The Case for Citizen Engagement in a Smart City

Published on Apr 24, 2017 at 7:31 am in Blog

Last year we have done some research with the consultants Frost and Sullivan on Smart Cities and Citizen Engagement. As part of this project, many municipal decision-makers in Europe were interviewed about which services were the focus of their data-centric projects.

We found that the top four services (with over 75% of respondents mentioning them) were: Traffic management and Parking; Energy efficiency; Access to public data; and Citizen engagement. So two of the goals here are about decentralizing, crowdsourcing and prioritizing the relationship and the participation of citizens. This “engagement dimension”, we believe, is the necessary foundation for attaining major gains in managing traffic, energy, waste, etc.

The same research showed decision-makers in European cities are now understanding the power of collaboration, engagement with citizens. They mention – at the top – employing tactics such as “open innovation” (hackathons, etc); Citizen reporting and uploads; Open source software; Public analytics dashboards, etc.

“Collective intelligence” is a key issue for smart cities

So, to be able to mobilize this “collective intelligence” is a key issue for smart cities that have limited resources and budgets to improve on issues of mounting complexity such as mobility, energy and waste management. Cities need to build the capability to encourage citizen participation and then combine all citizen interactions via multiple channels into a single, synchronized “customer journey.” This sort of capability enables the city to be more efficient and effective and it builds a “virtuous loop” that can convert each citizen in an agent for the municipality and a vital component of the smart city.

For example, say a member of the public spots a pile of dumped rubbish in the street and reports it as fly-tipping to the council using the municipality’s mobile phone app. A few days later they phone a helpline from their home phone to find out if progress has been made. The agent should be able to converge the two interactions and provide the required information, without asking the caller to explain their issue all over again.

The next day, the citizen receives a text to confirm that the offending rubbish has been removed and that CCTV footage is being reviewed by local police. The citizen feels the benefits from a coherent experience that is channel- and device-agnostic. Furthermore, effective communications reduce the administrative burden on agents and other city employees. They can focus more on providing quality of service as they have the necessary information at hand.

Cities that improve their efficiency in handling inquiries are better able to track and optimize their performance over time.

Cities that improve their efficiency in handling inquiries are better able to track and optimize their performance over time. This insight is vital as more cities are committing to open their internal data. Our work with Frost & Sullivan confirms that most respondents in our decision makers sample are already publishing data with a focus on spending, the environment, building and land use, services performance and transportation. Making these performance metrics visible to citizens reinforces engagement and promotes better behaviour from citizens and better services from cities.

Our vision here is a simple one and one that will underlie major gains in efficiency in the way cities are managed: citizen interactions with city authorities should be easy and free of frustration for users. Citizens should quickly reach the right people or be directed to access the right information. When they report an issue via one channel they should be able to check progress via other channels without having to provide the same information all over again. Crucially, they should feel that their issues are progressing or being resolved, however they choose to interact.

Note: you can click here to download our free White Paper – “Omni-channel Citizen Engagement: A Foundation for Growth”- and learn about the five pillars on which cities should base their citizen engagement investment decisions.

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