How Technology is Essential for Citizen Involvement in Smart Cities

How Technology is Essential for Citizen Involvement in Smart Cities

Catalina Joseph, Gov CIO Outlook | Friday, March 11, 2022

Citizens interact with smart city ecosystems in various ways, including through their smartphones and mobile devices, as well as their connected automobiles and residences.

FREMONT, CA: The world's most prosperous and rapidly rising cities are discovering that the key to sustainable growth and efficient city management is a collaboration with the population who live within its borders.

Recent technological advancements have enabled such collaboration—thanks to cloud platforms, Big Data, and the Internet of Things, municipal governments and urban planners can communicate with and collect feedback from citizens on a scale previously unimaginable—as well as sort, analyze, and act on the data collected more quickly than ever before. This technology significantly impacts civic engagement on numerous fronts by providing local governments with the data necessary to make educated decisions that benefit the people and ensure that residents feel heard. Additionally, these technologies provide citizens with a direct line of communication with the civic bodies that represent them, enabling them to report issues, provide feedback, and deliver real-time data on service usage while also enabling governments to communicate effectively with citizens on a large scale, fostering institutional trust and promoting transparency.

Getting to Know the Citizens

Today's urban people are almost certainly already digitally connected—even in economically varied locations like cities. The Pew Research Center reports that 81 percent of American adults own a smartphone and that penetration jumps to 83 percent for urban and suburban people. For governments seeking to increase public engagement, engaging residents online increases participation and lowers the cost of engagement. The cost per engaged citizen for face-to-face interactions, such as traditional town hall meetings, can be as high as $12; the cost per engaged citizen for online interactions is around 29 cents.

Given that residents are already online, it is highly possible that their opinion has already been shared—whether on social media, in community forums, or comments on local publications. By integrating these platforms with a central data store, city governments can close the feedback loop with citizens—automatically routing messages to the appropriate department, flagging them for follow-up, publishing public responses when necessary, and collating reports and comments in visualizations and dashboards to identify hot-button topics, common threads, and public sentiment.

For city governments seeking to establish more meaningful lines of communication with residents in a scalable and cost-effective manner, the time has come to abandon physical space in favor of the digital.

The City of the Future

Numerous civic engagement platforms are emerging to assist digitally enabled cities in bridging the engagement divide; these civic technology platforms include solutions that span the five categories of the eParticipation framework, including Informing, Consulting, Involving, Collaborating, and Empowering.

To ensure that data collected from these tools can be combined with citizen-reported data and passively collected data, engaged cities are plugging these third-party platform data pipelines into their data stores, allowing citizen engagement data to be combined with data collected from social media, smartphones, utility and service usage, transportation data, and demographic information—giving city managers insight into a holistic, end-to-end picture. This enables the delivery of improved services and infrastructure, the prevention of citizen problems, the engagement of residents when additional feedback is required, and the general improvement of trust and relationships with the cornerstones of their communities, proactively identifying areas where additional efforts are required to ensure the city continues to run smoothly.

As urban populations continue to grow, cities will need to continue leveraging the power of citizen-generated data and encouraging population groups to contribute actionable input through visible and quantifiable communication channels. To accomplish this and deliver the greatest possible experience to residents’ while being cost-effective, they'll want to employ cloud-based technologies, digital sensors, and interactive platforms to combine acquired data while always keeping the citizen's best interest in mind.

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