Capitalizing on the “Public Turn”: New Possibilities for Citizens and Civil Servants in Smart City- Making

Jiska Engelbert, A. Ersoy, Ellen van Bueren, Liesbet van Zoonen

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There is a sharp contrast between the public value discourse that typifies smart city-making on the one hand and its democratic deficit on the other. In this article we explore this contrast in more detail and assess that the paradigm and practices of networked government, which dominates smart city making, positions citizens as “audiences” of smart city makers and civil servants as “shepherds” of their public values. In these positions, both citizens and civil servants participate in a wide array of smart city experiments and engagements. However, an active, autonomous agenda setting role by citizens or democratically legitimated advocacy of civil servants is rare and does not easily fit within the paradigm of networked government. We draw on the work of Dewey and Marres to envision such different roles and make them concrete by highlighting experiences of Dutch citizens and civil servants with urban data and technology. These show, first, that the desires and goals of citizens may differ markedly from those of the smart city, and—second—that civil servants struggle with legitimate ways to advocate for socially and economically balanced smart city solutions. We conclude, in the final section, that the smart city can only be developed further through representative democratic means of engagement, among which local elections that express the collective desires of citizens and frame the mandate of civil servants.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Urban Technology
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • smart city-making
  • local government
  • democratic
  • deficit
  • public involvement


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