Smart cities won’t work without citizen engagement: Gartner

smart cities citizen engagement
Image credit: Jesus Sanz |

Smart city initiatives are no longer about optimized traffic patterns, parking management, efficient lighting and improvements to public works – what they really need to be successful is citizen engagement, according to Gartner.

For smart citizens the focus is not just about the use of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and smart machines, but the enhancement of services and experience. Therefore, citizen-government dialogue is a key component that will ensure that the right issues are tackled, said Bettina Tratz-Ryan research vice president at Gartner.

“The way forward today is a community-driven, bottom-up approach where citizens are an integral part of designing and developing smart cities, and not a top-down policy with city leaders focusing on technology platforms alone,” said Tratz-Ryan.

To keep pace with the changing needs of citizens, and the development of new business, cities are now striving to become not just smart, but also innovative. Machine learning and chatbots are being used to engage citizens or assets with their environment. Cities are building business and technology policies to assess the opportunities offered by potentially disruptive technologies like AI for elderly care, autonomous driving or delivery bots. In addition, there are emerging use cases for blockchain for transactions and in record keeping.

“As data analytics and insights become increasingly valuable because of the extensive analytics and learning, data algorithms will become the essential element to create user-focused services,’ said Traz-Ryan.

What this means for government CIOs is that as citizen change their mindsets, governments must change theirs as well, she added. “Government CIOs today need to look at creating innovation strategies to attract new industries and develop digital skills. They need to look at changing their spatial planning, road infrastructure, data and service management.”

Gartner analysts recommend CIOs in local government to:

  1. Identify and prioritize: CIOs need to understand the problems that directly impact citizens and apply technology to solve these problems. For instance, they must align data and information gathered through AI and machine learning to match the specific requirements of citizens and the business.
  2. Be mindful: CIOs need to be mindful of the digital divide and pay equal attention to the issues of citizens with fewer IT skills. Incorporating technologies such as natural-language-powered virtual personal assistants is a step in this direction.
  3. Develop transparency: CIOs need to create open data strategies guaranteeing access to all interested parties in a city. Open data portals allow industries and universities — as well as interested citizens — unencumbered access.
  4. Use measurements and KPIs to explain the progress of smart city to stakeholders
    The key to CIO success is building objectives by developing KPIs that detect stakeholder priorities and measure success and impact. By 2020, two-third of all smart city execution strategies will incorporate KPIs to visualize the impact of mobility-related urban services.

Tratz-Ryan cited the United Arab Emirates, especially Dubai, as “a perfect example” of how incorporating these guidelines help in the execution of the smart city framework.

“Business strategies must clearly focus on the development of a seamless citizen service experience through digital access to information and government services. While preparing for the World Expo 2020, the Dubai government is focusing on creating thought leadership by implementing the most innovative technologies that create new modes of transportation [Hyperloo], energy generation [in conjunction with Masdar], or health and safety experiences,” added Tratz-Ryan.

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