Citizens are central to the ELLIOT project, not simply being asked to reveal their needs and suggest ideas but this time encouraged to get involved in data collection, analysis and experiments designed to drive forward conception of the smart, sustainable city.

[Innovative City] Involving Citizens as Researchers, Co-creators and Testers of the Smart City

Speaking at the 5 Plus City Forum in March, Carlos Moreno, scientific advisor to the president of GDF Suez Group subsidiary Cofely Ineo, underlined the importance of the ‘citizen-centric’ approach, which consists of designing services to suit citizen needs. Might it not be easier though just to give ordinary citizens the tools with which to invent the city of tomorrow? An example of this approach is the Experiential Living Lab for the Internet of Things (ELLIOT) project. Its aim is to develop an Internet of Things (IOT) ‘experiential platform’ where users/citizens are directly involved in co-creating, exploring and experimenting with new ideas, concepts and technological artefacts related to IOT applications and services, in different situations in the home, at work and so on. As part of the European project, which is scheduled to run for thirty months, the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (INRIA) and Paris-based think tank Fing brought together 35 people, plus an interdisciplinary group of experts, to work on a mechanism for collecting data relating to the environment and mobility.

Taking on board the Internet of Things

In order to gain a better understanding of the environment in which they live, the citizen-users selected for the experiment were given environmental sensors and the opportunity to choose where to put them to record their everyday activity – in the kitchen, in the office, on the outside of a building etc – plus the kind of information they wanted to gather – on air quality, noise levels and so on. Other participants were given smart watches fitted with the same sensors to record data on day-to-day behaviour, e.g. when and where they look at their watches, and for what purpose. At the end of the experiment some of the participants became aware that their behaviour had changed. For example, some had switched their running circuit away from the top of the hill, because, contrary to what they had imagined, the air quality up there was no better. Others had come to choose a specific time to air out their apartments.

Social and community aspects motivate people

"Even though a city’s inhabitants are more or less aware of environmental issues, they often feel powerless when it comes to taking any action," points out Brigitte Trousse, who heads up the AxIS research team at INRIA, explaining: "So first and foremost we need an awareness-raising campaign on the ‘Internet of Connected Things’, because it doesn’t make any sense to gather data if citizens don’t know what they can do with it." The citizens taking part in the ELLIOT experiment were provided with a forum tool to share with each other any scenarios they could think of for putting the functionality they discovered during their experiments to good use. This enabled the researchers to draw the conclusion that the participants were really interested not only in information relating to their own environment, but also in the data provided by their peers. "The community and social aspect is a very positive element in the development of projects involving citizens," stresses Brigitte Trousse.