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Vinnova and Viable Cities in design phase for system demonstrators

Achieving the mission of climate-neutral cities by 2030 requires a radical transformation of the entire social system. We need to work in completely new ways and find solutions that encompass all the dimensions that affect our lives: the policies and regulations that govern, the business models of industry, the behavior of all citizens, and the infrastructure of society. 

Now Vinnova, Viable Cities and several cities are developing a new tool to achieve this - system demonstrators.

Vinnova and Viable Cities have together initiated a design phase to explore how system demonstrators can become a powerful tool that can concretely embrace all these dimensions simultaneously and thus accelerate the transition to sustainable and climate-neutral cities. Among other things, the design phase will identify which actors need to be mobilized for a system demonstrator to be implemented and what obstacles exist, for example in policies and regulations. The system demonstrators should also include functioning ecosystems, social justice, health, safety and employment.

- The ambition is for system demonstrators to enable the large-scale transformation of systems and societies required, and then to be widely used, based on geographical or thematic areas," says Olle Dierks, Head of for large-scale initiatives at the Viable Cities Program Office.

The design phase, which began in March 2022, includes a call for proposals targeting the first nine cities in Viable Cities' Climate Neutral Cities 2030 initiative. Since 2019, the initiative has been driving innovation efforts to achieve the mission of Climate Neutral Cities 2030 - with a good life for all within the limits of the planet.


Anna Gemzell, development strategist in Umeå municipality.

Umeå Municipality has been part of the Climate Neutral Cities 2030 initiative since its inception and is one of the cities that now has the opportunity to apply to participate in the design phase, where they believe the concept can make a difference.

- The system demonstrator gives us the opportunity to deepen the climate change work that is already underway. To achieve in-depth change, we need to address the challenges with systems thinking as a starting point," says Anna Gemzell, development strategist at Umeå Municipality.

- In a smart and sustainable city, everything is connected, for example the municipality needs to think in terms of business models and new roles. We need to collaborate with construction actors to achieve more together and we need to work with social sustainability as a prerequisite for changing habits and behaviors, she continues.

The strong commitment of the nine cities to drive innovation initiatives, to develop and sign Climate City Contract and to set targets for achieving climate-neutral cities provides a good opportunity to contribute to the transition and to the development of system demonstrators as a tool to reach the target.

- The hope is that the 14 cities that were added in the fall of 2021, and other interested cities, will be able to benefit from what is developed and be involved in the work with system demonstrators in the future, says Olle Dierks.

The aim of the design phase is to engage a wide range of actors and for them to create an ecosystem that can bring about major systemic change. This will dramatically improve the conditions for mobilizing investments, engaging civil society in the city and, in parallel, developing, at a national level, forms of support such as digital infrastructure.

The work of Vinnova and Viable Cities on system demonstrators is a long-term effort to accelerate the implementation of the changes required to keep the global temperature increase below 1.5 degrees in a new way. The design phase is a preparation for the concrete testing of the tool in the real world at a later stage.

- It is important that the system demonstrators are developed from a clear system perspective with the mission and goal of climate-neutral and sustainable cities in mind and with a link to Climate City Contract 2030," says Olle Dierks.

About system demonstrators

A system demonstrator is implemented to demonstrate the transformation of entire societal systems in a real environment. The following dimensions should be included to ensure a clear system perspective:

  • Business models, investments and procurement

  • Policy and regulatory framework

  • Behaviour, culture and values

  • infrastructure

  • Technologies, products and processes

The concept is under development, but the ambition is to shape system demonstrators into a powerful tool to enable transformation for climate-neutral cities, where a variety of actors are mobilized to co-create and learn.

Development plan

Step 1: Design phase - the call opened in March 2022 and the design phase ends in February 2023.

Step 2: Establish system demonstrators in practice - tentatively opening in spring 2023