Digital transformation

Citizen engagement ushers in a new wave of smart cities

Oct 09, 2018

More than half of the world’s population currently lives in urban centres — a number that’s estimated to grow by about 66% (2.5 billion people) by 2050.

Cities need to prepare for this expansion to avoid experiencing challenges to their environmental sustainability, physical security and the safety of their residents in the form of rising crime rates, poverty and civic unrest.

City administrations the world over are working to create safer, more liveable and sustainable smart cities that deliver a higher quality of life for people and businesses to thrive.

By investing in technologies and infrastructure, city administrators are leveraging systems that deliver better services to the community in the form of smart streetlights, smart water metres or smart garbage bins, to name just a few examples.

Characteristically, these solutions were developed by agencies using a top-down approach where local government is the sole, one-way source of outbound data, disseminating information to the community.

Today, we’re seeing a transformation in smart city initiatives that focuses more on the human element of change that enables citizens to interact with government — smart cities 2.0.


The end goal remains unchanged — to provide a better quality of life for citizens — but the means are changing, and the traditional roles of government, businesses and citizens are evolving too.

Government’s role is shifting from being a solution-finder into a solution-enabler. By enabling participation in civic innovation and tapping into the collective intelligence of its empowered citizens — a group re-defined as solution co-creators — government can achieve sustainable growth and deliver an improved quality of life.

Amsterdam’s smart citizens’ lab illustrates this evolution. In 2013, the city sought to augment its 11 air-quality measuring stations with street-level measurements. The existing infrastructure did not support this granular level of data capture, prompting the launch of the Amsterdam Smart Citizens’ Lab.

Citizens became active participants of the project, using low-cost, easy-to-build-and-maintain sensor kits to measure temperature, humidity, light, sound, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, with the ability to upload data to the online platform.

The citizens’ lab demonstrates a clear example of how the community’s collective intelligence can be utilised, and a new way of governance embraced.


It also demonstrates the value a two-way engagement platform offers governments to connect with citizens — a bridge, or hub, for government departments to collaborate with the communities they serve.

The city of Los Angeles’ GeoHub pioneered this kind of community engagement using ArcGIS Hub to highlight the city’s goals and track progress towards cleaner streets and other projects.

As an open data portal, GeoHub makes data accessible, interoperable and actionable to create a smarter Los Angeles. Its Clean Streets LA Story Map allows citizens to report real-time updates at street-level to drive more efficient bin collection and thus deliver cleaner neighbourhoods.

The role of citizens and business is also changing from being just service recipients to co-creators of city development policies.


Following an example like that of Amsterdam’s smart citizens’ lab, Vancouver engaged 30,000 citizens in the development of the Vancouver Greenest City 2020 Action Plan — a co-creation approach that allowed for increased policy effectiveness and ensured a more inclusive urban development process.

While investing in infrastructure is foundational for any city, there’s a growing trend to enable citizen co-creation and urban entrepreneurship.

Just like Toyota and Tesla have encouraged more open innovation by giving away their patents, cities can benefit a great deal from engaging their citizens and tapping into their innovative capacities thereby opening up new channels for engagement

For advice on building a smart city and engaging with your community, call us on 1800 870 750 or send us an email.

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