Would a “City Hunt” help in popularising the smart city and the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals?

April 3, 2023
“It is only through citizen participation that African smart cities are built. Most smart-city projects in Africa tend to promote international aspirations, with very little connection to local inhabitants’ primary needs. African governments need to identify the needs of their citizens better, to better deliver products and services that fit their daily realities.”
Julien Carbonell

UNDP Staff members that took part in the City Hunt pose before the hunt

What is a smart city? Is Windhoek a smart city? What is the relationship between a smart city and increased public participation? How might a City Hunt raise awareness of the smart city in achieving Sustainable Development Goals? To answer these questions, the UNDP Accelerator Lab Namibia, collaborated with the City of Windhoek, the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) and the Mobile Telecommunications Centre (MTC). In the spirit of celebrating partnerships, the UNDP Accelerator Lab leveraged these existing partnerships in place to push frontiers of knowledge and innovation by engaging and involving the Interaction Design Students in one of the last exploratory events for 2022. The experience utilized elements of gamification as a framework and was premised on a treasure hunt where the prototypes prompted engagement as well as competition and collaboration among five teams.  The event, entitled The SMART City Hunt was largely an experiment and a closed event since the City of Windhoek was keen on first establishing a “Proof of Concept” before making any commitments and raising awareness.  For the Accelerator Lab, it was about getting a foot in the door to illustrate innovative approaches to obtaining data but also to showcase how affordable and low-tech prototypes could be considered to enhance citizen engagement in popularizing the Smart-City. 


The one-day City Hunt ran its course on the 11th of November 2022, starting at Zoo Park.  The students designed and tested five prototypes which were first presented to the Accelerator Lab and City of Windhoek Officials during an ideation session. The students spent a month refining the ideas and developing the prototypes which were then used as interactive exhibits placed at strategic spots throughout Windhoek. 


The first prototype was a ball game that focused on educating the players about the different Sustainable Development Goals and how they would fit into a smart city. A TikTok-based station, the second prototype, was built using green screen technology. Here, TikTok videos were uploaded under a TikTok challenge and given the hashtag #smartwindhoek. Players were prompted to explain in detail how a selected Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) would translate into elements of a smart sustainable city of Windhoek. The use of green screen technology provided backgrounds which depicted a picture of the SDG goal the player or participant had chosen. 

The third prototype was an information post and had a single goal to create awareness by giving users an immersive experience using QR codes, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality experiences of what a smart city would look and feel like. By giving the public such an experience, the prototype sought to enable players to make more informed decisions regarding the type of smart city they would want. The fourth prototype engaged the players using the challenge to “build your ideal smart city”. The game had different image services which allowed players to build their ideal smart city based on services they deemed essential in a smart city.


The fifth and final prototype was a smart shopping trolley. The idea behind a smart shopping cart/trolley stemmed from the need to create awareness of the experience where players experienced shopping using a smart shopping cart. The trolley had an interface that the player used to interact with. The interaction included the use of an interface which displayed products that the player would purchase, and this information was captured through a scanner. The shopping experience began by first allowing users to initially input the budget that they had intentionally set aside for that shopping event. After inputting their budget, players their shopping by scanning the products they wanted to purchase. Every time a product or item was scanned, the screen displayed the items/products to be invoiced. When the stated budget was exceeded, the player was notified. This forewarning gave players the opportunity to remove some items so that they could stay within their budget. Upon successful completion of shopping, players could check out at a till where they could then make the payment.

These prototypes were designed to enhance the physical interaction and engagement of selected members of the public to collect real-time data on public participation to assess people’s knowledge about the SDGs but also to establish what their idea of a SMART city might look like. 

The City Hunt concluded at the High-Tech Transfer Plaza Select (HTTPS), a state-of-the-art multimillion-dollar innovative hub hosed at the NUST. The HTTPS is a physical space that offers innovators access to network experts, the latest technologies (including 5G, Internet of Things, and high-speed fiber) and rooms to enhance collaboration and the exchange of ideas.

Getting Windhoek to become a smart city

The entire experience, from start to finish yielded some very interesting insights and takeaways.  In the debrief with the interaction design students, we learnt that it is important to contextualize and democratise how we use innovation. Referencing Julien Carbonell in his quotation at the beginning of this blog, we acknowledge that smart-city projects tend to imitate smart cities in developed countries. This approach unfortunately disregards the local context as well as the needs and aspirations of the community. 

With this key insight, and through the smart-city hunt, this experiment is a good opportunity for the government to replicate and scale the proof of concept at both regional and local government levels to identify the needs of their citizens better, to better deliver products and services that fit their daily realities. We also learnt about engagement on two levels. By engaging, the players (citizens), the City of Windhoek would be democratizing the smart city, by giving them a voice in designing their future. By engaging the students, and the players (citizens) we were able to pool our collective experiences to generate nine key learnings and insights for the City of Windhoek and other local authorities who might consider these in developing smart city initiatives. We hope these nine takeaways will help in sparking ideas about how to set up a similar event to raise awareness on the SMART city, but equally promote the localization of the SDGs:

  1. Be intentional about activities that promote human-centeredness
  2. Use empathy in designing activities
  3. Involve and incentivize both partners and the public to participate in the event
  4. Partner with the community to co-design
  5. Popularise design thinking principles across projects
  6. Experiment using small prototypes first and then develop a proof of concept that can be enhanced over time.
  7. Use the event as part of an experiential learning journey about the SDGs
  8. Encourage bottom-up approaches and grass-root innovations for solutions
  9. Invest in ‘challenges and gamification to generate new data insights and promote collaboration

Have you organized something like raising awareness of the SDGs?  Do connect with us so we can exchange notes and collaborate in future!