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Urban Innovation Series – #1 – Webinar - How to make innovation a transformative force in cities

DATE: Tuesday, 19 April 2022, 15:00-17:00 East Africa (GMT+2)




This webinar, as part of UN-Habitat’s Urban Innovation Series, reflects on the transformative innovations that are changing the way we look at sustainable urbanization and the recommendations to trigger innovation in cities. Urban Development Professor Jacqueline Klopp, from Colombia University, shares her priorities from the Technology and Innovation chapter of the World Cities Report, which she co-authored, on how to make innovation happen and what are the advancements in innovation influencing the sustainability in cities. She is joined by two dynamic city leaders (Dr. Merard Mpabwanamaguru, Vice Mayor of Kigali, Rwanda, and Pn. Maimunah Jaffar, Innovation Lead, Iskandar Regional Development Agency, Malaysia) who reflect on Professor Klopp’s recommendations and give us a real-world perspective on what innovations are shaping their cities. The session will conclude with a reflection from two senior representatives from UN-Habitat’s regional offices in Africa and the Asia and Pacific regions, reflecting on what they see happening in cities on the ground but also what the cities need to leverage innovation.



Rapid urbanization and technological advancements are among the megatrends reshaping the world today.1 The former trend is contributing to significant sustainability challenges as urban areas concentrate much of the world’s economic, social, and cultural activities, while the latter trend is spearheading digitalization and the deployment of digital technologies in addition to broadly changing how societies live, do business and govern themselves. In 2020, UN-Habitat produced its latest flagship publication, The Value of Sustainable Urbanization. The report demonstrates that the intrinsic value of sustainable urbanization can and should be harnessed for the well-being of all. It provides evidence and policy analysis of the value of urbanization from an economic, social and environmental perspective, including the unquantifiable value that gives cities their unique character; and also explores the role of innovation and technology, local governments, targeted investments and the effective implementation of the New Urban Agenda (NUA) in fostering the value of sustainable urbanization. Chapter 6 on Innovation, Technology and the Value of Sustainable Urbanization covers the advances in digital technology and the potential that effective application of technology has in improving conditions, systems and opportunities. Themes include developing open participatory cities that promote collaboration between people, governments, and private sectors, encouraging citizen engagement in creating new modes of interaction between innovative systems, fostering more people-centred technology and the appropriate utilization of big data and technology systems to build governance frameworks in line with public interest inter-lap. In line with the SDGs and NUA, six elements of innovation and challenges of urbanization are discussed:

  • Promote civic technology: New emerging civic technology presents opportunities for urban innovation on (1) urban mobility, (2) COVID-19 tracking and (3) measuring air and water quality. Civic technology can also generate people-centered data that gives insight to functional state of cities and encourage participatory practices from the bottom-up.

  • Manage technology firms & smart city approaches: Civic technologies offered by tech firms, while seemingly presenting urban development solutions, must be carefully considered by cities. Smart city projects such as Songdo City (Korea) and Eko-Atlantic city (Nigeria) have displayed visions of futuristic cities that are still muddled with problems – a result of an exclusive focus on urban technological advancement. A people-centered approach is needed that encourages proactive participation from residents and governments to facilitate effective digital transformations in cities.

  • Promote bottom-up strategies: Residents make cities. From providing aid in monitoring conditions to engaging the city more actively, the data generated from residents interacting with cities is important in providing information on budgets, or mechanisms that need to be improved or introduced. With this, open data portals and urban labs provide cities with opportunities to identify gaps in city functions, demands from residents and encourage public participation in tackling challenges.

  • Consider the geographies of technological innovation: The distribution of venture capital, public sector research and development and technology companies is uneven and heavily concentrated geographically. With rising implications of the impact that technology firms have in cities, inequalities and power dynamics drawn from those realizations must be considered.

  • Proactively engage with digital inclusion and data privacy: The introduction of new technology also brings new modes of labour, social and political interaction. It is important to view digital exclusion beyond challenges of affordability, user capabilities and infrastructure (even in urban areas) and give additional focus to issues of privacy, data collection and data use.

  • Promote digital rights: Borrowing from the five evolving principles of the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights – transparency, privacy and data collection should be a priority for governments. As new technologies emerge, it is important to ensure they have a positive effect on urban life. This includes responding to concerns of residents and implementing frameworks, legislation, and ethical standards for data access and sharing. Inclusive access to municipal data can be transformative in improving urban public life and effectively employing programs. Cities and governments must play active roles in ensuring digital rights and digital governance.

In this webinar, we will reflect on the key findings of the World Cities Report chapter 6 and discuss their application and translation into a real-life city context. Some of the questions that will be addressed during the webinar include the following:

  • Cities are rapidly deploying technology to address a wide range of urban challenges – have local governments fully taken advantage of this?

  • How can the public sector innovate better?

  • New technology is facilitating better urban monitoring – but is it used enough for this purpose?

  • How can cities leverage big data? Can cities facilitate more innovation by making their data open and transparent?

  • Do cities have adequate regulatory and policy capacity to address technological challenges?

  • How can cities encourage more investment in technology, and actively bridge digital divides?


The interactive two-hour webinar will involve one key presentation on the World Cities Report, followed by two city representatives who will translate the findings from the presentation to their contexts. The session will also feature interactive questions using Mentimeter to actively engage the audience. This is a public webinar open to everyone around the world.


The webinar will provide an opportunity for stakeholders to learn about pre-conditions required to harness innovation and lessons that innovation and technology provide us to deliver sustainable urbanisation. Reflecting on UN-Habitat's most recent World Cities Report, the webinar is not a theoretical debate, but a discussion around practice and lessons with guests who are leading their cities to deliver change using innovation. The recommendations from the discussion will inform and guide UN-Habitat's current programmes and activities, particularly the work of the Innovation Unit, the People-Centered Smart Cities flagship programme, as well as the United Nations Innovation Technology Accelerator for Cities (UNITAC Hamburg), led by UN-Habitat and partners.

About the Innovation Unit:

UN-Habitat has a long history of innovation. To consolidate this work and reinforce UN-Habitat’s innovation agenda, the unit was created in 2020 to strengthen innovative thinking, practice, and solutions within the organization and for the benefit of our partners and beneficiaries. We bring together stakeholders for strategic conversations on key themes that address innovation, foster new ways of doing work and accelerate impact for our beneficiaries.

The Urban Innovation Series is a new series of conversations, discussions and exchanges hosted by UN-Habitat’s Innovation Unit, with the purpose of highlighting UN-Habitat’s work on innovation and bringing together experts and thought leaders from multiple disciplines to discuss urban innovation, frontier technology, digital transformation, urban data governance, smart cities and related topics. It contributes to making UN-Habitat a Centre of Excellence through innovation.

Articl by UN-Habitat (Innovation Unit)


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