Reimagining Smart City as the Nucleus of Community Development


Written by Sanja Galic, Senior Client Partner at Publicis Sapient.

Australia’s population is forecast to reach 30 million by 2033. This is likely to put enormous pressures on public infrastructure and resources. A flourishing population is also likely to drive greater migration to cities as people seek out better economic opportunities.

There has never been a more urgent time to push cities to achieve more within the bounds of what they have. Of course, this calls for governments and their technology partners to work together to develop strategies that improve mobility, connectivity, and urban design.

Many countries are accelerating digitalisation to modernise government services, improve infrastructure, enrich citizen quality of life, and stimulate economic development. Australia has outlined ambitious plans under its smart city initiative to capture residents and visitors, encouraging them to stay, spend and recommend experiences to friends and families.

An authentic and meaningful participation of the citizen and community in the design, development and ongoing operations and decision-making processes is essential for a robust smart city strategy. This includes involving the community through consultation, co-design and co-creation activities to ensure that cities are designed with, not for, people who live in them.

Benefits of citizen-centric services

In Australia, citizen-centricity has helped connect communities to services and vice versa using real-time, personalised data. For example, in retail, personalisation using insights from data harvested from search records, previous purchases and other linked services, has vastly improved the buyer experience.

In addition, the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence, 5G, cloud and edge computing are being tapped to collect and connect data across multiple channels to support citizen experiences and manage services, assets and resources. What is particularly noteworthy is that citizens view technology as a key enabler in smart cities.

A recent report by Publicis Sapient titled ‘Living, Working and Playing in Smart Cities’ shows that most Australians can cite a technology that makes the collection of personal data worth it. But despite this optimism, challenges around privacy, security and consent to use and connect information remain, slowing the momentum of digitalisation. Citizens need to feel safe in smart city environments, and this includes trusting that the private and public sector will not take advantage of personal information and data on behaviour, choices and movements.

Trust, collaboration and inclusion – hallmarks of good governance

In this context, community engagement can help foster comfort and trust around data usage, privacy and surveillance. It could also help bridge the digital divide – which exists in modern communities and contributes to increased vulnerability and disadvantage. This could be unequal access to technologies and digital connectivity, including internet access and digital literacy.

It is often overlooked, but trust and collaboration enabled through community participation and private and public partnerships can help overcome many challenges in digitalisation, including environmental, liveability and social equity challenges.

To illustrate, Melbourne’s CityLab runs community challenges and forums and has created technology test beds to assess the efficacy of the latest IoT and 5G technologies. This has enabled the development of waste and smart bins and has created open data initiatives.

There are many similar use-cases and case-studies trialling solutions to improve the connected community experience for vulnerable citizens across sanitation, health and well-being, transport, housing and more.

Ultimately, community participation and engagement can help governments and stakeholders turn the spotlight on the right challenges and opportunities. It could also help establish what the true value or outcome of the initiative will be, including the commercial return on investment.

It is impossible to build citizen-centricity overnight. But one of the key metrics for success is to put people – whether citizens, customers, visitors or users – at the heart of all decision-making and experiences. It is about using what already exists, and that includes infrastructure, buildings, resources, and capabilities, to build better and smarter. This will deliver a seamless, integrated experience with shared outcomes and benefits for all.


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