What if cities were able to compare innovations supporting democracy and choose the most effective ones? And what if they were able to assess how successfully residents have been engaged in decision-making?
This may soon be the case. Docent Mikko Rask of the University of Helsinki and his team are developing the Co-Creation Radar, a digital tool for enhancing democratic practices based on data and expert assessments.
“With the radar, cities will be able to make more effective decisions, improve public participation opportunities and develop better regional solutions,” Rask says.
Innovations supporting democracy are in high demand, as the 10,000 or so cities around the world look for ways to operate within the planetary boundaries. In fact, cities may play an even more important role than governments in the sustainability transition, which is why inhabitants too must be involved in the process.
“The green transition is unlikely to succeed if decision-making structures remain as hierarchical as at present,” says Thomas Holm, the team’s commercialisation specialist.
Although many digital platforms supporting participation are available in the market, it is difficult for cities to know which of them are reliable and work as they should.
“The Co-Creation Radar was developed to answer precisely these questions,” says Rask.
Cities can use the radar to assess the usefulness of a specific digital platform or examine the successes or weak points of their work of promoting participation. The radar also collects data to make it possible to compare cities and identify problems such as inequality.
“We’re gradually developing a better understanding of the key societal challenges to which cities should target their resources,” Rask continues.
The innovation originated when Rask and his colleagues examined about 300 participation assessment indicators, identifying 12 key dimensions. The team consists of not only political and administrative scientists but also AI researchers.
To date, the radar has been used to assess the participation programmes of the cities of Tampere and Lahti as well as the model of participatory budgeting (article in Finnish) used in Helsinki. The tool has also been trialled in Gothenburg and Trondheim as well as Antalya, Ljubljana and Sarajevo.
Co-creation Radar has received a two-year Research to Business funding from Business Finland to prepare the commercialisation of their innovation.
“The new commercialisation project funding should allow us to pilot the tool in Seoul, South Korea, in spring 2024,” says Rask of the team’s future plans.
The Co-Creation Radar has considerable commercial potential. Even the OECD has referenced the radar, and digital participatory budgeting is gaining ground fast.
“Cities such as New York, Paris and Madrid are allocating one per cent of their budget through a new kind of participation process,” Rask notes.
The team already has what it takes to establish a consulting company, but its aim is even more ambitious: to scale up the radar with AI-driven automation. Holm believes that if it is possible, someone will do it.
“And we want to be the first across the finish line.”
During the two-year commercialisation project, the team intends to refine its business model, tailor the tool for the global market and validate and patent the innovation. The digital radar platform will be tested in Finland and elsewhere in spring 2024.
“This is an opportune moment for Finnish cities to contact us,” Rask points out.
The team has already entered into discussions with investors. Holm would like to hear particularly from funders interested in solving sustainability problems with Co-creation Radar. He stresses that a green transition is impossible if we invest only in new energy systems or sustainable mobility.
“It requires investments in democratic innovations too.”
Cities cannot tackle problems such as the sustainability crisis without innovations supporting democracy. Although many digital tools for engaging residents in decision-making are commercially available, we have no objective information on their benefits.
The Co-Creation Radar enables cities to assess the functioning of democratic innovations and the successes and challenges of their own efforts to promote participation. Democracy will be strengthened, and cities will be able to make more effective decisions. Major global problems can be resolved more successfully.
The team aims to scale up its innovation. The business model may be licence based, for example, but this will be decided during the commercialisation preparations as a Research to Business project. The aim is to establish a spinout company.
The Co-Creation Radar team is seeking investors to fund the resolution of global problems. Cities are needed for piloting the tool. The team is also happy to hear from researchers interested in the assessment of participation.