A Cities Innovation Primer

Innovation is a big buzz word, next to social and crowd, next to smart and data. It would help if those who use them would build strategies around the concepts, rather than use them for marketing purposes.

I have already written about benchmarking cities. While Berlin is trying to beat London at being the natural home for start-ups, incubators in ever city have a story to say about their environment. There is one on top of the cafe where all the city’s entrepreneurs hang-out and so it’s great for networking, there is another chosen by a big bank to have an innovation unit, and so forth.

I have two things to share with a city politician who wants to build a thriving innovation hub.

  1. Know your specialisation. Differentiate yourself for having a clear vision of the sort of city you want to be known for. This involves a clear understanding of whose life you want to make happier (your user), and who is going to pay for it (the customer). That understanding must have a compelling story. The happy user must be a person you can clearly identify in your city, and who you can talk passionately about to the entrepreneurs. Only then will you attract the right sort of talent, then they will do the drive the product development.
  2. Open up the data. Invest in building a good understanding of what’s happening. Capture the numbers and make sense of them. If they back your story, you have something going on. If they say a different thing, you have another (still useful) thing going. You and the entrepreneurs will learn a lot. Your city must embody the businesses that it helps build and once they have proven themselves there, they have already become successful at improving people lives in a manner which they can understand (and thus hopefully be able to replicate elsewhere).




Of satisfaction with cities

Eurostat has measured a particular element of happiness in cities… the satisfaction with culture. And the results for culturally rich Mediterranean cities is appalling. Can we find a “smart” solution and innovate around culture?

The question: “Generally speaking, please tell me if you are very satisfied, rather satisfied, rather unsatisfied or not at all satisfied with cultural facilities such as concert halls, theatres, museums and libraries in your city?”

The answers:


[Link to official Eurostat press release on satisfaction with cultural facilities]

which I would like to overlay on top of the answers given by Europeans to satisfaction with life in the their capital cities.


[Link to source for the Satisfaction index]

And the reason why I do this is because I want to start by saying that people are generally satisfied with life. If they are not satisfied with the cultural aspect, it is not because they are generally feeling low and in a mood to complain. I think that in fact, it is because cultural facilities are still so 1900s.

Europe’s urban regions house three-fourth’s of our population and generate more than half (53%) the EU’s GDP. So the market for culture in the cities exists.

Culture can be a lacuna to be filled by “smartness” in as much as other things like transport and energy, which so many cities focus on. Not in an Europeana manner which already exhibits online over 50 million pieces of artworks, artefacts, books, videos and sounds from across Europe. But in a way as to tickle more of people’s satisfactory realisations from culture, and in a communal manner. Because that is what cities are – they are urban communities. How can we join “social” and “culture”? Is it possible that this can raise the quality of the discussion content happening online?

When I lead social media workshops, I like to say that a successful campaign marries the online engagement with the physical world. Engages online, rewards tangibly. And this can be the starting point for improving cities’ ratings on satisfaction with culture.

Recently, for example, the Musée du Louvre “hid” the internationally recognised glass pyramid by wrapping it with a street art of what usually lies behind it. This action caused conversation and thus online engagement about the Louvre.

Engagement promotes a human story of discovery, which tantalises others to follow and do more. It brings the spotlight on culture, and thus commercial interest around the concert halls, theatres, museums and libraries which are aching for funding for productions, renewal and reaching out. A date can also be at a concert or a theatre, families and friends should can find it cool to meet at museums, and libraries can be beyond books and more about spaces for literary interpretation.

The chicken and egg (of do we invest first, or later?) can be solved by Facebook: the most-widely used online social platform. It is indeed an opportunity for the company, and not only as corporate social responsibility, but also as the tool for a new form of culturally rich enjoyment. The challenge is on: which city can engage (with) Facebook first?


The Brits have spoken in favour of outing their country from the EU.

Speculation is rife about what will happen next in the UK, but what we know is that David Cameron intends to lead the country for 3 months. No “precise timetable” is needed, and “a negotiation with the European Union will need to begin under a new Prime Minister” he says.

The EU leaders are picturing photos on the tabloids, of David Cameron at the beach, while they struggle with holding other EU populations from following the United Kingdom. Talk is on about how David will leave Britain’s next Prime Minister to face Scotland and Northern Ireland, to face the Queen to communicate the possible disintegration of her kingdom, and to face the EU to negotiate the withdrawal.

Cameron – pictured on the beach at Polzeath, Cornwall, during his family holiday. — Source: APEX 22/08/2013

But the EU must wait for the UK to officially pronounce its intention to withdraw – there is no obligation on when, and there may be other referenda and elections in the interim. Then, there are two years allowed for the negotiations to take place.

Merkel has asked for the process not to “take forever”. The leaders of the founding member states have issued a warning that they want to tackle the matter urgently. But the reality is that Europe treated the whole situation as a joke (it is enough to recall that Germany’s awakening to the reality that the Brits will vote to leave, just 12 days before the referendum, meant that Der Spiegel’s cover carried the English title “Please Don’t Go”, and was sold in Britain for below half price!!)


EU leaders are again getting derailed.The UK should be allowed to face its own fate at home, and the EU’s focus must be on safeguarding the union.

If the EU leaders wanted the UK to hurry up, they had the opportunity when they struck the February deal with Cameron. Then they could have made it conditional that the UK’s vote would be final, and that a win for the “leave” campaign would in itself be an invocation of Article 50. Lesson learnt. And back to the point.

I am sorry for the many British people who voted to remain and now must go with the rest. They are European Union citizens today and will be stripped of their rights. The rights that many seem to not understand. And a clear failure of the EU’s commitment to reach out to people and explain how the EU matters to them on bread and butter issues. As well as how it has mattered in the bigger picture: single market and peace.

On the one hand,  we have many British young people that travelled and lived abroad. And this may be part of the reason why 62% of the 25-34 year olds and 52% of 35-44 year olds voted to remain. But on the other hand 60% of Britain is over 40 years old, and many remember the UK before it joined the EU. They have a right to look back sentimentally to the UK they remember, or the one described by their parents. The EU belongs also to these people and their parallels across the whole of Europe. Democracy – the rule of the people, is the basis for the authority given to our governments and it has withstood the test of time.

“The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government” (Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights )

European Union leaders may be currently overtaken by the magnitude of current events. And this may be part of the reason why anti-establishment politicians have taken 20-30% of the seats allocated to France, the UK and Italy in the European Parliament. This while EU leaders battle with the oil crisis, peace in neighbouring countries, terrorism, immigration, farmers blocking the roads because of EU subsidies and French taxis battling the new shared economy?

While the EU gets always more labelled as a cover for power-hungry Eurocrats in Brussels, two main cities in Italy have elected a mayor from within Movimento 5 Stelle. M5S is part of the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) group, as is also Nigel Farage’s UKIP. Then there is Marine Le Pen’s FN in France amongst others. These parties stand for the promise of big change. That’s not because these eccentric, hardliners have a plan to tackle bread and butter issues, but only because they are good at making noise about it.

The British people’s decision to leave the EU was taken on the basis that the EU cannot stop meddling with what should be decided by the Member States – sovereignty. Maybe a peaceful co-existence within a challenged single economy requires the EU to focus on:

  • showing an understanding of the concerns people have about asylum seekers, and (i) clarifying how the EU is tackling this problem at source, and (ii) applying interim measures to sustain the badly impacted parts of Europe;
  • a mix of solidarity and good governance in the Eurozone (rather than insisting on austerity, almost as a form of punishment); and
  • favouring any measure that immediately grows the need for many jobs in Europe (not just the equally needed long term policy of growth for jobs).

The EU can stop a mass outing if it takes the UK’s withdrawal in its stride; and is seen to care, learn from it and focus on solutions for priority matters. As well as help stir a positive sentiment of change, that can be commonly understood and talked about as the healthy aftermath of Brexit.

European leaders – read 10 tips from McKinsey.


David Cameron’s beach photo: Source – APEX NEWS & PICTURES NEWS DESK: 01392 823144 PICTURE DESK: 01392 823145

Stay IN

In 2014, Nigel Farage made a big deal about not being invited to lay a poppy wreath on the Cenotaph to remember those who fell in the wars.

Does he know anything about this other monument?

Blanc nez obelisque.jpg
(Source: Wikimedia. By: Velvet)

Not to be confused with its twin – the Dover memorial across the Channel (La Manche). They both celebrate the lives of all those who fought for the ever closer union between Britain and the continent. This one is in Cap Blanc Nez – in France.

During the first world war, the French and British were busy protecting the strait of water between their two countries. The plaque under the above monument says that they “built a Franco-British maritime unit, mainly consisting of English sailors and boats … to ensure the safety of the passage and to prevent German attacks.” So much was the monument a memorial to the success of this mission, that the Germans blew it up when they invaded France during the second world war. The monument was rebuilt in 1962.

While the French and the Brits battled the Germans, London was home to a new family: Nigel Farage’s ancestors, who had migrated from Germany about 50 years earlier. What would they say if they heard Nigel Farage talk about migrants from other EU countries like Poland? Brits died in the two wars, and yet Britain did not ask the Farages to leave.

What does Nigel Farage know about Britain’s history as a world power? Indeed, for most of its history, it was simply a frail island, land fought over and ravaged by conquerors from all over Europe. All these conquerors left their DNA in British blood. And as early as 1701, England allied with the Dutch and the Austrians to counter the French monarch, Louis XIV’s attempt to unite the Spanish and French crowns.

Europeans spent two hundred and fifty years to succeed to successfully unite. Here are among the first words that describe the birth of the union – the proposal that the French and German coal and steel industries be put under joint control: “Through the consolidation of basic production and the institution of a new High Authority, whose decisions will bind France, Germany and the other countries that join, this proposal represents the first concrete step towards a European federation, imperative for the preservation of peace.”

Yes, unity for peace, so that today the French coast closest to the British isles would no longer need to be dominated by military constructions built by the Germans. In the fifty years before the birth of European unity, there were two full scale wars, that led to the perishing of an estimated 77 million lives! We have stopped killing each other, and so unity has shown to be a working solution for Europe.

Indeed sadly, we have been unable to stop all the world’s killings, and maybe even stuck our nose where it didn’t belong and provoked some other wars. I always feel that world peace is best promoted and preserved by respecting the sovereignty of all lands and their chosen systems of governance. When these systems break we inevitably see death, destruction and the painful displacement of people, like the unfortunate ones who are now landing on Europe’s shores. However, on matters of human suffering we should only be united, and anybody who makes this issue a Brexit matter, is just being a sensationalist and unworthy political leader.

Farage is a French surname. Maybe a name historically rooted in the word fardage. Is his a case of farder la vérité?

In closure, the EU is not perfect. It is human, young and evolving. And the political leaders met and responded already to say that they want the UK to stay. There is no doubt that the EU will suffer without Britain, as will Britain without being in the EU. And it is difficult to gauge how much – a divorce will hurt. British? Vote IN. Or you would be throwing away the baby with the bath water.


I just learnt that there is a petition to the UK parliament, to stop Brexit. If you are British, or a resident of the United Kingdom, you can put your name.

Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 02.32.46

Of Cities and their Value

Cities are where people live nowadays. In 2008, we crossed that important landmark where 50% of the world’s population were living in cities; and UNICEF then estimated that the figure would rise to 70% by 2050.

Some people try to explain this phenomenon by going back to the 50s, to say that’s when urbanisation picked momentum. A post-war economic whiplash.

Others, like me, go further, and put the tipping point all the way to somewhere in the 1800s, with the revolutions that changed the world: the industrial and agricultural revolutions; maybe even the French revolution. Revolutions meant empowerment, and everybody wanted to be part of the new good. Infrastructure and economic opportunity are amongst the promises made by cities.

But there are cities and cities. To avoid confusion, I will add one more definition of “City”: A permanent human settlement that continuously brings out the best of its inhabitants and mashes it into a common good, which serves to increase happiness in the society(ies) that populate it; and attracts external investment in its infrastructure.

I will be happy to discuss this definition and to improve it too. But what is sure is that there are cities which are more City than others. And so maybe, we should have a City benchmark. On the benchmark I would put the following criteria:

  1. How permanent is this settelment? Or is it a city of ‘transit’? Do its inhabitants willingly bring up their family there, and see their children in the future bringing up their own families there?
  2. How continuous are its actions? Does it have a strategy which enjoys very wide championship, and thus (bar differences in implementation) would not change with political mastery?
  3. Do its inhabitants feel counted for? On a range of 1-5 how many inhabitants would answer “3” and above for the question: do you feel that you positively contribute towards the society you live in (within the confines of this city)?
  4. How happy are its inhabitants? There are enough happiness measurement systems – let’s apply one to see if people are happily realising their City-dream.
  5. The 3V Test: What is the estimated return on investment for money spent on infrastructure? (Is the investment viable?) In what ways are these returns visible? And are they attracting futher investment (Are they viral)?

Real Cities need to be named and demonstrated.

Real Cities need to be encouraged, and there should be a platform which acts to bring their actions together to make success more possible for each one of them.

Investors in real Cities need to also be named and demonstrated – in terms of how much they have been able to acheive a common good, and against a widely agreed benchmark (possibly based on the above five points).

Dear Bernard…

It is reported in the media of today that Bernard Cazeneuve, “France’s interior minister has ordered a ban on the low-cost car-sharing service UberPOP after a day of nationwide protests by taxi drivers.”

“France’s taxi drivers – who have to pay thousands of euros for a licence – say they are being unfairly undercut by UberPOP.” says the BBC.

Dear Bernard, you who have recently also been Minister delegate for European Affairs, should know that closing Uber is not the solution. You should know that licensing taxis should not cost thousands of euros. No licensing should cost anything more than its administrative cost and the public authorities may not make a profit. In fact if you have not heard about the Services Directive, the Dutch government has kindly provided simple explanatory text in English (sorry not French!). Please check the part called “License Fee”.

So, it follows that if one is not selective about the choice of laws to enforce, then the implementation of the Services Directive in French law would mean waiving the thousands of euro being paid by the licensed taxi drivers, so that then they would be at par with Uber. And then they would not be justified to take to the streets. In fact, immaterial of whether you ban Uber, they should protest for the government to waive the license fees or to reduce them drastically to just cover the costs.

Uber is based on a fundamental right. It is our right as citizens of Europe to travel freely, across borders, within borders and to, as drivers, carry with us other people – consenting passengers. Using licenses to inhibit new businesses from opening is illegal, because it is against the values of the European Union.

As a sign of solidarity with the Uber, here is this blog’s first free advert:


A vision for the digital economy of tomorrow’s cities

It is encouraging to see one of Kroes’s final messages, before this Commission’s mandate is over, to be: “There is no separate digital economy. We have an economy that is digital.”


I agree fully with the statement that we cannot have a separate digital economy, and I see what Kroes means when she says that “we have an economy that is digital”. We have however not reached the goalpost of calling our economy truly “digital”. Governments have not enabled that full transition, and the foundations of our economy are still made of thousands of disconnected pockets of digital success. There is a significant difference between an agenda (a to-do list) and the final implementation of a vision. When we were talking about the Digital Agenda in 2009, the to-do list contained a number of enablers for the digital economy. And the scoreboard shows a relatively successful execution. But there is still road ahead.

The OECD has recently acknowledged this significant progress in the “digitisation” of the economy: shortening supply chains for customers (e.g. through eCommerce), and reducing economic burdens (e.g. unrecovered VAT) for businesses.

What is the vision?

As millions of people move around Europe, across national or EU member state borders, they are mostly settling in cities. However the cities as we imagine them, the ones buzzing with life, such as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, London and Paris are significantly few. These very large cities exist only in 14 of the 28 countries of the EU, and less than 25% of the EU’s population live in them.

There is a significant number of cities housing a population of 500,000 or less, indeed about 60% of people live in these cities. Yet when we talk about a digital economy to the 500 million citizens of the EU, they expect smart cities to be the immediate future. These expectations are the challenge of a vast majority of local governments in municipalities across the EU. There is a significant difference between Barcelona and London, but they still both have economies of scale. The same cannot be said for small cities, or also of small countries like Cyprus, Malta and Luxembourg.

I base my observations on a factual European Commission report downloadable from here.

The vision of the local governments of small municipalities across Europe is to be able to fulfill the expectations of 60% of the citizens of the European Union, and achieve a truly digitally connected Europe. In terms of this connected universe that will spell the future digital economy, we need new thinking for the solutions to be adopted by the governments of tomorrow:

  • agility in the ability to deploy services;
  • direct impact on the citizens and businesses, rather than inward-facing reforms which serve only to reinforce bureaucratic silos;
  • public spending that makes innate connectivity between systems mandatory: not as a feature, but as a design principle; and
  • big public spending that prefers suppliers who are active in a collaborative workspace with SMEs, governments, the third sector, academia and also engaging the end-customers.

We can observe fragments of this sort of thinking in many places of European policy. But by 2020 Europe must show the real value of the European promise, beyond the funding mechanisms. We need a solid commitment towards scalable, common, re-usable solutions that will improve the quality of life  of the man in the street: for the 60% of people living in the smaller cities, for example; but also for the 25% who decided not to live in Europe’s urban areas.


What’s behind the smile?

Yesterday, Sunday 27 April 2014, two popes made history together, being canonised together. A lot has been written about Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, and so this post focuses on Pope Francis, and specifically about a photo he took in August last year.

Selfie Pope Francis

Actually, here is a picture of the picture being taken.

Picture of Pope Francis selfie

Let me start by re-stating that I feel that every photo has “multi-dimensional space”, and that photos freeze a moment in time, but not what was happening. What was happening is a whole different thing, very different for every person in that moment, and also possibly many different things for each of them. All of this allows for perspectives which may be disentangled by you and me, the picture’s viewers.

The word selfie was Oxford dictionary’s word of the year in 2013, defined as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself” and so, strictly speaking the picture of the pope is not a selfie. Because he did not take it. But maybe it qualifies because he actively participated in it (posed for it). Has Pope Francis too been actively pursuing the development of his personality cult?

Do popes need, or should they develop one? A personality cult, that is? Many people still wonder whether, behind that lovely smile of Pope Francis, we will discover a conservative or a progressive leader. What happened yesterday can be a message from the pope, in as much as that selfie, which was published by the Vatican’s l’Osservatore Romano. In fact one might tend to question, as Time did: Public Service or Propaganda? No harm, if by building Pope Francis’s persona, the church can reinforce its own voice.

I feel that the church is very aware that, like every modern government, it needs to engage people. The church knows that its citizens are not only its followers but also the rest of the world. It is reassuring to note Pope Francis’s interest in interfaith dialogue for example – diluting divisions. Would the energy otherwise spent arguing differences, not be better committed to promoting the co-development of the twenty-first century.


Update: Upon feedback from readers, the original final argument regarding the environment will be developed further in a future post.

iPerson: rebuilding a nation

Kim Jong-un

BBC yesterday used the above image of Kim Jong-un, northern Korea’s supreme leader. The post on BBC’s magazine monitor is funny as it exposes Kim’s obsession about being important, much like his grandfather. In the fifties, grandpa Kim Il-sung would issue on-spot guidance and his people would take notes, then execute it. BBC’s reporter makes fun of people around the young Kim still doing so today, all on identical notepads.

True, maybe they need iPads. But that point only just barely scratches the surface.

What Kim Jong-un is up to is building his personality cult. Very little was done for him by his father, although Jong-un had been declared successor already two years prior to his father’s demise.

In modern times, and specifically in Communist nations, the art of building a personality cult was maybe best conducted by Stalin. Others too have used means of mass communication to popularise themselves extensively. But none have been reprimanded so heavily as Stalin by Krushchev. In fact, in Kruschev’s address to the 20th Party Congress, we find repudiation not only to Stalin building a personality cult, but to a whole array of grievances to Marxist teachings. This includes repression of the collective leadership.

Korea is under its third generation of Kim, and Jong-un’s father: Jong-il, had been cast as a deity. The official biography has his birth announced by a swallow and the event greeted by a double rainbow. The reporting of his death in 2011 has a fierce snow storm pause and the sky glow red. His word was final, and any deviation was considered as a sign of disloyalty. After his death, he was proclaimed Dae Wonsu (a title only afforded by Jung-un’s grandfather, and which means Grand Marshal).

Game over.

It is not the iPad in the hands of people taking notes which is missing, then. It is what the iPad represents in a modern society. The “i” stands for internet, individual, instruct, inform and inspire, said Steve Jobs in the 1998 launch of the iMac. All of these are powerful tools for a modern society which Jong-un can aspire to progress if he truly is to be the personality that his land needs in 2014. The policies of openness and transparency, termed Glasnost by Gorbachev, brought about the start of a collapse of a frightful era for Europe and the world. That process, more than twenty-five years later, is still ongoing. Is Kim ready?

Momentous victory for pardon

Pardon is a virtue, maybe only second to patience. And many times pardon requires patience. So was it for Balal, whose pardon arrived just a moment before the chair on which he was standing already, with a noose around his neck, would be swung from under his feet. At this very last minute the victim’s mum slapped him, and then forgave him, thus saving his life. Thankfully the slap did not itself swing Balal off that chair. For the picture below says it all.

Death by hanging was his punishment for having killed the woman’s son in a fight, when both were just 17 years of age.


Source: Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA). All photos of the moment of the interrupted execution area available here.

Yesterday’s post about Stanfield’s momentous photo of just after the heart transplant surgery, was to say that photos have a story. This set of photos of Balal’s interrupted execution also have a story – many stories in fact. The story of Balal’s lucky strike for example, the one of the sadness of that victim’s mother, the one of public execution in general and of Iran where it is still practiced, and many others.

What social media has enabled in the last ten years of Facebook, is in fact not just a social network, but many stories which would otherwise have been left untold. Facebook and other social platforms are a fountain of that imagination that fires to pull out a story for a picture you see for the first time. As the details and the motivation are unknown, you make them up.