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Making Our Cities Smart: Madrid’s Movement

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization. 

By Karen Osborne
March 5, 2019

Madrid is the smartest of the smart when it comes to developing and implementing information and communication technologies (ICT) to fundamentally change the way the city operates and incorporates its citizens. The intersection of advancing technologies and the changing urban landscape in Spain drives the use of digital initiatives. Madrid has designed the Madrid Intelligence Project (MiNT) with a citizen-centric approach to build a smarter city for the people, by the people.

Smart cities are localities that use digital initiatives to increase citizen engagement so as to allow personal input regarding social issues to advance society. The technology used, ICTs, are a system of networks used to create, distribute, store and manage information. ICTs enable Madrid’s smart grid technology. They consist of sensors and cameras that collect data on public services ranging from traffic congestion trends to the timing of the street lights.  Participants in the project are Madrid’s very own citizens who, by virtue of living in the city, consent to having their actions—such as driving and public service usage—tracked and recorded.

The connective power of mobile devices has also allowed new forms of participation to develop in order to improve the relationship between citizens and their government. Platforms like Decide.Madrid.es, and the Madrid Intelligent project (MiNT) develop and facilitate the direct participation and collaboration of officials and citizens. The government utilizes technology to allow all residents to voice their opinion on issues. Citizens need only a zip code or email address. The ICT used in government service is also open to all, but participation is limited to viewing government documents.

ICT Facilitation of Citizen Participation, Open Government, and Public Service Delivery in Madrid highlights how technology and connectivity (e.g., smartphones) can be optimized to improve services and quality of life by engaging citizens in the innovation process. Change does not need to be a movement sold to the citizen but instead designed by the citizen. Madrid has remained transparent about their motives behind collecting citizen’s data and has shown how it is being applied. Madrid’s residents have seen their city transform before their very eyes, which invites more individuals to participate in the process.

Author:Karen Osborne is a graduate assistant for the Participedia Project at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Her academic focus includes nonprofit organizational management and collaborative governance. As a McLane and Sherwood Scholar, Karen plans to invest her career in development, primarily related to community services.

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