Smart or not, cities have always relied on their people to drive change.
Elected officials, after all, cannot act alone. They need an engaged, educated and supportive citizenry to bring new ideas to life.
So when forward-looking Smart City officials implement new tools and technologies with the goal of easing everyday obstacles, solving the logistics of city travel and building communication between residents and government – it’s the citizenry that determines their success.
Potential users of the technology must decide whether to adopt these tools by weighing the benefit of the experience against the investment.
Take the example of an app that monitors parking inventory:
Running late to a show, a user has to find a parking space in peak hours. Instead of maneuvering through rows of traffic in search of an available space, she simply pulls out her smartphone and check a map detailing available spots.
Turning into the parking spot, the car hits a large pothole. Being a loyal citizen, she takes a picture of the pothole and sends the image with a GPS tag to the city transportation department, where staff can document the problem and schedule a fix.
In this scenario, the benefit for the user – and the city – seems strong. An app that provides this type of experience has potential to be widely adopted.
But what happens to those citizens who don’t have the ability to participate in the technology due to something called the Digital Divide?
It’s amazing that, in 2016, many people in the world still don’t have access to mobile devices and the Internet. But research shows the divide is real:
- 43% of people in the world have Internet access. That means 57% do not.
- 46% of people worldwide have mobile broadband access. Again, that means the majority of people in the world do not have access to mobile devices.
The penetration is wider in wealthier, more developed nations (77% of Europeans use the Internet, for instance) – and with wealthier, more educated people (90% of Americans with a college degree have Internet access). That means a city’s most vulnerable populations – its elderly, minorities and poor – are most likely to be left out.
This divide should be a concern of officials who wish to fully involve their citizens in Smart City growth. Regardless of the technologies a city can provide, if residents can’t access or use them effectively, the programs won’t be successful. The answer may be as simple as providing publicly accessible devices or launching a series of educational seminars for residents. Perhaps it starts in the public education system with IT lessons for the next generation. Regardless of the approach, the divide must be addressed.
Yes, digital, mobile technologies can arm people with instantaneous information that helps them make smarter, faster decisions.
But technology is only an enabler. It’s a city’s people that drive the change.
At CSC, we believe the public sector runs best with the right technology and a client-focused partner that can make that happen. This series of blog posts explores the topic and how strong digital leadership can lead to success. We encourage you to provide feedback in the comments section or interact with us on social media. We’d love to hear your thoughts about the Smart City of today – and your vision for tomorrow – and how we can be part of making that a reality.
Venke Bordal is Head of Public Sector Sweden for CSC. Connect with her on LinkedIn.