Similar to the last point raised on Leadership, a participative approach is an issue for BRISE-Vienna. Several studies have shown that participation is not a goal by itself but has to be tailored to the issue at hand and to the stakeholders that are most affected (Ianiello (2019) or Willems et. al. (2017)) Also it has become evident that bureaucracy has to show a certain degree of responsiveness to the input by citizens (e.g. see Sjoberg et. al. (2017)) in order to successfully leverage citizens engagement for better outcomes and higher acceptance. For BRISE-Vienna, all these points represent a challenge.
Citizens, which will be most affected by BRISE-Vienna, are likely to be neighbours of buildings which are to be planned and constructed under the new digital process. The project, however, has not yet been able to identify reference building sites, which would allow for a simulation or dry run of the digital planning process of BRISE-Vienna. For the project, this implies that no real citizen participation is possible yet, since the process of citizen engagement can only start, once a first building site has been selected.
Nonetheless, BRISE-Vienna aims to make citizen participation easier. Neighbours of upcoming construction sites are to be invited to use digital technology – such as AR or VR - to take a virtual preview of the planned neighbouring building to gain a more realistic understanding of the impacts of the new building (sight, shading etc.), but also, if entitled in the approval process, to be able to comment and feedback to the planning authority in a digital way. Besides the technical solution (which must be browser-based), the process of engaging with potentially affected persons through the BRISE-Vienna solution has not yet been specified. It will need to involve a range of steps (informing, assisting, reviewing the input, and providing feedback) to make sure the full digital potential for citizen engagement is harnessed. 18 months into the project, this approach is not yet visible, and it might well not be accomplished within the timeframe of the project. As a compromise, the city offers neighbours of newly planned buildings to visit the office of the Vienna building administration to view and comment the 3D model within the premises of the city.
Although citizen engagement will become a key feature of BRISE-Vienna in the future, the main issues on participation in BRISE-Vienna currently evolve around the engagement of municipal staff within the project development and product design phase. It is necessary to shift our understanding of “participation” from the citizen to the municipal worker in order to not miss a key challenge for the adoption of innovation in our cities. The municipal officers of the building authority department (MA37 – which is by name called building police “Baupolizei” in Vienna) are the main and direct beneficiaries of the new BRISE system. The IT system will enable them to perform more accurate and more informed decisions, as well as accomplish their tasks quicker than it has been possible with the existing approach. So, how do you engage them in a high-tech IT product development cycle to make sure the system will be designed in a way that corresponds to their daily needs and challenges? First, there is a direct communication channel to the MA37 (building authority), informing about the goals and the progress of the project regularly. This alone will not suffice to enable full engagement. Thus, the project has engaged 20 employees of the MA37 in direct activities related to the development of the new system. They help transform legal text into machine-readable rules, training the AI and they contribute to designing the new process which will be underlying the digital BRISE tool. Finally, the management has set-up a change management process which helps the team to gradually glide over into the new role and process.
This highlights an aspect of participation which is often underrated when it comes to urban innovation. In the end it will be the municipal workers who carry new products, processes, and services. Lasting success of urban innovation builds on their capability to adopt to new tools, new processes and to acquire and apply new knowledge. Focusing engagement activities on the municipal staff, like Vienna is doing it, is key to provide for a long-term success of an urban innovation project.