Joint Hearing on "Cities as Actors of Open Innovation" - an update



On Wednesday, 28 June, the Joint Hearing on "Cities as Actorsof Open Innovation" took place in Brussels. This event was jointly organized by the European Committee of the Regions and DG Research & Innovation with the aim of promoting the role of cities as systems based on multi-level, multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral interactions. These relations are based on co-creation, co-design and co-implementation of innovative solutions for urban and peri-urban areas.

A number of key topics was discussed by a squad of first-rate, international panelists: New Food Solutions For Our Continent (Kurt  Vandenberghe), Urban Development (David Ludlow) Urban Transition (Margit Noll), Cohesion Policy (Raffaele Cattaneo), Challenges for Innovation, Case from Bulgaria (Tanya Hristova), The UIA Initiative (Olivier Baudelet), Discussing the Role of Civil Society in Civic Development of Cities (Joke Quinters) and Cities as Living Labs, Tender project (Teemu Santonen) among others.

Markku Markkula, President of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), opened the floor to speakers by pointing out that the future of innovation is more and more bottom-up, led by cities in collaboration with regions and focused on smart specialisations. He highlighted that European policy makers need to work hard to promote networking and collaborations, especially with science. He also specified that human capital will continue being  a key success factor for territorial  growth in Europe.


Kurt Vandenberghe, Director Policy Development and Coordination, DG Research and Innovation, European Commission presented the Food  2030  agenda, an initiative focused on finding new food solutions for our continent. Quite interestingly, Vandenberghe said that cities should act more and more as Living Labs to open innovation to citizens and ease scaling-up, so as to create new markets for solutions addressing key societal challenges. He also specified that cities should also be considered as sources and places where this ecosystemic innovation can proliferate.

Looking indeed at societal challenges, David  Ludlow, Professor,  UWE  Bristol and Margit  Noll, Chair of the Management Board, Joint  Programming  Initiative (JPI) Urban Europe manifested their interest to pursue sustainable urban development and to strengthen cooperation with different urban actors.

Both of them believe it is vital to involve citizens to boost urban innovation. As an example, Noll announced a new initiative called Making cities work, which will be launched in October 2017, an interesting and challenge-driven exercise led by cities to develop innovative solutions with citizens.  

Of course innovating in cities can become extremely challenging, especially when the innovation ecosystem is still shaping up. This was underlined by Tania Hristova, Mayor of Gabrovo (Bulgiaria), who listed a block of key challenges slowing down innovation in her city: 1) Lack of R&D capacity, 2) Lack of partnerships 3) Demographic Issue, 4) Limited participation in cooperative H2020 projects and 5) Brain drain. The need of quality partnerships was indeed highlighted by her, other speakers as well by Markku Markkula and appeared as one of the key topics for further discussions.


The need of effective cohesion policies was also discussed extensively. Rafael Cattaneo, Head of: 6th Mandate - Commission COTER at CoR emphasized Cohesion Policy as a key element for delivering better solutions for citizens after H2020. He explained the need of cities and regions to cooperate and contribute to the development of a more collaborative Europe.

One of the key presentations of the event was delivered by Teemu Santonen and delved into circular economy and Cities as Living Labs. Such analysis was based on a tender work carried out by an international team of experts: Laurea University of Applied Sciences, The Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR)  and the European Network of Living Labs.

Teemu Santonen highlighted how urban Living Labs and cities are elaborating more and more strategies and collaborative projects to be part of the circular economy field. Even though Living Labs differ from city to city depending on local strategies and organization, there is an increased interest in citizen involvement and circular economy, but also the need of more synergies towards better strategies and more sustainable funding at EU, national, regional and local levels.


To sum up, this Joint Hearing was a great opportunity to discuss the ever-changing role of cities in the open innovation ecosystem. The key message of collaboration was underscored by many: several speakers pointed out the need of more effective and inclusive cooperation schemes, especially when looking at the post-H2020 strategies, currently under development at the Commission.

On several occasions speakers and sessions chairs highlighted the importance of user involvement and Living Labs to design sustainable innovation. The “how to” remains a key question when discussing about Living Labs, a window of opportunity for ENoLL and its members to “market” their skills and 10-year experience in the field.


It cannot be doubted that citizens and multi-stakeholder collaborations will be at the core of future EC innovation policies and new funding programmes. It remains to be understood how new EC programmes will try energize collaborations, making them more effective and result-oriented.