Building Citizen Participation through Twitter: Insight from “Amsterdam Smart City” and “Barcelona Digital City”


Several studies confirm that in recent years cities have experience constant increase in the population. According to the study presented by the United Nations “World Urbanization Prospects”, by 2050 the 68% of the population would reside in urban areas. Cities are facing big global challenges: climate change, social inequality, sustainability and the demand for citizen participation. In this scenario, with an urgent need to rethink how we construct our cities, the concept of “smart city” emerges as the key strategy to manage these challenges and encompasses the capacity of cities to innovate (Conesa, 2017:6; Cocchia, 2014; Abino, Berardi, Dangelico, 2015; Höjer, Wangel, 2014). Sustainable and liveable cities are essential for a prosperous future and their role will be decisive in responding to 21stcentury challenges. In recent years, many cities have integrated the smart city concept in their planning and future aspirations. Barcelona and Amsterdam are two of Europe’s most successful smart cities recognized by several awards and prestigious rankings.

This research explores if “Barcelona Digital City” and “Amsterdam Smart City” are communicating the new smart city model to their citizens. Specifically, we zoom in on how they talk to citizens and disclose this new city model through Twitter. During the last years Twitter has become a widely used communication channel across a wide range of different fields (Bruns & Burgess, 2011a; Christensen, 2011; Bruns et al., 2012; Mendoza et al., 2010). In this research we carried out content analyses, tweets, retweets and replies-to generated by the accounts of “Amsterdam Smart City” and “Barcelona Digital City” have been studied and analysed during one trimester (April to June 2018).The database consists of more than 1.300 tweets analysed. All this information was collected using NodeXL Twitter data importer and the content analysis was performed through Excel dynamic tables.

The results of this study allowed us to identify what kind of conversations take place on Twitter and to map out the different ways that both cities use to disseminate the model and interact with their citizens. Thus, we have been able to assess if and how the two cities engage and empower their citizens to participate in this new city model. It also gives us an approach to understand which type of community patterns are behind these two channels. The analysis determines if the social network Twitter works as a tool that not only informs about the new city model but also manages to engage citizens to show their interests about how to build the smart city.