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27 August 2015

Interview about Small Giants - Initiative within the Sustainable Districts and Built Environment Action Cluster

Interview with Cécile FaraudCircular economy Lead at Peterborough DNA (Peterborough City Council); Michael J. Dawkins, Chairman at Cooperatie Duurzaam Brabant; and Paul Mathieson, Group Manager of Strategic Transport and Planning Policy at Southend on Sea Borough Council.

What is the Small Giants initiative about?

The Small Giants initiative aims to be a comprehensive network of very active small to medium-size cities and organisations, but also dedicated individuals, in the EU Smart Cities world. A lot of innovative and impressive work is undertaken by them, but they are currently invisible, cloaked by a media coverage that tends to focus on the big initiatives happening in big cities and capitals.

It is very hard to replicate or adapt smart projects conceived for cities such as London or Amsterdam to cities such as Peterborough, Southend on Sea, Brabant or cities in Estonia. Downsizing does not quite work, but upscaling does.

Small Giants is all about linking the hidden smart dots together. We can learn a lot from each other. But most importantly, there is a great deal of complementarity amongst members, which allows them to initiate collaborations and thus offers a vibrant opportunity to be bolder in our individual ambitions by joining forces. 

Why did you get involved in the initiative?

Each of us landed in the Small Giants thanks to the initial European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities' (EIP-SCC) commitments sorting out. As the EIP-SCC is following a bottom-up approach based on members’ voluntary contributions, it was up to us to determine what to do with this Small Giants group.

Each of us  Peterborough, Brabant and Southend on Sea – saw the potential and the value of setting an initiative that meets our challenges. We get involved from the start to shape the initiative according to the needs of small and medium-size cities and their various stakeholders.

Moreover, the Small Giants initiative has the vocation to be horizontal across all the EIP-SCC Action Clusters. Such a network is very helpful when following a holistic smart approach, since transport, citizens and infrastructure – to name a few key areas  are totally interdependent. Peterborough and its Peterborough DNA programme, for instance, cannot be clustered in any specific topic as it works on interlinks between them all. The Small Giants is consequently the perfect place to be. 

What are its objectives and potential impacts?

We have 2 broad ambitions:

  • Give Small Giants a (stronger) voice and a (greater) presence and role on the Smart scene
  • Build collaborative and bankable projects that demonstrate replicable and scalable results

Small to medium-sized cities could be called the EU discreet majority. Their potential is currently untapped, so one of the main impacts would be to unlock this potential and unveil the value of their smart initiatives. This would lead to a greater awareness of EU strengths, expertise and knowledge, thereby raising the EU profile on scalable smart projects. Potential impacts also include generating investments, creating new jobs and overall building better places to live in.

Which is the added value the Market Place offers to the Small Giants initiative?

The Small Giants group was created by the EIP-SCC, without this first impulse, we would not have known each other and set up the initiative. The Market Place allows us to reach to each other, to see who is working on what. The Market Place is crucial to relay our initiative widely, communicating our objectives and reaching some of our quantitative objectives.

What have you already achieved and what is going on?

The initiative is at its early stage. At the moment, we have collectively shaped its sense and purpose, clarified our ambitions and set tangible targets to reach. For instance, as discussed at the meeting during the EIP-SCC General Assembly in Berlin, we want to have 100 members by June 2016, and 300 in 3 years time. This is challenging but we believe we can do it!

An active core of members, including Peterborough, Brabant and Southend on Sea, conducts regular dialogues to develop a practical action plan. We are planning an informative session in September to reach to all the members and get agreement on the action plan.

In parallel, the Small Giants have allowed Peterborough, Southend on Sea and Ipswich – three UK cities in East Anglia – to initiate joint collaboration. It is somehow amusing to see that this regional dialogue in the UK has been triggered by the EIP-SCC! The same is happening in the Netherlands and we are sure it is also happening in other EU countries.