How are cities using digital technology to encourage citizen governance and make citizens become players in their city? Some are applying it to everyday situations: in Montauban, residents have been using the Tellmycity app since 2016 to report damage or anomalies in public spaces to the city council, supported by geotagged photos. The tool improves the relationship with users and is also a good barometer of the quality of life in the neighborhoods. Other cities are developing different approaches, such as Lannion, with its collaborative cartographic database created on a free platform in the style of OpenStreetMap.
To continuously and accurately improve this tool, it calls on help from citizens. And it works: the “digital commons” produced in this way benefit everyone. Teachers in the region use it in their lessons; the list of accessible places, exhaustive and close to users’ hearts, improves the daily lives of persons with reduced mobility; citizens’ expertise as users of public spaces can be fed back more easily to the departments in charge of their maintenance and development.
Some cities are embarking on more detailed experiments. The Greater Lyon area, La Rochelle and Nantes Métropole are now involved in the Mesinfos project from the think tank Fing. This self-data approach gets citizens involved in the production, use and sharing of their personal data, under their control and for their own purposes. La Rochelle is testing “CO2 Coach”, a tool for measuring and reducing the carbon footprint, with a group of volunteers (employees of Enedis, La Poste, city officials, residents, etc.).
Utopia or New El Dorado
Despite these initiatives, citizen empowerment still has a long way to go. “Some cities or towns are clearly demonstrating their wish for transparency through open data, which would encourage citizen participation,” notes Antoine Courmont, scientific manager of the Cities and digital technology chair at Sciences-Po Paris. “But the data made available is generally not easily accessible by citizens, who need the help of an expert to open the files and understand them.” For Julie de Pimodan, on the other hand, civic tech can help revive democratic vitality. She co-founded and manages Fluicity, a company specializing in collective decision-making solutions and tools (surveys, participatory budgets, collaborative projects, etc.), and believes that with these tools it becomes possible to “re-engage citizens on a massive scale while increasing the efficiency of public service”.
“Regions are demonstrating their wish for transparency through open data, which would encourage citizen participation.”
Launched in November 2019 and dedicated to “new forms of mobility and enhanced city living”, RATP Group’s start-up accelerator is in its first season, with six promising start-ups invited to test and deploy their solutions and services on the RATP network. Among the innovators selected: Geovelo, a pioneer in the planning of cycling routes. To give a boost to intermodal transport, the app prioritizes cycle lanes and streets with little traffic, providing users with comfort, safety and peace of mind. It also calculates routes adapted to each user’s cycling practice, and geolocates parking spots and self-service bicycle stations. Another lucky participant is FieldBox.ai and its app that uses artificial intelligence to generate optimization scenarios. The aim is to help RER controllers and signalmen make the best decisions about the allocation of rolling stock, with a positive impact on equipment maintenance… and traffic flow.