Citizens want more ways to interact with their cities

When it comes to smart city projects, only 15 percent of citizens believe they have an input, according to new research by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), on behalf of Philips Lighting.

The research, carried out among 1,950 citizens and 615 business executives in 12 cities, finds that citizens feel they can contribute to making improvements in a wide range of infrastructure and services, such as healthcare and education, pollution reduction and environmental sustainability, and waste collection and recycling. Yet when it comes to smart city projects specifically, few believe they have a say.

“Cities have been quite slow to step into dialogue processes with citizens,” says Jarmo Eskelinen, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Future Cities Catapult, a London-based center for the advancement of smart cities.

This follows separate research earlier this year by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) which suggested there is ‘public apathy’ around the smart city technology and called for a public engagement campaign around the benefits.

The IET Smart Cities: Time to involve the people report found that just 18 percent of the British public has heard of a ‘smart city’ and one third of respondents were unable to select the correct definition of a smart city from a list of options.

Citizens want more ways to interact

The EIU research suggests that citizens want to become active participants, though. While less than a third of citizens (32 percent) are currently providing feedback to their local authorities, over half say they would like to do so. By comparison, businesses are currently more likely to report problems related to urban infrastructure and services (41percent versus 32 percent).

Citizens prefer channels such as social media and e-mail as the means to interact. Social media platforms, in particular, have provided powerful new ways for government to connect with urban stakeholders, the report finds.

Over half of citizens (51 percent) said they want wider access to digital platforms to enable them to communicate with government, and they believe that the expansion of free Wi-Fi in public spaces and more information about smart city projects (both 50 percent) would encourage them to engage further.

The digital divide

The research highlights the fact it is often the basics, such as access to the Internet and digital literacy skills that can have the greatest impact on citizens’ ability to interact. Minerva Tantoco, Chief Technology Officer at the New York Mayor’s Office, explains that 22 percent of New York citizens still lack broadband access at home. This means governments need to think about the types of digital communications channels they create for their citizens.

“As we move more and more stuff online, we need to be mindful of the digital divide because not all residents have equal access,” she says.

Digital technologies improving city services

Other key findings include:

  • Citizens have already seen improvements in areas such as transportation and emergency services/crime prevention, with 36 percent and 21 percent respectively saying that digital technology has had an impact in the past three years.
  • A quarter of businesses see transportation as an area that will be impacted in the near future, along with telecommunications services such as mobile and broadband and e-government services.
  • The research finds that citizens are surprisingly willing to share their personal data, particularly for the purposes of improvements to transportation services and traffic congestion (39 percent), as well as for improving emergency services and reducing crime (37 percent).

Find out more by reading the full executive summary and sign up for the EIU full report. There will also be a webinar on September 29.

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About The Author

Prior to joining the Forum, she wrote for a range of technology clients. Sarah is most interested in the stories and people behind the technology.

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