Interview with Willemieke Hornis

By Marketplace Editorial

Willemieke Hornis is project manager for the policy study on Smart Cities at the Ministry for Infrastructure and the Environment in the Netherlands and represents EIP-SCC “Cross-Nations Exchange” Initiative. “The Cross-Nations Exchange initiative was established to discuss the role of central government in relation to smart city developments and to share and to learn from each other’s experiences”.

1.    Could you describe your Initiative “Cross-Nations Exchange” in a few words?
The “Cross-Nations Exchange” initiative was born from the “Six Nations Forum” Commitment. 1.    The initiative was established to discuss the role of central government in relation to shaping their nation’s smart cities market, to learn from each other’s experiences, and to tackle some common challenges together. The Netherlands was part of the first six nations, and we now look forward to other groups of nations seeking to do similar, for example ‘V4+4’ initiative.

2.    What benefits will the collaboration between six nations bring to European smart cities? 

Cities are the source and point of resolution for many challenges and transformation in cities must be city led. However multiple ‘city islands’ cannot deliver effectively. Support at national level is required. While each Member State has different circumstances, they all share common challenges. There are various approaches in place within each EU Member State to support the increase in activity at city level. These can range from monitoring to market engagement and national programmes.

We have delivered a “Blueprint” that helps a Member State pragmatically assess its current state (and ambitions), which is also backed up by practices and experience from the contributing 6-Nations. This is the first of a set of deliverables. We are presently working on addressing Clarity of Role of Government Departments – a common challenge identified by all 6-Nation members. And we are now looking at some of the other areas where our collaboration can deliver useful approaches and tools (for instance: guidance and standards; business models & funding; and a variety of other enabling themes).

The Cross-Nations Exchange helps the Netherlands to reflect on the Netherlands smart city approach by exchanging experiences with other Member States on the different national developments and to learn from other Member States. It is for instance very interesting to learn from Spain how they have established the Spanish Network of Smart Cities with over 65 members and what the network is doing.

3.    Closing the gap between the lead cities and the less advanced ones was one of the regular themes of the Six Nations Forum Commitment. Is Cross-Nations Exchange still continuing to work on this? How should countries that are advanced in smart city development help and serve as a model for less competitive cities?

The exchange of experiences and cooperation to create new applications and business case between different cities within countries is already happening in many countries. Member States can stimulate, facilitate and support this exchange. The countries involved in the Six Nations have different approaches and levels of fostering city networks, and the exchange on that is already quite helpful for us.

At pan-European and international level there is also a lot happening, especially in the various initiatives of the EIP like on urban platforms or electro-mobility where cities work together to build capacity. And also in the Small Giants initiative which is joining smaller and medium cities that are less often in the news. The concept of peer-to-peer learning, capacity building and demand aggregation are also central points of the Lighthouse projects approach in Horizon 2020 that requires cooperation between lead cities and follower cities – I think this is also a good approach to close the gap.

In addition, there are also politically endorsed networks like Eurocities (grouping the biggest cities of Europe) and more thematically-focused networks with or without political endorsement, like the Open and Agile Smart Cities Network, the World Council on City Data or City Protocol. Their focus and impact differ hugely but cooperation at any level is useful to close the gap between advanced and less advanced cities and to address the hurdles that cities individually cannot most effectively address.

4.    What changes have you seen regarding your country and smart cities within the EU in the past few years?
There is a growing attention on urban challenges and the role of cities within the Netherlands, resulting in, for instance, the national Urban Agenda, in which cities, different ministries and other stakeholders cooperate on specific urban challenges and solutions, through so-called city deals.
More and more cities in the Netherlands are working on making their cities smarter. Amsterdam, for example, is working on over 90 innovative projects in their city. While Rotterdam is more focused on standardisation and 3D city models. We are very pleased that the EIP-SCC General Assembly took place in the ‘Brainport’ of Eindhoven.

5.    What are the challenges for your Initiative?

The role of the Member States with regards to smart cities is not really clear and approaches differ from country to country. The challenge is knowing how best to take best practices from other Member States and interpreting it to one’s own national context to ensure it leads to good national smart city policy.

6.    What are your next steps?
Mapping city needs is a vital step in defining the best role for central governments. France has taken the initiative to do a first inventory, which we must all build on and test, and then discuss ways to extend this to other countries, so we can come up with concrete recommendations on the role of Member States from a city perspective. That’s the next of the deliverables. It’s hard, yet very necessary, to take time to develop practical approaches together, as it is very clear from our initial work that we certainly do share common challenges and face common opportunities.