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Economy / Jobs

Making smart cities work for people. No 4. Crowdfunding for Plymouth

The latest in our series of articles in which Nesta explores smart city initiatives that combine tried and tested hardware with “collaborative technologies”. The series draws on the innovation charity’s recent report, Rethinking smart cities from the ground up.

It’s no secret that there is a crowdfunding boom – our own research put the value of sector at £146M last year – so it’s unsurprising that many are now looking to the industry for investment opportunities.

And while traditional investors are looking to crowdfunding to help them spot the next big market trend or high potential start-up, cities are now also beginning to think about how they can use the crowd to make smarter decisions about how they invest in urban projects.

Take Plymouth. There, the city council has set aside £60,000  for projects on Crowdfund Plymouth, a dedicated platform for Plymouth Council run in partnership with Crowdfunder.


The idea is that local people submit their bright ideas for community initiatives via the platform. Any donations received by these projects are then matched by Plymouth Council, up to 50 per cent of a project’s cost, or a total of £5,000.

So far this has led to the citizens of Plymouth pitching for funding for 65 city projects. A selection of the very diverse success stories include local people securing matched funding for a new open air cinema, a community café and drop in centre for sign language users and an arts outreach project timed for Plymouth Arts Weekend.

By taking this approach, the platform not only helps get larger community projects off the ground: it also provides vital intelligence for Plymouth Council about which urban initiatives citizens want to see realised.

And whilst there are potential issues with the model – notably ensuring the voice of those residents who are not as digitally savvy is heard – this project is undoubtedly encouraging more people to engage with the way in which public money is spent.

The target is for Plymouth is to use the matchfund to generate £250,000 for urban projects, charities, social enterprises and businesses and with £148,489 raised to date, the city is well on the way to getting there.

Peter Baeck is a principal researcher at Nesta, the UK innovation charity. He is one of the authors of the “Rethinking smart cities from the ground up” report. 
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