City of Utrecht – innovation made real in public space


The procurement process of the city of Utrecht is well organized, standardized and effective. But a side-effect is that there is limited room for outside-in innovation. In short: municipal officials describe the challenge/problem to be solved, suppliers get their specs, make the best possible offering and price and – if they are selected – deliver exactly what is demanded. This works fine for the standard stuff, like paper, pencils, or even straight forward stretches of road. But when challenges become more complex or when standard practices become part of a problem, you’d want to take a step back, review your routines and develop new views to answer underlying questions. Exactly this is the case in Utrecht in concern with street furniture: there’s too much of it, the quality is not always up-to-standard and uniformity got lost along the way.


Street furniture is an important element in public space. This means that you’ll always operate in a multi-stakeholder environment, if you want to make useful changes and improvements. Shopkeepers and inhabitants, drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, firemen and police, city-architects, road workers and maintenance firms – they all have different demands and wishes. So where to get started and how to find common ground?


The procurement office of the city of Utrecht is aware of the shortcomings of the procurement practice when it comes to outside-in innovation. Rules and regulations seem to stand in the way and the organization is just not used to consulting third parties in the very beginning of the innovation process: defining the Job-to-be-done, ideation and sketching the contours of solutions. VANBLEND was commissioned to develop and execute a concise program to deliver proof of concept for a different approach, in which external design- and innovation capabilities are coupled on both external stakeholders and internal professionals.


The program we developed consists of these elements

Research and interpretation

Study of vision documents and strategy. Field study. Study of context and analysis of ‘competition’ (how other cities operate and the impact of street furniture on living conditions).

Ideate and design

Step 1. Assembling a team of young innovators, consisting of product-, services- and applied art designers. With this team we shared the results of the research phase and had an extensive ideation session.
Step 2. Assembling a team of internal and external stakeholders (municipal officials, city architect, fire department, entrepreneur, road workers, municipal cleansing department).
Step 3. Organizing a workshop, where our young innovators pitched their outside-the-box concepts an iterated them together with the attendants.
Step 4. Develop and deploy analysis tooling to score the most promising concepts on urgency, feasibility and contribution to goals. Advice and support in selecting the most promising concepts
Step 5. Working out the 5 most promising concepts into design studies.

Internal presentations

Presentation of method and design studies to internal stakeholders: product group owners and internal engineering agency to gain traction.

Prototyping support

Right now we are supporting the prototyping phase. A search is going on for smart places to do pilots for some of the concepts, in collaboration with internal and external stakeholders. One concept is now in the hands of the municipal tender board, for market consultation.


Proof of concept is delivered and the added value of our program is widely recognized. This leads to new insights for procurement. To tackle more complex sourcing issues, it’s crucial to take the first step first: define the job-to-be-done as sharply as possible and explore options freely. Next step is that we are asked to make plans for a similar program for another product group.