Cities make players from all walks of life work together, from ordinary citizens through neighbourhood associations to network operators. Some pioneering cities are experimenting with public-private partnerships to orchestrate this polyphonic ensemble and regulate the sharing of big data.
Originating in the Anglo-Saxon world, and created in France by the order of 17 June 2004, public-private partnerships (PPPs) were first used for the construction of infrastructure, on a reciprocal basis: the private operator provides the major share of the initial investment and in return receives income from operating the structure or a rent paid by the local authority. The new Paris courthouse, the Sydney Airport Link and the Bhadla solar megapark in India are among the hundreds of projects completed worldwide using PPPs. Favoured by local authorities with a tight budget, PPPs nevertheless require extreme vigilance in the sharing of risks, costs and income. Otherwise, they can turn out to be more expensive, for the region or the user, than an investment from public funds. In a report published in 2018, the European Court of Auditors pointed out the additional costs and delivery delays that afflict many PPPs, caused by lack of prior analysis and insufficient competitive tendering. Rigour and tight control are even more necessary when PPPs are used not to build a bridge or car park, but the intelligent information systems and online services that herald the city of tomorrow, the “smart city”. Cities such as Boston, London, Rio de Janeiro and Lille, for example, have signed a partnership with “Waze”, the famous road navigation app, to collect real-time data on traffic incidents and road accidents reported by motorists, and thus allow city staff to take quick action.
At a more advanced level, the megalopolis of Seoul will soon launch a “big data platform”, collecting data from all transport operators, public and private, to adjust the capacity of metros, buses and trams in real time, and enhance its MaaS offer. These few cases illustrate the central issue of the connected city. “We are moving from project management to usage management: to a cross-cutting approach, centred on the needs of the end user, bringing together a multitude of stakeholders – local authority, network manager, research centres, service providers, associations, users – within a governance that must organise the sharing of data, among other issues,” according to a group of experts from IAE Paris-Sorbonne(1). Data is thus at the heart of the new PPP, with all its still-unresolved questions: how to achieve mass data collection from multiple partners while ensuring data protection? How to use the data and pay for this use? Who should be entrusted with its storage? In a field where everything remains to be done, these same experts recommend a scalable PPP, adjustable as the partners gain experience and certainty. We’ll find out in a few years if “smart” PPPs have avoided the limitations of their predecessors.
(1) Digital New Deal: public-private relationships in the smart city. Research Chair IAE Paris-Sorbonne Business School.
"It is all the more important to involve citizens, to gather their experience."
What role do PPPs have to play in the emergence of smart cities, which you prefer to call “Senseable Cities”?
C. R. The “Senseable City” incorporates digital technologies into a global response to city dwellers’ needs: not only more efficient services but also a city that is more inclusive, coherent, decarbonised. Getting there means bringing together a huge diversity of players, and the PPP can sometimes offer the framework needed to break down the barriers. Our laboratory conducts research, which does not come within the field of PPPs. Nevertheless, some of our project applications have given rise to this type of partnership. The city of Singapore, for example, created the Live Singapore! platform, which provides the public with real-time information from many stakeholders – including citizens themselves – resulting in the creation of apps and services that are useful to the community.
What would you say the keys to a successful PPP are?
C. R. A successful PPP, for a “senseable city”, is first and foremost a PPPP: a public-private partnership with people, designed using a bottom-up approach, starting from the needs expressed on the ground and getting residents involved.
The PPPP also needs a framework that is precisely defined by the public authorities, setting out clear rules while leaving the players a certain flexibility, essential in a still emerging field such as that of “senseable cities”.
Is there a specific method for “Senseable Cities”?
C. R. It is less a method than a state of mind that is inquisitive, daring, participatory, which looks on the urban territory as an open-air laboratory, a place to experiment with different solutions, whether it be micro-mobility, smart electrical grids or e-administration. The more you experiment, the more likely you are to find an effective solution. In such a new field of research, errors are inevitable. This is why it is all the more important to involve citizens, to gather their experience. They are best placed to judge the impact of an innovation on city life.
Participatory innovation spaces, or third places, are popping up everywhere, in rural areas as well as cities. They allow citizens to work together to redefine the uses, objects and practices of their daily lives, and, if they get on well, to unite a global community around their initiative on social networks. From local to global: here is the history of a minor revolution.
Born in 2009, Artilect is one of the oldest Fablab(1) in France. Based in Toulouse, it currently reaches over 500 projects a year, at the crossroads of urban ecology, high-tech and the solidarity economy. Like Artilect, fablabs, hackerspaces, techshops, open labs and other living innovation laboratories are multiplying, in France and around the world, with the aim of revolutionising the city. Behind the diversity of labels, which cover different degrees of specialisation, these alternative places share the same philosophy. They are collaborative spaces that provide everyone – citizens, associations, start-ups, etc. – with the machines, methods, tools and digital resources to design, create and manufacture together. The participants call themselves “makers” or “creators”, who want to get back to the roots of the policy, the life of the city. As opposed to top-down systems, whether it is in production, consumption or regional planning, these creators focus on developing an idea, an object, a service – it’s called micro-innovation – before spreading it as widely as they can.
For example: a plastic recycling machine, invented by a Dutch designer, has become a global community of 80,000 creators, “Precious Plastic”, which shares everything in open source to allow the collection and local conversion of as much waste as possible. Here, a new conception of the city is emerging, in circular and re-localised mode. “We want to move from the PITO (Product In – Trash Out) model, in which the city imports its products and exports its waste, with enormous environmental costs, to a DIDO (Data In, Data Out) model, where the city produces and recycles everything it needs on site, relying on data sharing,” explains urban planner Tomás Diez, founder of Fab Lab Barcelona and initiator of the Fab City Global Initiative, a global network of 28 cities and regions that aim for self-sufficiency by 2054. From the fablab to the fab city: creators plan to print their dreams in 3D!
(1) Fablab: contraction of fabrication laboratory
The number of anti-Covid visors made in April 2020 by French creators and distributed free of charge to caregivers
Source: French fablabs network.
Participative innovation, networked labs, start-up accelerator, cross fertilisation… RATP Group is innovating at 360°. A lever commensurate with the challenge: contributing to the emergence of smart cities throughout the world, by developing a sustainable, intermodal, inclusive and connected mobility offer for citizens. Illustration in Morocco.
With Urbanopolis, its network of 7 collaborative innovation laboratories(1), RATP Group has developed a state-of-the-art, cross-cutting and responsive tool, with three aims: exploring and deciphering the latest developments in sustainable transport and the smart city; identifying the most creative ideas within the Group and quickly bringing them to maturity; and finally sharing innovative solutions and best practice with its ecosystem. Urbanopolis thus plays the role of setting trends, discovering talents and facilitating projects. The network has contributed, for example, to the success of the Spark programme, a start-up accelerator launched in 2019 by RATP Group. Operating in open innovation, the labs involve a wide range of players in their R&D approach – researchers, local authorities, companies, town planners
in order to understand, beyond the technologies, every aspect of topics of the future such as driverless vehicles, artificial intelligence or MaaS. With their cross-functional organisation and culture, they promote the rapid spread of innovations, regularly enriching the sustainable mobility offer deployed by the Group in the 13 countries where it operates. With Urbanopolis and its 7 pioneering labs, RATP is more than ever a benchmark partner for local authorities, committed to building the city of tomorrow, decarbonised, smart and user-friendly.
(1) Casaroc (Casablanca), Ker’Lab (Brest), L’Atelier (Val de Fontenay), La Fabrique (Paris), La Factory (Noisy-le-Grand), Le Hub (Paris), La Plateforme (Noisy-le-Grand).
"Above all, it is open innovation, which stimulates internal creativity."
How can innovation respond to the health crisis?
P. V. The crisis has prompted us to innovate even more, to better support our customers. In particular, we have developed models to adapt the transport offer to the real-time traffic and physical distancing constraints. We have developed a collaborative app that keeps users informed, in real time, about passenger numbers on a journey. We have experimented with pioneering health and safety devices, such as Holostop, a contactless stop button, or the self-cleaning fabric from start-up Nano-Désinfection.
What makes the RATP Dev approach to innovation different from others?
P. V. Above all, it is open innovation, which stimulates internal creativity, via our participative platform “Innov & Go”, which multiplies partnerships and support for start-ups, creating complete mobility solutions, bringing together regions, AOMs(1), associations, service providers – like our MaaS service in Annemasse or our multi-modal network in Riyadh. It is also agile innovation, put together in a short space of time and focused on concrete benefits for our stakeholders. Finally, our approach must add value locally.
In Morocco, for example, it rallies schools, incubators and start-ups in the country around job-creating projects, positioned on products and services with high development potential.
Indeed, you have just launched RATP Dev Digital Hub Morocco. What is its role?
P. V. It all started with our lab in Casablanca, Casaroc, created in 2018. From hackathons to partnerships, it has brought out some remarkable innovations, such as the “WIP” and “Khdimaty” user apps. Digital Hub Morocco is the legal structure that allows us to industrialise and contractualise, all over the world, the solutions prototyped at Casaroc.
(1) Mobility organising authorities.