Civic Innovation And Local Ecosystem Partners: A Recipe For Smart City Success

Harald Wouters and Marlyn Zelkowitz

Visionary city leaders embrace civic innovation to create smart cities. They engage citizens in the creative process to identify and solve community challenges to improve the quality of life. That’s exactly what happened in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, colloquially called Den Bosch, in the Netherlands.

To become a smart city, government leaders need to bring together citizens, businesses, technology, and academic organizations to address societal challenges. Den Bosch has all the right ingredients, with approximately 153,000 inhabitants, over 800 major corporations including Heijmans and nearby Signify (formerly Philips Lighting), as well as the Netherlands’ first university completely dedicated to data science – the Jheronimus Academy of Data Science (JADS).

Civic innovation in Den Bosch

SAP sponsored a hackathon in Den Bosch that included the city, local businesses, technology, and academic organizations to focus on a civic topic: bicycle safety. Based on data from Interpolis, each year in the Netherlands, bicycle accidents cost insurers €300 million, with approximately 200 fatalities and 78,000 injuries. So, Den Bosch partnered with local IT experts and the local community to improve bicycle safety for vulnerable people.

SafeToBike is a device that warns cyclists when they’re riding through high traffic risk areas so they can be more vigilant. The solution consists of a smartphone app and a smart bicycle bell. The SafeToBike app shows the cyclist, in advance, all the dangerous locations on their cycling route. Developed by Frolic Studio, the smart bell gives a light or sound signal when approaching dangerous zones.

The bell is in contact with the cyclist’s smartphone, which continuously matches the geographic location with a central database of places where many bicycle accidents occurred in the past. This accident data comes from VIA, which receives the data from insurers and the police. The data is then processed using the cloud platform. Cyclists can also add dangerous locations to the app.

Pilot results

The first SafeToBike pilot took place over eight weeks in Den Bosch with school children using and testing the solution. One hundred fully functional units were used to learn as much as possible from real usage by children and teenagers, who are often distracted by smartphones while cycling. A second pilot with 40 elderly citizens also showed positive results. So even though using a smartphone while cycling can be dangerous, in this case a smartphone app is helping to prevent bicycle accidents!

There are plans for mass manufacturing to scale the solution, first in the province of North Brabant with 2.5 million inhabitants and later throughout the Netherlands. SafeToBike can also be combined with the Schwung solution, which helps cyclists reach their destination faster by giving them more green traffic lights.

Scaling civic innovation in Den Bosch

Success with SafeToBike inspired the mayor of Den Bosch, Jack Mikkers, to use civic innovation more broadly. City leaders involve citizens directly in co-creation sessions with city ecosystem partners to find solutions to challenges in their neighborhoods. Local industry partners including SAP, Signify, and Heijmans are part of the Smart City Den Bosch alliance. The local ecosystem supports an innovation road show where citizens in individual neighborhoods are invited to co-create smart city solutions.

In late 2018, Den Bosch Data Week conducted three days of co-creation sessions with citizens in a mobile lab in the town square. Citizens participated in public design-thinking sessions to address city issues such as congestion in the city center, parking problems, and public safety. Startup companies, students, citizens, business, and government leaders designed potential solutions for these problems.

The city piloted Den Bosch Data Week in late 2018 with a mobile innovation lab in the city center. Citizens and students from local universities worked with city officials, using a persona-based approach and data science to try to solve what Mayor Mikkers calls “Teddy Bear Challenges.” In the future, these innovation labs will take place in different neighborhoods to solve challenges such as how to use technology and data to improve connections to the city center, make it easier to find parking, reduce congestion, or increase public safety so citizens can walk their dogs at night.

Den Bosch’s visionary city leaders use best practices to harness the smart city ecosystem and civic innovation to find solutions for city problems. If other city leaders do the same, quality of life will improve as we harness creativity and focus on what really matters for citizens.

From smart businesses to smart cities, cloud platforms enable the capabilities that sit behind IoT visions.


Harald Wouters

About Harald Wouters

Harald Wouters works for the city of Den Bosch in the Netherlands. As a Senior Strategist he is responsible for the Smart City programme, with the credo ‘Driven by Data, Happiness as a Goal’. He aligned local industry partners SAP Netherlands, Signify and construction company Heijmans, to form the Smart City Den Bosch Alliance of software, hardware and buildware. He is the personal advisor of the Mayor on technology and innovation. Previously Harald worked for the high-tech strategy board of Brainport Eindhoven. He advised the national government on international trade and investments. He co-wrote the NL Smart City Strategy and conducted research for the European Commission’s Digital Agenda on labour mobility of IT-workers.

Marlyn Zelkowitz

About Marlyn Zelkowitz

Marlyn Zelkowitz is the Director of Future Cities and the Internet of Things at SAP.