Different Cities, Common Mindset: An Insight into the Urban Data Community

Daniel Stölzle is sitting in his living room. No, not at his home, as we are already used to from countless video calls, but in the office of his employer, Mainzer Stadtwerke AG. There, the innovation manager and his colleagues have given up an open-plan office to set up the innovation room, affectionately known as the “living room,” instead. Here, knowledge sharing and collaboration starts at the lowest level. But he and his colleagues share knowledge not only within their own organization – but also beyond the city limits in the Urban Data Community (UDC).

 Open collaboration as a driver for new tools and technologies

“Here at our company, there is a focus on generating added value from data in order to meet the challenges of our time as efficiently as possible with data- and evidence-based solutions. But this requires collaboration on several levels,” explains Daniel Stölzle. This is one of the reasons why Mainzer Stadtwerke has become part of the UDC: a community that was founded to connect smart city actors on an inter-communal level, to bring the topic of urban data into conversation with each other – and to become active together in order to quickly bring solutions that have been found into application. The community is organized by DKSR as a provider and partner and by Fraunhofer IAO, in whose innovation network “Morgenstadt” the community has its roots.

Already within the first meetings of the community, it quickly became apparent that various municipal actors face almost identical tasks and questions:

How can we water our green spaces as needed, even in the heat of summer? How can we detect parking violations at e-charging stations? How can we motivate our city dwellers to leave their cars behind and switch to public transport? 

These are precisely the challenges for which intelligent solutions can be created with the help of data – and actually, these digital solutions are easily transferable. So why should the wheel be reinvented over and over again by every municipality across Germany? This is where the work of the Urban Data Community comes in. Through it, a platform is created for developing replicable templates from local use cases. “The great added value of the UDC is organized collaboration – and the approach that we can benefit others with the solutions we develop,” Daniel Stölzle agrees.

This is the basic mindset of the community: sharing is better than thousands of partial solutions. In this way, synergy effects are achieved from which all members ultimately benefit. In regular digital exchange formats, the group talks shop, compares, and critically discusses; soon, project-specific feedback will also be gathered in open review meetings. In this way, a rapid exchange takes place on how, for example, an initial use case can be set up or with which sensors good experiences have been made so far in a specific context. Or is it even worthwhile to jointly procure at one point?

More motivation with community coins

To support sharing and the so-called give & take process, the community would like to establish a bonus system in the future. “In a community, everyone is rarely equally active – and not everyone is equally advanced,” is the honest reflection in a meeting. The bonus system is intended to prevent members who have been involved in the development of use cases from being disadvantaged in terms of their commitment compared to, for example, new members.

For two months, therefore, a corresponding pilot system has been set up under the auspices of the Morgenstadt Initiative. “As a member, you earn coins if, for example, you finance a technical platform component that other members can later reuse. What’s motivating about this is that you can use the coins again later for your own projects; they grant a discount, so to speak, and fuel further development,” says Eva Ottendörfer, head of the Urban Governance Innovation team and the Morgenstadt Initiative at Fraunhofer IAO.

It is precisely this principle that underlines how the community works: ideas emerge in a co-creative process in the community and are catalyzed and organized, supported by the UDC team. The Morgenstadt Initiative creates the link to science, while DKSR has the task of mediating into the economic eco-system.

In 2022, the community gains another feature: it gets its own virtual place for exchange in DKSR’s new infoportal. An overview of what the community offers and how municipalities and municipal companies can participate can already be found here as well.

Anyone who wants to find out more is welcome to contact Eva Schmitz!