A new digital social market across 3 cities

Since 2016 the Catapult has been working with 35 partners in 7 countries to help incentivise local residents to adopt new behaviours and to change their perceptions of key urban challenges.

From raising environmental awareness to improving citizen engagement, it did this by creating a new social market using digital technologies.

The Sharing Cities Digital Social Market uses an app-based model to incentivise change. The three lighthouse cities involved in the project – London, Milan and Lisbon – led by the Greater London Authority, worked with Connected Places Catapult and our project partners.

Project overview

The €25m Horizon 2020 project, funded by the European Commission, began in January 2016 and will run until December 2021. The team at Connected Places Catapult worked with a consortium of 35 partners in seven countries, and is a collaboration between cities, PLCs, SMEs, NGOs and academia led by the Greater London Authority.

The Digital Social Market (DSM) is a service, conveyed to users via an app, which aims to use incentives to alter citizens’ perceptions and behaviour around key urban challenges. These are mobility, energy efficiency, data management, and citizen engagement.

In the three lighthouse cities – London, Lisbon and Milan – partners with different backgrounds (LAs, academia, PLCs, NGOs) have worked with Connected Places Catapult to address an urban challenge in their city. The data from these projects would be monitored and studied with a view to expanding the DSM to other cities in order to create commercial-scale solutions in energy, transport and ICT.

Three ‘fellow’ cities, Bordeaux, Burgas and Warsaw, have been working in partnership with the lighthouse cities on solutions that have strong potential to be replicated within their own city.

What happened

Each of the lighthouse cities adopted the DSM to address a specific challenge of relevance to their area. Connected Places Catapult provided research, methodologies and advice to London, Lisbon and Milan.


In London, 100 households in the Royal Borough of Greenwich were incentivised through points-based rewards to change their energy consumption patterns and behaviour, with the goal of reducing pressure on the grid during peak times. These points could be exchanged for vouchers or contributions to local causes.

In one of the first UK trials for a Demand Side Response platform (DSR) in homes, residents were able to compare their energy usage with other users.

The GEH platform was developed through a partnership model between Royal Borough of Greenwich and KiWi Power, supported by Connected Places Catapult.


In downtown Lisbon, schools competed for city funding to make their infrastructure environmentally responsible, through sustainability-focused equipment packages, or services to improve energy efficiency and encourage environmental awareness. The scheme had 1200 users, comprised of parents, students and local citizens.

Sharing Lisboa was developed with the collaboration of the Camara Municipal de Lisboa, Altice Lab, EDP, Instituto Superior Tecnico, EMEL, Reabilita and Lisboa E-nova.


In Porta Romana/Vettabbia in Milan, an online community called SharingMi was created, with almost 2000 users. Users were urged to share ideas and experiences to develop awareness and action around city policies, such as the city hall flagship campaign for a plastic-free Milan, and a recent series of ‘stay at home’ eco challenges during the Covid-19 lockdown. Users received points for sharing their views, and further points when their ideas were liked and shared by others, incentivising further social engagement.

SharingMi has been developed by Comune di Milano, Poliedra, GreenApes, NEU and Legambiente


The concept for the Digital Social Market was developed through a series of three ideation sprints and two rounds of codesign workshops with the partners and citizens in the three cities, The team used five steps –Localisation, Onboarding, Maintenance, Business Model Development and Governance Structure – to implement the three tailored services in the cities.


The goal of the localisation phase was to establish the most effective route to implementing the DSM in each area. This involved tailoring the scope of the programme so it was relevant and useful for the local area, identifying the technical requirements and capabilities available, plus the local resources, roles and responsibilities, and working with tendering and contracts. This was achieved through scoping workshops, a creative project brief and an implementation strategy matrix.


Onboarding was critical to the success of the project, so that local residents were willing to engage with the DSM. The team communicated with local citizens and community interest groups, were involved in promotional events and led discussions in a Digital Hub. Connected Places Catapult used three forms of outreach from creating a website, using social media and producing leaflets to explain to local stakeholders about the project.


It was very important to maintain engagement with stakeholders throughout the duration of the project in order to keep them actively participating with the programme, plus the ongoing process of recruiting new participants.

This was achieved through direct contact with users via weekly calls and troubleshooting, plus using events and social media to engage new stakeholders.

Business Model Development

During this phase, the team assessed the financial viability and replicability of the DSM beyond the life cycle of the project, suggesting potential medium and long term strategies to ensure the future of the service.

Governance Structure

An in– depth analysis of the city’s needs and priorities informed this phase. It was important to understand which structures should be established to offer governance and harmony between stakeholders., It is also interconnected with the business model adopted for each DSM and the city priorities and the approaches to citizen engagement (e.g. consortium of promoters, City Hall driven initiative, etc…).


As of July 2020, over 3000 users have signed up to the DSM across the three cities, and 50 businesses have offered rewards

In Milan, the SharingMi website has been visited over 6,650 times, sharing 5,700 stories. There have also been 25,300 interactions within the community.

Users in Lisbon, who were incentivised through the DSM to walk rather than use transport, have walked from Lisbon to Moscow and back twice!

“Know your city issues – and if you don’t, find out. Everything hinges on this. Your services must respond to these, otherwise they will struggle to succeed.”
Sharing Cities Project Partner, Lisbon

In Greenwich, this was one of the first successful trials in Demand Side Response at home, setting a framework and providing evidence for future projects.

Data from these projects in the lighthouse cities was captured, with the view to sharing it between cities, industry and academia on a DSM, in order to create replicable solutions in other cities around the world. Connected Places Catapult is now leading on the creation of replicable DSM applications and dashboards.

The insights and lessons learned in the process of creating the Digital Social Market were also captured in the Sharing Cities Toolkit, a practical guide produced by the Sharing Cities programme for cities to use to replicate the project in their areas.

We are expecting the Sharing Cities project as a whole will stimulate the market to achieve €500 million in additional capital investment and we anticipate over 100 municipalities across the UK and Europe will be engaged in the programme in the longer term.


Sharing Cities is a project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement N° 691895. Partners of the project are: Greater London Authority, Royal Borough of Greenwich, Camara Municipal de Lisboa, Comune di Milano, Ville de Bordeaux, Obshtina Burgas, Miasto Stoleczne Warszawa, Concirrus, Mastodon C, Danfoss, Kiwi, Transport for London, Lisboa E-Nova, Emel, Instituto Superior Tecnico, Reabilita, CEIIA, EDP, PT Innov, Politecnico di Milano, CEFRIEL, Poliedra, Legambiente, RSE, AMAT, ATM, Kyunsis, NHP, Teicos, A2A, Siemens IT, Urban DNA, Instytut Energetyki, Eurocities, Imperial College, Siemens UK Awards

We are delighted that Connected Places Catapult has been identified and included as Key Innovator by the European Commission’s Innovation Radar, together with our project partners, for innovative actions developed in our work for the Sharing Cities project!