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Open Innovation to solve city problems : from York to Syracuse

Edited on

08 December 2016
Read time: 2 minutes

The Genius:Open network addressed the topical issue of how cities mobilise all stakeholders to help solve the problems they face. It operates on the principles of open innovation, which assumes that no-one has all the answers and that we need spaces, tools and techniques to engage citizens and otherstakeholders effectively.

The project builds on an award-winning approach designed and developed in York (UK). Genius York provides a platform to engage citizens – online and in real life – to generate solutions to the city’sproblems.


Located in Sicily, Syracuse is a city with a rich archeological and cultural heritage. Poor infrastructure, weak transport links and high levels of unemployment are amongst the challenges its 120 000 residents face today. In particular, the Mazzarona neighbourhood has high levels of poverty and matching levels of cynicism among local people about prospects for a better future.

Local project leaders adapted the Genius process, developed in York, to the local context. This involved mobilising citizens to collaborate and tackle challenges. This requires high levels of trust, skilled facilitation and effective processes. The stated challenge (agreed in an open process with residents) was to “unveil the Great Beauty of La Mazzarona and contribute to
its revival, restoring dignity and creating new opportunities and services to meet the needs of the residents but also to attract the rest of the city”.

Compared to the York model, Syracuse relied more on face-to-face activities – including group work and surveys – to mobilise the local community. A breakthrough was to invite residents to participate in a bike tour,which triggered a debate on the state of the neighbourhood.
This open innovation process generated a range of ideas that are now being implemented in the city. These include the Giano Svelato pilot project providing guides and tours for tourists and the MazzaParco project which aims to get retired residents (mestieri) and young people, together to create new
parks in La Mazzarona, building job capabilities amongst the young people.

Participation has changed mindsets in Syracuse. The city authority has moved to a more collaborative governance model, which includes a permanent ‘collaboration table’ to allow constant dialogue between communities, other stakeholders and the council. The authority is also revising the Master Plan to be a ‘Citizen-Led Master Plan’ putting citizens at the heart of process.
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