Public-private innovation in Copenhagen


Copenhagen is an ambitious city: the Danish capital has set itself the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2025. The mobility sector will have to make a substantial contribution to this. But Copenhagen knows that a goal such as this one can only be achieved by a lot of innovation. That is why it started a special project, Public-Private Innovation. The Dutch companies Technolution and Imtech participated in this project and want to give us an inspiring glimpse of their experiences.

Article from NM-Magazine, November 2014 – also available in PDF (in Dutch only)

The city administration of Copenhagen has drawn up the CPH Climate Plan 2025 in order to meet its target of being ‘carbon neutral by 2025’. This plan contains a large number of regular measures, dealing with energy consumption, energy generation and mobility, including the installation of energy-efficient street lighting and the insulation of older public buildings. But if Copenhagen is serious about achieving this goal within the set time limit, additional, innovative measures are required. Therefore Copenhagen assigned an important place to innovation in its climate plan, in addition to ‘regular’ measures.


The local traffic authority in Copenhagen is responsible in principle for innovations in the mobility sector. But the tendency in Denmark – as elsewhere – has been for government bodies to outsource ever more tasks to market parties. This was one reason to set up a ‘catalyst for innovation’: the City of Copenhagen as a platform where companies could meet and get to know each other, and where they could apply their specific knowledge and skills to create new solutions together. The Public-Private Innovation (PPI) was born! The project started in October 2013 and was concluded in May of this year. What were the characteristics of the PPI approach and what lessons have been learnt?

Rules of play

The way PPI works is that it gives market parties carte blanche with respect to the contents of the innovation. A number of rules of play had been drawn up for the other aspects to ensure that the project would be successful:

  • Collaborate. One precondition for participation in the PPI was that a consortium had to be formed. In Copenhagen, they believe that ‘to innovate = to collaborate’. 
  • Business case. Can the solution offered also be used in other situations, outside Copenhagen for instance? The city was eager to ensure that the PPI would not come up with a tailor-made solution that would in the long run become unaffordable. This risk was minimized by thinking together about possibilities for large-scale roll-out. 
  • Fixed budget. A fixed budget was available to each team for the PPI, regardless of the type of innovation.
  • Prototype. The innovation offered had to be demonstrated as a prototype at the end of the project. A field experiment then served as the basis for deciding whether to roll-out the new product or service or not.
  • Property rights. In order to avoid subsequent disagreement between participating companies or between these companies and the city, Copenhagen made two independent lawyers available during the PPI who were ready to give advice to participants about property rights. In this way, new innovations could be assigned to the rightful owner in a transparent and legal manner, so that existing partial solutions brought in by companies were not jeopardized.

Getting to work

The first informal workshop for interested companies was organized in late October. It was a bit awkward initially: innovating on demand, and this with unknown partners? But it wasn’t long before the process began to work. Maybe partly on account of the strict time frame that Copenhagen had set, the participants overcame their reservations and began to talk to each other to join existing knowledge and products together to create something new. Eleven consortiums tendered to participate, eight of which ultimately took part. During the project period, the consortiums held consultations with Copenhagen’s project team every six weeks. It proved possible in this dialog process to ask each other critical questions about such aspects as feasibility, sustainability and effectiveness of the solutions proposed.

Lessons learnt

What did the first PPI project in Copenhagen produce? For a start, it produced eight very different solutions (see the box in the PDF). The ‘newness’ of these solutions varied strongly and also depends somewhat on perception. There were projects in which existing methods and technologies were put to new uses – no hard core innovation, but the resulting services were nonetheless experienced as innovative. A few solutions were new to the Danes, but have already been in use elsewhere, for instance in the Netherlands. But there were also a number of real (technological) innovations.
A second important gain was the direct dialog between government bodies and market parties. This ensured that communication problems were avoided: the government body’s intentions could be immediately reflected in what the market parties had to offer, without the need for consultants and/or advisors to translate from one to the other. This resulted in sharper product and service definitions, which in turn made it possible to bring solutions to the required level more quickly.

There were also a number of points of improvement that could be taken into account for new PPI projects. Thus the budgets set for the eight consortiums were relatively low. This meant that it was not feasible for most parties to produce a real prototype: they had to limit themselves to dummy models that were not robust enough to be placed in the public space for very long. This problem could be solved by being selective in the number of teams allowed to participate or by making a selection during the course of the project; this would also make it possible to hold longer field experiments.
This last point raises another aspect that deserves further attention. Working in the public space is bound to rules. This is understandable, but difficulties with obtaining permits or organizing power supply in some cases made it impossible to carry out a field test within the set time limit. One solution might be that the government body involved deals with the regulations well before the start date of the PPI. It could do this, for instance, by designating a number of streets in the city as places where experiments can be held. This would mean that participants don’t have to grapple with these issues themselves during the PPI.

Where do we go from here?

The City of Copenhagen has acquired a lot of inspiration for possible follow-on steps that would contribute towards achieving the climate goal ambition for mobility. This fall, it will issue a public tender for a new set of traffic measures, including – depending on political decisions to be taken – one or more PPIs. 
More important even than the results for the carbon neutral plan is that Copenhagen has developed an interesting blueprint for the concentrated stimulation of innovation. The PPI approach can be easily duplicated as long as the points of improvement are taken into account: other fields, cities and countries can also use it to their advantage.


William Meijer is a system designer at Technolution B.V.
Niels Haenen is a consultant at Imtech ICT


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