Installation and importance of a local Communication Team in response to a unfavorable public perception of smart city implementations

In the framework of SINFONIA different demonstration measures were implemented in the demo city of Innsbruck. These measures encompassed also refurbishments of lived-in buildings that lead to the strong interference with tenants` daily lives. In this context, the project team was faced with an increased unfavorable perception of the project. In answer to oppose unfavorable press releases a local communication team was launched, aiming at bundling and coordination of communication activities in order to communicate the envisaged SINFONIA activities in an adequate and transparent way.

The successful implementation of energy saving strategies such as pursued in the smart city project SINFONIA stands or falls with the acceptance of corresponding measures. Project partners in Innsbruck had to handle an unfavorable public perception of demonstration measures, which was picked up by the local newspapers with critical headlines. This adverse press about SINFONIA made clear that previous efforts to communicate the advantages of envisaged measures had not been sufficient, which led to the establishment of the local communication team Innsbruck.

The local communication team aimed at the bundling and coordination of communication activities at all different levels during the runtime of SINFONIA. A special focus of the communication team lied on the establishment of clear communication routines in order to channel the transfer of knowledge that is inherent to the project partners to external stakeholders such as tenants or the general public. Members of the communication team, who met on a regular basis, were all local project partners, such as housing associations or members of the scientific community, represented by their communication experts (e.g. members of the institution`s departments for public relations). The focus of the team was to develop a local communication strategy and to manage its implementation.
Its activities helped to coordinate the communication activities of single partners.

Conclusions:

The efforts for the communication of the smart city demonstration measures in Innsbruck performed in SINFONIA were understated, which led to a problematic public perception of the project. By means of the installation of a communication team partners could react on unfavorable press releases and furthermore, prevent them by the creation of a positive project image.

Lessons learnt:

The implementation of smart city measures requires adequate accompanying communication activities. Above that, it is crucial to the success of the implementations to pay attention to requirements of communication activities in advance to budgetary planning. Lack of or insufficient communication to the concerned parties as well as to the general public can influence the public perception of the project in a disadvantageous way and, moreover, can lead to adverse consequences for the achievement of project goals, including delays and cost increases. Thus, it is highly recommendable to reserve sufficient monetary and personnel resources for communication activities and to start these already before actual implementations start. Furthermore, the agenda of project communication shall be taken over by an external expert who is able to bundle and coordinate communication activities of single involved partners.

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