We are exploring how this contributes to a step change in how cities and local governments run public services. Our aspiration is that cities become more open and transparent, more effective at gathering relevant talent to deliver services with impact for citizens and more efficient in using technology to best effect.

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With Global Entrepreneurship week 2012 coming up soon, we wanted to share our informative video for the Creative Enterprise Toolkit which features three creative entrepreneurs who have used Nesta’s Creative Enterprise Toolkit to help plan, build, shape, test, launch and communicate their new creative business.

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Helsinki street ©Haidee Bell

I chaired a panel session at OK Festival in Helsinki in September on the theme of reuse of digital public innovation. Below is a reflection on the discussion.

We are experiencing a wave of change across city halls in Europe and beyond as a host of new digital civic services are being created, many built on newly released open data, frequently through collaborations with disruptive technologists, some directly with citizens. This is increasingly accompanied with a willingness to share practice, to find platforms and networks to tell others about these trials in a welcome move towards more openness between cities. That said, it would seem that those running our cities are much better at opening up their own inventions for others to imitate than they are at copying innovation from elsewhere. As Philip Ashlock, US Presidential Innovation Fellow, commented at OK Festival, cities are more likely to share than to borrow.

Herein lies a problem of supply and demand. Whilst the application of open source principles to sharing practice between city halls is a trend to celebrate, it’s not a simple case of ‘if it’s open, they will come’.

Why is this?

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Image of Whitney Museum of American Art © Gryffindor

After the first call for Digital R&D Scotland programme closed, we spent some time analysing the data from each of the 51 applications submitted to Nesta. The complete analytics document can be found on our website here.

The analytics document examines geographic location, the types of organisations who applied for the fund and sizes of budgets requested. Also, through the application process we asked each cultural organisation to select a theme to categorise their applications. What we found most interesting was that none of the 51 applications chose the ‘Fundraising – using technology to generate giving, sponsorship and membership’, while more than half of applicants selected ‘Digital Content Distribution – delivering content in new ways’.

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A £30,000 award launched this week by Bristol’s Watershed Centre celebrates the notion of the ‘playable city’, by supporting the creation of a new work to be installed in a public space in Bristol next summer. The challenge: to ‘use creative technologies in surprising and engaging ways’ to reflect the theme of ‘playability’.

The competition will ultimately be a way to explore what this concept might be: organizer Claire Reddington has made clear that the meaning has yet to be defined. She does state in their news blog that a ‘playable city’ is imagined as a counterpoint to a ‘smart city’. Rather than focusing on ‘infrastructure, services and monitoring’, ‘people, hospitality and openness will be key’ to creating ‘a place where residents and visitors have permission to reconfigure and rewrite places, attractions and stories’.

The distinction between the ‘smart city’ and ‘playable city’ is an interesting one.

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Last week the government launched a ground-breaking online service – – that replaced two previous sites, Directgov and BusinessLink.

I think that the ease of use, findability of information and accessibility makes it world-class. Together with the revolutionary which is a repository for public, open data, this puts the United Kingdom at the forefront of global innovation when delivering central government digital services.

So, the product itself is innovative and, more importantly, useful.

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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.

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