Citizen Focus: Interview to the Ambassador City of Glasgow

By Gemma Glorioso
EIP-SCC news

The City of Glasgow is one of the three previously appointed Ambassador Cities. The initiative was launched as a follow-up activity of the EIP-SCC Manifesto on Citizen Engagement – a document that calls for a commitment to creating and implementing city measures that are tailored to citizens’ needs.

To this end, we approached Colin Birchenall, Chief Digital Officer for Glasgow City Council, to gain insights on the city’s latest achievements as well as to gather engagement best practices to share and replicate across our network. You can read our interview in full below:

Q1) In relation to the 6 domains of intervention foreseen by the manifesto, which areas have you been working on the most since your nomination to Ambassador City?

A1) Our key focuses have been: Citizen Engagement Leadership and Inclusion.

Glasgow City Council’s Strategic Plan sets out a vision to be a “world-class city with a thriving, inclusive, economy where everyone can flourish and benefit from the city’s success”.

As an outcome:

  • We listen to citizens and respond.
  • We take account of equality issues and the impact of poverty on our decision making

A key commitment to the strategic plan has been to engage with citizens to co-produce a “City Charter” that creates an informal agreement between the city and citizens.

We have engaged with all sectors within the city and in communities through a series of “summits” that brought a broad range of stakeholders together to focus on some of the key challenges in the city; web-based and face-to-face consultations related to the Council; continued roll out of Participatory Budgeting.

Set up of collaborative models

We have launched a Centre for Civic Innovation, which we have envisaged as a hub for civic innovation in the city. It provides a physical space and a set of processes and methods for collaborating with communities, public and voluntary sector partners, the private and academic sector in the co-design and co-production focused on specific “city challenges”. We have been working with Scottish Enterprise, and other public sector agencies and businesses in Scotland to develop our open innovation processes for the Centre for Civic Innovation (which is located within our Business Growth Accelerator “The Tontine”). We have now launched our first open innovation challenge at the Centre for Civic Innovation, focused on how we can help more people live independently within communities by digital telecare. In addition, we are also planning our second open innovation challenge which will focus on how open data could better inform public transport policy and planning.

Digital Inclusion

In response to the increasing strategic importance for the city and for the Council, we have also established a new Digital Glasgow Board, which is now chaired by the Deputy City Convener for Inclusive Economic Growth and includes elected member and senior officer representations. The intention of the board is to elevate the leadership for digital to elected members. With the ambition of overseeing the development of a new digital strategy for the city, the plan will have two key pillars:

  1. The Digital Economy
  2. Digital Public Services

As an example of our aspiration, we have:

  • Created the largest partnership to create the largest pan-sector digital inclusion learning network in the UK
  • Set aside an additional budget of £2M for Digital Inclusion;
  • Made a commitment to provide iPads to every school child above the year of “Primary 6”

Strong cooperation with other Cities to strengthen the smart cities network

Glasgow continues to share its experience and provide a leadership role within the following two UK networks:

  1. Core Cities. Glasgow is the chair of the Core Cities Smart Cities Policy Hub
  2. Scottish Cities Alliance

In Europe, Glasgow is actively collaborating with other cities for the following programmes:

  1. H2020 “Ruggedised” project
  2. Interreg North West Europe “BE-GOOD: Open Data for a Smarter Society” programme

The promotion of open data and open science

Our main priorities for open data have been to demonstrate the value of open data within a broader context of improving access to information, and using data to;

  • Increase Transparency
  • Improve Decision-Making
  • Engage Citizens and Communities
  • Transform Public Services
  • Stimulate Innovation

We have established a new centre of excellence for data analytics that has developed a pipeline of data projects that deliver a range of benefits to the city.

Q2) Future City Glasgow has set out a programme of citizen consultation and engagement to look into citizens' needs within the areas of road repair and waste management. What does your programme specifically consist of and to which extent are citizens involved?

A2) The Future City Glasgow programme was a £24M investment in Smart Cities by the UK innovation agency, Innovate UK. It has (to date) been the largest single investment in Smart Cities by Innovate UK and its primary aim was for a single city to demonstrate (at scale) the benefits that smart cities approaches and technology could bring to cities, and to help to stimulate the smart cities market. It included:

  1. Glasgow Operations Centre
  2. City Demonstrator projects
  3. Open Glasgow
  4. Hackathons
  5. Community Mapping
  6. User research & Service Design (a full report is available here)

Since then, we have used the same approach to re-design the Council website, and have begun to embed service design as a new way of working across the Council.

Q3) What are the key elements for succeeding at reinforcing citizen engagement? What would your recommendation to other European cities be?

A3) The International Association of Public Participation ( provide a good framework for describing the paths to community empowerment. In terms of the IAP2 Spectrum, our experience has been:

  1. Inform
  2. Consult
  3. Involve
  4. Collaborate
  5. Empower

For additional questions, contact us at