Smart cities are sustainable cities for the citizens, by the citizens, of the citizens, and citizen centricity is at the core of making smart cities a reality, writes Kavan Mukhtyar, Senior Partner & Leader – Smart Cities Practice, Frost & Sullivan
Smart cities involve deploying an ICT-enabled solution that can provide accurate, real time information and drive action. Information has the power to change societies and cultures; and we can drive greater accountability, efficiency and empowerment in a government’s service delivery by making information available to the citizens.
Citizen Engagement and Participation
Every city has its own priority based on urban issues, demographics, and social and economic challenges. Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) should begin their smart city plans through a rigorous evaluation of citizens’ concerns and priorities. Projects that solve top issues affecting citizens should be prioritised. Active citizen participation in the planning process is an important element to make the community accept the development plans.
Frost & Sullivan recommends that ULBs and state governments proactively engage with citizens through a two-way communication process throughout the development and implementation of the smart city plans. In this regard, a structured approach is necessary. Communication channels should be established to get feedback on various dimensions of urban issues, including healthcare, education, energy, transportation, safety, security, government service delivery, etc. This should form the foundation of city development plans. In addition, once the draft smart city plans are ready, it should be made available for citizen feedback. This process can encourage out-of-thebox yet practical solutions.
Globally, smart technologies have been applied to deliver an exciting range of solutions for the urban environment. However, majority of these deployments are in cities with robust physical and basic infrastructure. Hence, globally, the focus of smart solutions tends to be on delivering efficiency in a sustainable manner.
In India, we have a unique situation with significant shortcomings in basic infrastructure. In addition, we have huge differences in income levels, demographics and lifestyles within the same city limits. For instance, the city of Mumbai is home to the top tax-payers in the country, while 60 per cent of the population are the urban poor living in slums. Technology-led smart city uses cases that may be imported from overseas running the risk of being seen as elitist and not addressing the basic issues on the ground. City administrators need to be cautious to avoid this critical pitfall of trying to ‘gold plate’ our cities. Smart city development plans should be guided by the philosophy of making our cities inclusive, citizen-centric, and solving high-priority urban issues by using technology as an enabler.
Proactive Citizen Communication
These days, citizens are much aware about their rights and priorities. They expect the Government delivery services to be efficient and live up to its promises. Information is now readily available, and with the spread of social networking sites/Internet, citizen activism is on the rise. ULBs should consider this trend and have a holistic and proactive citizen communication strategy. This will also help avoid misinformation and create positivity among the citizens about their Government.
We recommend a structured methodology for communicating with the citizens. The underlying philosophy is that a smart citizen is the foundation of a smart city, hence ULBs should engage with citizens throughout the process of studying, designing, planning, and implementation of smart cities. This also ensures active citizen participation in bringing about a sustainable change in improving the livability of our cities.
The Development Model
Step 1: Define key citizen segments of focus
Step 2: Understand citizen’s needs, challenges and preferences
Step 3: Analyse qualitative and quantitative insights
Step 4: Prioritise citizen needs and possible smart solutions
Step 5: Design smart city plans for short, medium and long-term based on prioritised citizen needs
Step 6: Implementation and Monitoring
The communication strategy should vary based on the degree of engagement necessary. This, in turn, depends on the societal impact of a project or plan. Broadly, the engagement can be at the following levels:
Notify: This involves one-way sharing of information with the citizens. This is the approach recommended for operational matters.
Consult: Seek public opinion on policy matters and development plans. Can also contribute in generating new ideas and pragmatic solutions.
Encompass: Get citizens’ involvement and participation to find solutions to their problems. Engage with citizens to bring about a change in the society. Partnering with nongovernmental organisations (NGO) and opinion leaders to influence policy direction.
Cooperate: Get cooperation from citizen groups, NGOs, corporates and other organisations in the implementation of smart city plans.
Enable: This is the most evolved level of citizen communication where the final decision is put in the hands of the citizens. Citizens can build consensus or go with the majority opinion within the boundaries of the policy/ legal framework.
The Way Forward
Making our Indian cities smart is a journey for the next few decades. Smart cities have the potential to enable economic development balanced with healthy, safe, environmentally conscious and happy citizens. The Governments cannot do this alone. All key stakeholders, including the citizens, political parties, technology providers, financial institutions, and private enterprises have to collaborate to make this a reality. ULBs will have to lead and facilitate this by making development plans that are citizen-centric with a proactive communication strategy.
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