Multiple pathways to solve urban challenges: A shared portfolio approach towards smart city development

Published date01 April 2024
AuthorChantal van den Ouweland,Willem van Winden,Luca Mora
Date01 April 2024
Subject MatterArticles
Public Policy and Administration
2024, Vol. 39(2) 193213
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/09520767231183864
Multiple pathways to solve
urban challenges: A shared
portfolio approach towards
smart city development
Chantal van den Ouweland
Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
University of Amsterdam Business School, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Willem van Winden
Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Luca Mora
The Business School, Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland, UK
Academy of Architecture and Urban Studies, Tallinn University of Technology, Tallinn, Estonia
Municipalities often collaborate with other stakeholders in smart city projects to develop and
implement technological innovations to address complex urban issues. We propose the
shared portfolio approach as an alternative way of collaborating,because we have identif‌ied
possible limitations when the commonly used single-project approach isadoptedincomplex
contexts, such as the smart city context. The portfolio approach enhances f‌lexibility,an
embedded focus and cross-project learning, because partners work on multiple projects either
in parallel or in succession to develop multiple solutions to a specif‌ic problem. An in-depth
case study is used to illustrate how the shared portfolio approach works. In practice, these
insights can be used by public bodies who aim to collaborate in smart city development or by
partners who work on smart city projects and wish to continue their collaboration in a
portfolio setting. Conceptually, our paper develops a connection between cross-sector
partnership literature and smart city literature by revealing how the shared portfolio approach
could be an effective way to deal with the complexities of innovation in the smart city context.
Cross-sector partnerships, innovation, smart city initiatives, shared portfolio approach, case study
Corresponding author:
Willem van Winden, Centre for Applied Research on Economics and Management, Amsterdam University of
Applied Sciences, Fraijlemaborg 133, Amsterdam 1000 BA, The Netherlands.
A growing number of municipalities worldwide are experimenting with smart city
projects, harnessing digital technologies to address urban challenges (Neirotti et al.,
2014). As a result of this trend, a variety of smart city innovations have entered the u rban
environment, showcasing how digital technology can enhance the quality of public
service provision in many policy areas, such as mobility, safety, healthcare, and education
(Mora and Deakin, 2019).
Facing the complexity of urban challenges requires many municipalities to embrace
collaborative approaches in which technological innovations are co-developed with
multiple stakeholders, such as technology companies, research institutions, and residents.
This cross-sector approach to smart city project development increases the legitimacy of
project activities, contributes to reducing lock-in effects and the dependence on large
technology vendors, and increases the chances of moving from experimentation to
scaling. Moreover, involving a diverse range of societal actors brings together a wider
variety of knowledge bases and perspectives on urban challenges, leading to approaches
that can better respond to local development needs (Mora et al., 2019;Nesti and Graziano,
2020;Neumann et al., 2019).
The cross-sector partnerships (CSPs) sustaining smart city projects generate well-
documented advantages, however, they also pose signif‌icant organisational challenges
that have not received enough attention in smart city literature. These challenges mainly
relate to the inherent complexity of managing multi-stakeholder innovation projects.
There is evidence of an added complexity that stems from the ambiguous nature of urban
challenges and possible solutions, varying views on how to address such challenges,
unexpected backlashed caused by the exposure to the media and general public as well as
concerns about privacy in the public realm (Hollands, 2015;Iveson and Maalsen, 2019;
Meijer and Thaens, 2018).
How to best strategise smart city project development represents an overlooked subject
matter of investigation, and the lack of a convincing argument has left a critical gap at the
intersection between cross-sector partnership theory and smart city studies. Cross-sector
partnership literature offers valuable insights into the dynamics of collaboration between
project partners (Bryson et al., 2015;Page et al., 2015). However, most studied cross-
sector partnerships have adopted a single project approach, in which partners work on one
project to develop a single solution to a specif‌ic problem. This approach might not be
suitable to exploit the full potential of smart city projects, because this context brings in a
high-level of complexity (Appio et al., 2018). Our study contributes to overcoming this
gap, by arguing that a shared portfolio approach to smart city project development may
represent an optimal solution for coping with this strategic challenge. In a shared portfolio
approach partners work on multiple projects either in parallel or in succession to
develop multiple solutions for a single problem. This approach can enhance f‌lexibility
while ensuring an embedded focus and cross-project learning. These considerations build
on the f‌indings of our smart safety and security case: a smart city project initiated by the
city of Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands.
194 Public Policy and Administration 39(2)

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