How many peers will it take to change the bulb in a smart city?

By Alberto Abella, assistant professor, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos; and president, OKFN Spain

According to UN, 66% of the world population will live in big cities by 2050. Changing the bulb of living in a smart city is therefore a radically important problem to address.

Current and exclusive top-down approach at city services has, in general, proved to be no longer valid as it exhausts city’s resources and provides inadequate services to citizens. Smart cities realize that it is better to open their knowledge and to let the ecosystems of citizens and developers to work together in a peer-production style.

When smart cities are opening their data, letting citizens to access, to upload and to process the data freely, they are somehow collaborating to a peer-production style. They are changing the bulb of their most popular problems. And when the city opens its systems — by opening their application programming interface (API) — they make possible for developers the creation of advanced services — changing from bulbs to LEDs.

« When opening their data, smart cities are somehow collaborating to a peer-production style »

Recent studies, like the one done by Natalia Kogan, show that smart cities success depends not on the amount of ICT you implement neither on the good governance of the city — both found as facilitators — but on the citizen engagement. This engagement is mostly composed by another type of peer-production, where citizens support their own data and processes.

We are in the early stages of determining what is the real impact of these peer-production schemas in our societies. Current impact models of the data released, like the one proposed by Thorhildur Jetzek and colleagues, are just providing first results. We also do not know how to release information and resources in order to make the information easier to be reused. Again a metric for such purpose could provide some insight.

It is possible that more mature versions of these or other tools will demonstrate that peer-production schemas around smart cities data are valid and efficient value-generating mechanisms. If this is so, as expected, we will have to align current public policies with peer-production, in order to make our cities a better place to live.

Changing the bulb of our problems might then be closer than expected.

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About the Question
How many peers does it take to change a light bulb?

Systems like Linux and websites like Wikipedia are paradigmatic of a particular way of open collaboration known as peer production. Peer producers choose their tasks freely and coordinate their work using open digital platforms. They share the fruits of their labour as part of a global commons, and everyone works according to their abilities and benefits according to their needs.

Is this an emerging form of communism? Or the future of liberal capitalism? Or is it simply a new mode of production? In this blog we want to explore both the benefits and the downsides of such way of working.

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