IMCG blog

Citizens crucial for great ideas to gain market impact


When cities are adapting to new regulations and sustainability goals, this often calls for a change in the behaviour of citizens.

“But citizens are human beings, like you and me, and we’ll hardly stick to a new thing if we don’t understand what’s in it for us”, says Ulrika Wahlström, Innovation Project Manager, IMCG.

Many of the projects that IMCG is involved in regards cities that want to try smart, sustainable solutions in demonstration districts. In order launch new solutions it’s vital to have the residents in the specific area on board. The aim in the longer perspective is to make the whole city smarter. Willem-Jan Renger, head of HKU Innovation Studio, Utrecht, is an expert on citizen engagement that we work with in the H2020 project IRIS. He explains that technical pushes might easily lead to citizen disengagement. This is often what happens when cities are too eager to reach the sustainability goals and only check if the supplier of the new technical solution has fulfilled the features described in the proposal, not focusing on the actual result it contributes to.

An app won’t solve everything automatically

The designer of an app will contribute to a larger market impact if the innovation design is based on the needs of the ones that will utilize the innovation.

Sustainable solutions, such as shared car services, commonly are associated with an app. This app is often designed by someone who wants to provide you, as a citizen, with all the good information that can be put in to it. And that’s a lot of information. For you, the primary thing is to know how to book a car, where to pick it up, where to leave it and so on. If you are overloaded with information you find useless, you will stop using the app and your behaviour will not change. The city’s sustainability goal involving minimizing the private car ownership in the city centre will thus fail.

How to avoid common mistakes

Willem-Jan Renger emphasizes that if an app is to be launched as an active touchpoint between a new service and the citizens, the designer will contribute to a larger market impact if the innovation design is based on the needs of the ones that will utilize the innovation. In this case the car owners that are to take the step towards sharing car services instead of owning a car of their own. By finding out what the citizen’s dreams and ambitions are, when she will use the app, if she’s connected to internet, what kind of mobile devise she has and how much time the she will have to spend on participating and how much that will disrupt her regular life – then, the designer has much better conditions for contributing to a touchpoint that actually works.

There are many models that can be used for user-driven innovation design. One of them is SCOPE, which is used by HKU. It’s highly effective and involves a set of questions that are structured and adapted to the specific innovation project or business that are to be rolled out.

Large impact on business models

Both HKU and IMCG are involved in the IRIS project, where several integrated solutions are to be introduced to and used by citizens in Europe and beyond. For example, there are shared mobility services by Vulog and Trivector, energy efficiency services offered by Metry and open data services offered by the cities of Gothenburg, Nice and Utrecht. Many of these services are connected to an app.

“To collect relevant facts about the citizens will have an impact on the business models of the integrated solutions provided in IRIS”, says Ulrika Wahlström, Innovation Project Manager, IMCG.

IMCG is appointed by seven European cities to manage the horizontal innovation management process and is working with all 43 project partners in order to identify and further develop sustainable business models that can be replicated not only in cities within the project, but in other European cities and cities beyond Europe.


About the Author

Ulrika Wahlström

Ulrika Wahlström

Ulrika Wahlström är innovationsprojektledare med speciell kompetens inom strategisk kommunikation på IMCG. Ulrika är utbildad civilekonom med inriktning på marknadsföring. Hon har jobbat som exportrådgivare på Danmarks Eksportråd och kommer närmast från Business Region Göteborg där hon jobbade som marknads- och kommunikationsansvarig för Kluster & Innovation.