Blog Post

March 7, 2024

Shaping Smart Cities: Why Social Well-Being and Citizen Engagement Belong Centre-Stage

Often when we hear about smart cities, the focus is largely centred around technological advancements but it’s imperative not to lose sight of the core essence of evolved urban living - the well-being of citizens and the importance of inclusive community engagement. Across Europe, a concerted effort persists to foster smart, healthy cities such as Dublin’s “Smart D8'' initiative, with the Brace app continuing to facilitate community-based recovery efforts, aiding patients in physical rehabilitation. Whilst Vienna's embrace of Open Government Data demonstrates a commitment to transparency, enabling residents to access and participate in public sector decision-making processes. For a city to truly be “smart”, they must foster meaningful citizen participation pathways and champion citizen well-being in an interconnected and sustainable urban environment. It’s for this reason that two of the four programme themes of this year’s GovTech Connect Boot Camps are dedicated to Smart Well-Being and Smart Engagement.

In the arena of smart well-being, there is no shortage of startups on a mission to create innovative solutions aimed at enhancing the quality of life and promoting holistic wellness among urban residents. These initiatives align with broader regional efforts such as Amsterdam’s “Smart Health City” programme or Berlin’s “Digital Health Hub” designed to foster innovation in healthcare technology to promote healthy lifestyles and enhance access to healthcare services. Likewise, the EU4Health programme, leveraging telemedicine, wearable devices, and health monitoring apps, aims to enhance healthcare accessibility and empower individuals in disease prevention and management. With OECD data showing that, pre-pandemic, only 3% of health spending in EU and OECD countries supported health promotion/prevention, the call for solutions is only heightened. 

One startup rising to the occasion is Ancora Health, which offers a groundbreaking range of preventative health, employer health, and virtual care programmes, empowering individuals to take proactive steps towards better health outcomes. Similarly, Five Lives introduces a personalised brain health coach, demonstrating the potential of technology to improve mental well-being. 

With a focus on addressing physical, mental, and social health, startups are developing personalised lifestyle change platforms, advanced analytics for health data, and user-friendly well-being apps. These tools empower individuals to make informed decisions about their health, enabling targeted health promotion campaigns and encouraging behaviour change for preventive health practices. By leveraging data from wearables and IoT sensors deployed throughout respective cities, these solutions can also provide invaluable insights into public health trends, identify potential disease outbreaks, and help public health agencies to respond quickly to environmental health risks. This convergence of technology and well-being not only promotes healthier lifestyles but also contributes to the creation of more resilient and inclusive smart cities. 

In parallel, the landscape of smart engagement offers a fertile ground for startups working to radically transform the interaction between governments and citizens to take centre-stage. With the European Digital Strategy advocating for transparency and accountability in public services through innovative digital technologies, there exists a ripe opportunity to enhance citizen-centric engagement through intuitive platforms and real-time feedback mechanisms. In Leuven, Belgium, Leuven, Maak het mee!'  stands out, emphasising the principles of inclusive governance and urban development having engaged over 3000 residents, yielding over 2500 ideas to enhance civic livability. 

From community decision-making platforms that empower collective governance to accessible chatbot solutions that bridge inclusion barriers, startups have the potential to reshape the democratic fabric of smart cities. Many are already making impressive strides, such as Fluicity, a community engagement software platform that enables continuous dialogue with citizens to help facilitate political decision-making or Civocracy who has spearheaded over 300 citizen participation campaigns through their platform. By fostering transparent, inclusive, and responsive interactions, these solutions aim to strengthen the bond between governments and citizens, ultimately leading to more effective and participatory decision-making processes. 

Join the GovTech Connect Movement

The GovTech Connect 2024 Boot Camps offer a unique opportunity for startups seeking to further contribute to the social fabric of smart cities. By participating in a 5 week immersive training programme and engaging with critical public sector stakeholders, startups can gain valuable insights and resources to navigate the intricacies of government partnerships and procurement processes. To mark the finale of the Boot Camps, the culminating pitch event will provide a platform for startups to showcase their innovative solutions to public sector buyers and investors, catalysing the deployment and scalability of smart city initiatives. 

Don’t miss out on this chance to be at the forefront of shaping the cities of tomorrow. Join us at the GovTech Connect 2024 Boot Camps and be part of a movement that prioritises social well-being, citizen engagement, and inclusive urban development.

Applications are open until March 13th - ready to accelerate your startup’s journey towards making cities smarter?


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European Commission

Photo by the author

Chiara Carlini

Deputy Director of Startup & Challenge Programmes

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