In cities across the globe lots of smart people are working on defining, designing and implementing the next new ideas for Smart cities. But these projects are just the beginning of a step change in how our cities will evolve and better serve their citizens. Rome famously wasn’t built in a day. Our future Smart cities will take years of hard work by thousands of individuals and organisations all working well together to implement change.
There is a consensus in the UK that better collaboration is in fact a key driving force for Smart city success in any project or long-term programme. It takes lots of people working together to innovate. It takes the participation of lots of different kinds of organisations including community representatives, local SMEs, private and third sector organisations, civil servants, academics and universities, designers and residents to ensure Smart city projects meet real needs and solve the everyday problems of local urban life.
There are now many good examples of inclusive strategies emerging across the UK - each bespoke to their local requirements. These include: the Smart London plan launched by the GLA with many organisations involved to support London’s future growth; the Birmingham Smart City Roadmap; and the recent launch of the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s Smart Strategy which we are supporting with our citizen engagement platform.
Each of these examples recognises that everyone needs to work well together to make the most of the opportunities a smart agenda presents. At a practical level, project organisers need to enable their teams to communicate face-to-face and online. They need to build a fertile environment for innovation, inside project teams and also with the wider public, ensuring plans have local relevance and sustainability.
The aim is the same - to create effective partnerships and engagement between all stakeholders as this will create new knowledge networks bringing lasting benefits for cities. These networks help more people to connect, explore issues and opportunities and to take practical Smart city ideas forward together. The more organisations and individuals involved, the greater control on design and implementation risks. Involvement of all stakeholders means projects become user-led and lead to more collaboration on new ideas. These networks also create greater access to funds, improved capacity, resilience, learning and decision-making. They can also ensure the right focus on project outcomes rather than on processes.
Brokering and building effective partnerships and building networks in a complex and dynamic city ‘ecosystem’ is, however, not easy. It can be politically difficult to work across departments and organisational boundaries, to consult and bring everyone together around a shared vision. The larger the numbers of people involved means more meetings and structure just to establish a framework and agenda. Sometimes people avoid working towards these common goals because of the time, cost and space constraints. Getting everyone together doesn’t always seem practical or feasible.
Moving beyond the team and encouraging wider citizen participation beyond the committed few, is also tough. Ensuring all ages and demographics are included or consulted is traditionally expensive and time consuming. Citizens’ contributions, collaboration, acceptance and understanding of a Smart city project is crucial to its success, so gaining trust and building collaborative relationships is key. Trust comes from more than running the odd survey and looking for fixed answers to fixed questions. Trust is about building a common understanding. This can best be achieved by seeking to host meaningful conversations around the ideas and issues involved, and doing this through whichever channel is appropriate for the stakeholder, either face-to-face or online. Most professional projects these days rely on online collaboration tools, emails and other digital communications for better teamworking. But what about the large complex collaborative networks needed to make cities work?
Stickyworld is beginning to see usage in Smart cities projects and across silos. It is not a typical online collaboration platform. Unlike mainstream online solutions that focus on tight team collaboration, our platform focuses on engaging and involving the wider team members, and also opening up to public participation. Stickyworld is built around the simple idea of connecting these different groups of people in "online rooms" and facilitating a much clearer conversation about any project, using all kinds of media to explain context or inspire the imagination of participants. It can capture and report on new ideas and insights and enable the presentation and explanation of ideas and city contexts prior to inviting feedback. It can help you capture insights from the wider team, including experts and lay people alike. It works for public open groups or for secure private focus groups. As such it offers a relevant online communications, participation and collaboration solution for any Smart cities project and can help as part of an effective partnerships and citizen engagement strategy.
The future Smart city will be built on the collaborative efforts between all kinds of organisations and individuals.
As we look at technology solutions, it is natural to think we will, of course, rely on effective capture and use of data, but importantly the capture, discussion and sharing of people’s ideas, including those of professionals and citizens, is also a key part of the solution.
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