Accelerating Smart City 4.0: A city diplomacy and sister city cooperation between Jakarta and Berlin

Kariem El-Ali, Alecia Firnanda

​Over the years, there has been a range of definitions for smart city concepts and it has gained attention particularly responding to the emergence of various urgent issues as the world is facing multifaceted urban challenges such as climate change, air and water pollution, poverty, over-population, inadequate infrastructure, poor waste management, land sinking and to mention a few. But becoming a smart city is difficult and requires learning. Global cooperation between cities can provide impetus and drive change, as the example of the sister cities of Jakarta and Berlin shows.

What is a smart city?

Among the definitions, one characterizes a smart city as a city well performing in a forward-looking way in economy, people, governance, mobility, environment, and living, built on the smart combination of endowments and activities of self-decisive, independent, and aware citizens. The smart city generally refers to the search and identification of intelligent solutions which allow modern cities to enhance the quality of the services provided to citizens (Giffinger et al., 2007).

Historically, the first generation of smart city concepts, or to be known as Smart City 1.0 began when the city of Los Angeles created its first urban big data project: A Cluster Analysis of Los Angeles in the 1970s. However, Amsterdam’s establishment of a virtual digital city in 1994 could be considered an early step towards becoming the first smart city. The evolution of Smart City concepts and projects, exemplified by initiatives from companies like Cisco and IBM, motivated other countries to undertake their own Smart City initiatives.

In this sense, Smart City 2.0 has emerged as characterized by city administrators collaborating with the leaders to envision the future of the city and playing a role in implementing smart technologies to enable innovation. This worldwide movement culminated in the convening of the first Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona in 2011. By 2014, a transformative trend occurred, where cities started to embrace their citizens to contribute in developing a better smart city model known as Smart City 3.0. Expanding on this development, the Smart City 4.0 formed in response to the Industrial Revolution 4.0, by driving more initiatives to encourage and enhance the skilled and young technology talents in the private sector.

The context of Smart City 4.0 in Jakarta

Jakarta is one of the most densely populated cities in Asia, with a population of around 11 million and a population density of almost 14,000 people per square kilometers. As a result, the city's large population presents a number of challenges. Main concerns include creating jobs and ensuring prosperity and quality of life for the city’s residents, while taking into account sustainability and limited resources. In the context of Smart City 4.0 in Jakarta, with all its growing challenges, the government is using this instrument to promote innovation that redirects the implementation of a government-centric approach to a user-centric or community-centric approach. To support this process, the Provincial Government of the Special Capital Region of Jakarta (in Indonesian known as Daerah Khusus Ibukota, DKI) initiated the Jakarta Smart City.

Jakarta and Berlin: A partnership for smart change

From 2019 to 2023, the cities of Jakarta and Berlin collaboratively implemented the “Smart Change - Strengthening Urban Governance, Prosperity and Innovation in Jakarta”, funded by the European Union through the “Partnership for Sustainable Cities” program. This initiative aligned with the United Nations 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals. It is the result of the support by German Development Cooperation through the "Experts Fund for municipal Partnerships worldwide" program. Driven by this initiative the municipal administrations of the two cities agreed back in 2017 to work more closely on the innovation-driven topics of digitalization, smart city, good governance, and entrepreneurship. Since February 2019, an integrated expert from Berlin has been seconded in Jakarta supporting the cooperation in these future-oriented topics and developed a joint strategy agenda with the cities. This has accelerated the sister cities partnership that has existed for almost 30 years.

The Project: Smart transformation through co-creation

The “Smart Change” project adapted a co-creation model where Stakeholders from different organizations actively participated in ideation sessions and implementation of activities. This collaborative and participative approach encouraged diverse perspectives and led to the development of more holistic solutions. The two cities also invited Bangkok into their collaborative exchange efforts, establishing trilateral cooperation activities within Southeast Asia.

The project activities targeted citizens, public officials from Jakarta, decision-makers across politics, business, academia, local communities, startups as well as startup support organizations from Jakarta, Berlin, Bangkok and beyond. The local and global multi-stakeholder collaboration approach made it possible to reach out to more than 13.000 participants. The more than 89 public events conducted since 2020 were engaging 314 speakers and experts, supporting 84 start-ups from Jakarta, training 24 Startup support organizations and curating a network of organizations from Jakarta, Berlin, Bangkok and beyond, producing 40 policy recommendations and 61 pilot projects.

Peer to Peer Exchange @Jakarta Smart City in Jakarta, August 2022 (Photo by Smart Change)

The project is not only seen as strengthening the trust of citizens in their government, the participatory co-creation approach is also understood to be more efficient in terms of outcome and cost. The way some governments have begun to approach this problem is to establish public innovation labs.

The partnership is showing promising results

The cities improved their capacities for good urban governance regarding digitalization and urban innovation and supported the start-up ecosystem, enabling economic growth and development. The outcome of an enhanced institutional framework for more efficient administration was achieved through a range of programs such as Multi-stakeholder and Policy Dialogue Series, Peer-to-peer Exchanges, annual online conferences, and Smart City policy blueprint. To support innovation, job creation and the promotion of sustainable economic growth the cities developed an innovation hub (Future City Hub), a physical location in the heart of Jakarta and close to the Jakarta Provincial Government. It is the anchor for the continuous dialogue and cooperation between the cities. Other tangible outputs include supporting programs such as a Future City Accelerator program, Future City Online Learning Classes, a training program for startup support organizations and a policy blueprint for entrepreneurship and innovation in Jakarta.

Today, the Future City Hub is the meeting space for multiple stakeholders in Jakarta. This includes the government, academics, communities, industries, and media, joining forces to develop ideas for the future and address urban challenges in Jakarta. Based on the foundation of the close cooperation, Jakarta and Berlin also have signed a Joint Declaration on Innovation and Technology in September 2023. The declaration intends to utilize the strong ties for jointly working on future oriented topics of the cities.

Signing of Joint Declaration on Innovation & Technology between Jakarta and Berlin in September 2023
(left: Berlin Mayor Senator, Franziska Giffey; right: Undersecretary for Economics and Finance of Jakarta,
 Sri Haryati at Future City Hub in Jakarta, Photo by Smart Change)

By this collaborative initiative, the two cities have been committed to jointly tackle the city challenges experienced by the citizens of Jakarta that are related to its rapid urbanization, ongoing process of digitalization and sustainable urban development as well as their agenda in accelerating Smart City 4.0. Jakarta and Berlin have entered a new chapter in their sister city partnership.


Kariem El-Ali, Senior Policy Advisor & Team Lead Smart Change Jakarta

Alecia Firnanda, Program and Content Manager, Smart Change Jakarta project (2020-2023)