The cities where we live and work are becoming increasingly “smart.” That’s because many of them are using technology to improve citizens’ lives, whether it’s by delivering real-time information, providing easy-to-use feedback mechanisms or offering greater convenience. And while artificial intelligence (AI), smart machines and the Internet of Things (IoT) are exciting, citizen engagement is the real key to success for smart cities. Citizens themselves must be excited about what you are doing and collaborate in the brainstorming, design, and building of smart initiatives.

The following are some tips on how technology can be leveraged to more actively engage citizens in smart city initiatives:

Take a community-driven approach when developing new digital services

Rather than government officials or city leadership dictating smart city initiatives, start with the people. In Paris, the mayor earmarked €500 million to be spent by 2020 on citizen-initiated smart projects and the city received more than 5,000 proposals from its citizens, who can also vote on which projects they would like to see implemented. Another aspect of this is small things like opening up town hall meetings and encouraging voting on key initiatives. Be open to new ideas suggested by neighborhood groups or even individuals. You cannot overlook the importance of understanding the real human benefits citizens want from smart city initiatives.

Your citizens are also eager to work with each other to crowdsource answers to government problems. You can easily make them your eyes and ears for helping with everything from traffic congestion, to air quality, to city infrastructure problems. For example, if a resident sees debris in the road, he or she can tweet a photo along with geolocation information to the city, which can then forward it to the appropriate department for action. When the problem is taken care of, the citizen who reported it gets a follow-up tweet along with a photo showing that the debris has been removed.

Cater to both the ‘tech savvy’ and ‘tech neophyte’

Among your citizens will be those who own and are proficient with technology and those who lack either the digital devices–PCs, smartphones, etc.–or the skills to use them. Pay equal attention to the needs of citizens with fewer IT skills. Incorporating technologies such as natural-language-powered virtual personal assistants is a step in this direction.  

Be social

If your community is not already using social media to connect to citizens and share timely news and information, it’s time to start. Social media is not a passing trend. It’s the new normal for how your citizens engage with their worlds. So, put up a Facebook site, use Twitter, have a presence on LinkedIn, and then begin sharing.

Be mobile friendly

Today, individuals are using smartphone apps for nearly everything. NextDoor has more than 10 million users in more than 100,000 U.S. neighborhoods sharing advice, making recommendations and exchanging information about everything from crime to the best yard sale in the neighborhood. Cities are already beginning to make city services available the same way–allowing people to find and pay for parking, apply for permits and pay utility bills from their phones. Also, if your municipal website is not mobile optimized, or if you do not offer a separate downloadable mobile app for your local government, you are likely not providing all citizens with accessible content.

Get input from a more varied mix of citizens

You most likely have a group of hyper-engaged and very vocal citizens who tend to dominate. To get broader involvement, use online consultation platforms to allow citizens to provide opinions on important civic issues as they arise. These platforms can be used for surveys, discussions, forums and quick polls on various topics, providing government officials with a more comprehensive representation of the opinions of their constituency. 

Another way to engage a more diverse group of citizens is to bring your town hall online. Rather than having everyone attempt to crowd physically into a room, engage citizens via social media. To do this, schedule a time and allow users to ask questions from the comfort of their homes or offices, and get their instant feedback regarding important issues.

Establish performance benchmarks and measure results along the way

If you don’t set and measure key performance indicators (KPIs), you’ll never know if a smart project is achieving what you want. Set quantitative goals, and then follow through to make sure they’re being met. According to industry analyst firm Gartner, “by 2020, two-thirds of all smart city execution strategies will incorporate KPIs to visualize the impact of mobility-related urban services.”

Find a network provider capable of supporting it all

In order to ensure fast, secure and reliable connectivity to all of the applications and resources you’re putting into place, it’s critical to have an intelligent, highly capable underlying network infrastructure to support it. That means identifying a network provider with the expertise and advanced solutions to meet your full range of connectivity needs. 

Thanks to the immediacy of social media, the proliferation of mobile technology and the convenience of Wi-Fi, today’s citizens can engage with their governments in many new ways. And these engaged citizens are the key to successful smart city initiatives.

Vernon Irvin serves as president of CenturyLink’s government, education, medium and small business (GEMS) business unit. In this role, Irvin is responsible for leading more than 2,000 national employees who manage a portfolio of communication solutions, security, hosting, cloud computing, managed services, and IT services.


Read More About
Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs