Orange Bus' round up of Smart Cities UK 2019

08 Feb 2019 - Hannah Kaner

It was clear from Smart Cities UK 2019 that there is passion and ambition for creating better technologies to “connect, innovate and transform”. The conference covered smart enterprises and future prospects - from changing procurement metrics, to impressive hardware and lighting infrastructure implementation in Kent, to the use of VR in care for the elderly. What constitutes the Smart Cities market has significantly diversified over the past 30 years. Smart Cities has become smart towns and smart ruralities, smart lighting and smart transport and more.

Smart cities should be for citizens

One theme is consistent: smart cities should be for their citizens. Dr Jacqui Taylor from Flying Binary talks about technology as an enabler, not an outcome, and that digital inclusion is a vital pursuit to achieving Sustainable Development Goals. She agrees with Professor Allan Mayo (another prolific speaker from the conference) that digital exclusion is a massive barrier to transformation, and is releasing a survey which will attempt to drive out standard practices for engaging citizens.

The Newcastle Helix and National Innovation Centre for Data - ambitious projects in Orange Bus’ own backyard, recognise that digital alone is not enough to foster engagement and innovation. They aim to use a 24-acre development for international tech and science businesses to create a community of collaboration. Not only providing the space, data and funding to tech businesses and startups, but creating a friendly space for citizens and creatives to mingle, fostering opportunities for incidental innovation, rather than innovation only fostered through business networks. Their inclusion of housing in the site can open up a test bed for improving ‘smart homes’ and better living in sustainable, sensor-supported homes.

Citizen engagement appeared in many forms today. A digital survey, perhaps a forum or focus group. Some areas see their councillors as the prime voice of their citizens, while others are investing in potential apps using push notifications and engagement data to citizens. However, these methods, as many digital developments, will only support those who are digitally connected.

Co-design is key

This demonstrates the fact that engagement – between innovators and citizens, needs to be through more than just digital channels. The lack of consistency in structured citizen engagement practices, both in communicating and including citizens in a product post roll-out, needs to be replaced by a structured, mixed methods approach. Citizens, services and suppliers must collaborate to co-design solutions and solve service problems to foster true ‘inclusion’. Otherwise, we will never be able to reach those who are digitally excluded for reasons of age, poverty, health, education or any other circumstance.

Citizen engagement is sometimes represented as a soft, emotive, practice, a ‘nice to have’ element of democratic engagement. This is not the case. Orange Bus’ structured methods of engaging users, co-designing solutions, and communicating outcomes can be used to create services that citizens actually use, and solve problems at the earliest possible point in the design process, mitigating risk later on in the process.

“A rule of thumb is for every one dollar invested in User Experience research, you save $10 in development and $100 in post-release maintenance” Claire-Marie Karat, Principle UX Consultant and former IBM researcher.

Structured research practices should be used to structure business cases for solution design and investment, for creating strategies with clearly defined impacts on services, streets and citizens, and used to engage city stakeholders in the tools that are being made.

Even better, effectively planned engagement, led by skilled researchers, can also be used to facilitate communication around rollout. Understand your citizens needs and problems and put them in dialogue with the tools and services you’re designing. At its core, ‘smart’ innovation also needs citizens to be aware that a solution is available, what problem it will solve, what data is needed, and how they will benefit by making use of it.

Smart Cities UK 2019 shows that the market is ready for developing a best practice approach for not just consulting but engaging citizens in the design and use of smart tools, data and technology.

A citizen-centric model for local service delivery

If you are interested in finding out more about citizen engagement and the future of local public services, sign up to receive our whitepaper detailing our recent research (release scheduled for the beginning of March).

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