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David Wilcox

Why Smart City London should be a #NetworkedCity: participatory, sharing, inclusive and accessible

11 min read

City Hall have launched a "listening exercise" to help the Chief Digital Officer Theo Blackwell and his Board fulfil the Mayor's aim to make London the world's leading Smart City.

Currently Bristol is judged to be in the lead with Manchester and Birmingham third and fourth.

The Huawei UK Smart Cities Index rankings were calculated by an in-depth analysis of ten criteria within the cities’ strategy and execution, covering areas such as their vision, digital innovation, implementation record, environmental impact and community reach.

There are examples in Theo Blackwell's blog post on Medium of "how data and smart initiatives can help citizens". I hope Smart City plans may also help our communities and social structure, about which more later.

Update: Now spotted that Smart London have also published on Medium:

The listening exercise blog post suggests we could get:

Improved public services — City budgeting focused on citizen outcomes, not departmental spending; Bringing health and social care data together for targeted care; live waste data to improve recycling rates and collection frequency; better/digitised public services lowering costs.

Public spaces — sharing of data on the local places citizens use can lead to better design of GP surgeries, schools, parks, shops, and access to sports, entertainment and culture venues during the day and at night.

More personal learning and skills — targeted learning based on personal data and a better understanding of needs and preferences, work patterns or caring responsibilities.

Participation — through civic crowdfunding for neighbourhood projects, participatory financing, community budgeting and better planning/regeneration representation on developments.

Transport reliability and options — Using tracking data from Wifi to guide new travel choices such as smart mobility, car and bicycle sharing and testing autonomous vehicles.

Energy — data on energy consumption from smart meters, if securely and privately shared, and processed alongside public data, could inform better policy making, investment and business decisions, as well as fuel the creation of more tailored and personalised services — increasing inclusion and meeting the specific aim of reducing fuel poverty.

Better public Wifi and connectivity —using public buildings and streets and parks; preparing for 5G technologies.

Personal and public health — such as using data to encourage walking and cycling and steer citizens away from air pollution hotspots; collecting health tracking data and health records with academia, boroughs, and drug manufacturers to tackle chronic diseases of Londoners such as diabetes and asthma

More reliable home and office services — in energy, broadband, water, security services; for example, sharing of energy data to allow for local energy trading/cheaper forms of local energy supply.

What's not too clear from the blog post is how City Hall sees Smart City contributing to its other priorities in the London plan - for example the Mayor's Vision for a Diverse and Inclusive City. I'll check in with the Smart City team to see if there is more in the plan.

That's important because these days tech isn't necessarily seen as wholly beneficial.

Last year NESTA ran an excellent event on digital innovation where CEO Geoff Mulgan explained why digital social innovation should be both bottom-up and top-down.

What we have learned - contrary to many expectations 30 or 40 years ago - is that most of the dynamic of digital and indeed the knowledge economy, through most societies, is that it widens disparity, it widens inequalities. It creates fantastic pockets and hubs of amazing activity in London or Barcelona or Berlin or Copenhagen but actually the distance in terms of life opportunity, income and so on tends to widen, so it is really important that we focus again and again on the social dimension and don’t just celebrate the digital.

At the NESTA event we heard about the Barcelona Digital City Plan. The plan covers:

A City in Common Technology for social change and public sector innovation

  • Develop a public, open and distributed citizen data infrastructure
  • Launch an open standards data collection platform
  • Implement strategies to involve citizens, businesses, communities, organizations, universities and research centers
  • Public administration digital transformation and innovation

Democratic City Technology for a participatory, collaborative and transparent city

  • Develop and standardize new models of participation in digital environment
  • Technological citizenship sovereignty and digital rights
  • Create a XXI century education and training for life and work
  • Bring emerging technologies closer to citizens to foster a modern, conscious, active and participatory society

Circular City Technology for a new, more sustainable and efficient urban model

  • Address with sustainability criteria, the most urgent urban problems
  • Reduce the digital gap between the different neighborhoods
  • Share and provide collective access to resources through democratic governance
  • Stimulate the culture of invention and technological innovation

Creative City Technology to promote invention, entrepreneurship and social innovation

  • Boost a more efficient, transparent and strategic use of public spending
  • Promote public administration innovation, within SMEs and Cooperatives
  • Stimulate the Barcelona network for digital social innovation
  • Foster a more pluralistic digital economy and make a new urban innovation model

Here's further inspiration from Barcelona - an interview in Shareable with Francesca Bria, the chief innovation officer: Building the Networked City From the Ground Up With Citizens

In 2015 NESTA published a report Rethinking Smart Cities from the ground up that argued for a people-centred approach to smart cities:

" To have a chance of helping cities address some of the tough problems they face, we argue that further investment and support are needed to generate evidence about which approaches to using collaborative technologies are most effective. Cities then need to share these lessons so that other cities can adopt and build on the most successful approaches. In the introduction of this report we set out five main recommendations on how cities can better achieve this.

  • Set up a civic innovation lab to drive innovation in collaborative technologies.
  • Use open data and open platforms to mobilise collective knowledge.
  • Take human behaviour as seriously as technology.
  • Invest in smart people, not just smart technology.
  • Spread the potential of collaborative technologies to all parts of society."

I'm hopefully that there's scope to introduce this sort of thinking, as Smart City plans develop.

We can offer some input from the Networked City exploration we've been engaged in for the past year: overview here on our wiki.

The briefing paper for our launch event offered a model of communities as social ecosystems, whose connectedness and health is affected for good or ill by technology.

It is a case made strongly more recently, by David Robinson, as I reported here. David argues that technology is increasing social isolation, and that we have to plan how to use it to positive effect.

David posted ten pieces about Connecting Well on Medium, and has agreed that I can repost them here on our wiki. In addition, David will be speaking at a free event on March 12 2018. How relationships change the world, and where to go with what we know. That's a must.

Over the past year Networked City and Connecting Londoners has focussed on plans for new infrastructure for London civil society, and in particular plans for a resource Hub for London.

Together with the Our Way Ahead network of networks we've made the case for a networked approach, not just a central resource, and for investing in people to achieve that.

The priority functions for the Hub are now agreed as data, networks and networking, and voice/influencing. The Smart City team have invited the advisory group to the Hub - of which I have been a member - to make an input to plans.

It may be that issues like social isolation, and living well in in digital age, fall outside plans for a Smarter City. If so, I think that makes it all the more important for Hub for London to collaborate to address these issues.

Addition: in my original post I neglected to mention excellent work at the RSA by senior researcher Brhmie Balaram, which I quoted here. In Cities 3.0 - from data-driven to people-powered Brhmie writes:

We envision that in Networked Cities, P2P technology would be embedded in systems akin to the technology of Smart Cities, but would enable a collaborative approach to problem-solving, as it has in Sharing Cities.

In Networked Cities, however, the goal citizens are working towards is broader than managing shared assets and resource; the ambition here would be to apply P2P technology to support inclusive growth. While cities have long been drivers of growth, in recent years they have also struggled with widening inequality, compelling cities to pursue a new agenda that rebalances social objectives and economic priorities. Under the banner of achieving inclusive growth, cities must find solutions to emerging problems of health, housing, the environment, ageing and other demographic change.

At the RSA, we’d argue that Networked Cities goes beyond simply rethinking the Smart City or Sharing City in terms of the tools or technologies that we use, or how we engage citizens, because we are also redefining the problems and challenges being tackled. The Networked City is about more than managing public space and population growth or enabling resource efficiency; rather it takes into account wider social challenges that cities are confronting in their pursuit of a more equal society.

Networked City and Hub for London

Smart Cities

David Wilcox

Why digital social innovation requires both bottom-up and top-down - more lessons from #DSInext @Nesta_uk

3 min read

Nesta have provided a full recording of the digital social innovation event that I wrote about here, and it is worth scrolling right to the end to hear chief executive Geoff Mulgan's closing remarks. You'll find them at 7hours 44 mins of the recording.

In the course of his review of the day he makes some profoundly important points about inequality heightened by digital developments, the importance of more skills and capacity in civil society organisations, and joining bottom-up and top-down. He said:

What we have learned - contrary to many expectations 30 or 40 years ago - is that most of the dynamic of digital and indeed the knowledge economy, through most societies, is that it widens disparity, it widens inequalities.

It creates fantastic pockets and hubs of amazing activity in London or Barcelona or Berlin or Copenhagen but actually the distance in terms of life opportunity, income and so on tends to widen, so it is really important that we focus again and again on the social dimension and don’t just celebrate the digital.

We have got a few priorities which are really just about bringing civil society up to speed on what is pretty normal in much of business - and huge, but really quite mundane tasks just around basic skills, basic tools, in the literally millions of civil society organisations across Europe that aren’t using them, and aren’t getting the benefit of them. We need stronger campaigns, institutions, and help to raise the base level.

There is a very big picture in much of what is being talked about today, a very different view of how a state should operate, genuinely with citizens at its core, not just at the end of the line of provision … a very different view of an economy that is genuinely collaboratively enhancing humanity rather than the opposite.

It is important not to lose sight of that small and sometime very big P political side of what is being talked about - but it requires that the bottom-up and top-down link. It is no good enough just to fetishise either - just fetishising because they are grass roots, if they don’t get access to power and money, any more than it is good to fetishise top down, command and control or directive.

It is when the two combine that you get profound and lasting change in this space.

I've pulled the quotes out both because they are, hopefully, an indication of the way that Nesta might prioritise further work in this area, and specifically because they support the way we hope to develop our model of a Networked City.

I'll explore that in the next post about the RSA Network City initiative that I wrote about here.

David Wilcox

Lessons from @Nesta_uk digital social innovation programme #DSInext confirm change depends on cultural shift not just clicks

6 min read

I came away today from NESTA’s digital social innovation event with three main thoughts: there’s lots of exciting projects our there … but they aren’t doing as much good as we hoped … and why can’t we be more like Barcelona?

The event was to launch a report on What’s next for digital social innovation (DSI), following a major research programme, about which lots here:

Big advances in technology – such as the open source and open data movements, low-cost hardware, crowdsourcing and internet of things – provide new ways of delivering public services and delivering social impact in fields as diverse as healthcare, education, democracy, environment, transport and housing. They are particularly well-suited to empowering citizens, involving them in their communities and engaging them in civic action.

We use the term digital social innovation (DSI) to refer to the growing movement of people, projects and organisations using digital technologies to tackle some of society's biggest problems.

We believe that DSI has the potential to dramatically improve the way our public services, communities and businesses work.

There are a lot of projects: the website for the DSI European network features 1890 organisations and 1070 projects, many of them relevant to our exploration into making London a more Networked City, and Connecting Londoners.

But DIS isn’t doing as much good as we hoped, as the report honestly says:

  • Despite this activity, there are relatively few examples of DSI initiatives delivering impact at scale. The growth of DSI is being held back by barriers at the system level and at the level of individual projects.
  • Projects and organisations involved in DSI are still relatively poorly connected to each other. There is a pressing need to grow strong networks within and across countries and regions to boost collaboration and knowledge-sharing.
  • The growth of DSI is being held back by lack of funding and investment across the continent, especially outside Western Europe, and structural digital skills shortages.
  • Civil society organisations and the public sector have been slow to adopt DSI, despite the opportunity it offers them to deliver better services at a lower cost, although there are emerging examples of good practice from across Europe.
  • Practitioners struggle to engage citizens and users, understand and measure the impact of their digital social innovations, and plan for growth and sustainability.

The report has a set of recommendations, including these key points

  • Invest in and enable DSI approaches within existing civil society organisations. Private and public financial support for DSI should not only focus on startups and grassroots organisations, but also on improving digital maturity in established civil society organisations and supporting DSI initiatives within them.
  • Enable peer learning and the spread of best practice.The European Commission should continue to invest in peer learning and knowledge-sharing initiatives, both online and offline. This must happen not only between practitioners but also between funders, policymakers and investors.

These proposals reflected recurrent themes through event: that coming up with digital solutions to social challenges is one thing, but getting adoption by organisations in the field of social good is another; and that encouraging people to share what they have learned is difficult.

And Barcelona? Francesca Bria, Chief Technology and Digital Innovation Officer for the City, wowed everyone with a presentation of their Digital City plan, which you can see here. You may be able to find Francesca at 2hrs 48mins in the recording. The plan covers:

A City in Common
Technology for social change and public sector innovation

  • Develop a public, open and distributed citizen data infrastructure
  • Launch an open standards data collection platform
  • Implement strategies to involve citizens, businesses, communities, organizations, universities and research centers
  • Public administration digital transformation and innovation

Democratic City
Technology for a participatory, collaborative and transparent city

  • Develop and standardize new models of participation in digital environment
  • Technological citizenship sovereignty and digital rights
  • Create a XXI century education and training for life and work
  • Bring emerging technologies closer to citizens to foster a modern, conscious, active and participatory society

Circular City
Technology for a new, more sustainable and efficient urban model

  • Address with sustainability criteria, the most urgent urban problems
  • Reduce the digital gap between the different neighborhoods
  • Share and provide collective access to resources through democratic governance
  • Stimulate the culture of invention and technological innovation

Creative City
Technology to promote invention, entrepreneurship and social innovation

  • Boost a more efficient, transparent and strategic use of public spending
  • Promote public administration innovation, within SMEs and Cooperatives
  • Stimulate the Barcelona network for digital social innovation
  • Foster a more pluralistic digital economy and make a new urban innovation model

Hopefully inspiration for whoever is appointed London's Chief Digital Officer

In concluding remarks, Geoff Mulgan, NESTA chief executive argued for more lobbying to secure funding for digital social innovation - and also urged patience. It is people not clicks that change societies.

Most of the profound change associated with digital technology moves at the speed of culture as much as it does of technology . Most of the things we are talking about here that really matter require changes to how people think, how they feel, how they behave as well as hardware and software.

The day's mix of inspiring examples, and realism about what it takes to being about social change in cities confirmed there's lots for Networked City to learn from the DSI programme and NESTA's other research and project development. But how to bring it into play?

As I wrote yesterday, I'm hoping for cooperation with RSA because of the Cities 3.0 programme.

I hope that NESTA might also be interested because our approach to Connecting Londoners - explained here - could be way to explore how to combine top-down and bottom-up. As Geoff Mulgan emphasised, both are needed to create real social value.