The real driving force behind smart cities

If there’s one thing that our recent ChangeCampAU confirmed, it was the power of social networks and desire of people and businesses in our communities to contribute. And that leveraging the potency of these connections and these resources will build smart sustainable resilient communities and cities, says Amelia Loye, Managing Director of engage2.

But aren’t smart cities about things that enable people and places to collect, access and share information like never before? Yes and no. While much is made of emerging technologies and their promise for progressive urban development, Amelia says the real heart of a smart city is its smart, resilient community.

“For a long time, the smart city movement has largely focused on technology, particularly sensor technology, and how that can improve the efficiency of public services and help government reduce expenditure, says Amelia.

Making the most of social networks

This focus places too much emphasis on the tools and on data about community – not from community. And it doesn’t place enough emphasis on people: the way we interact with each other and support each other, our social networks that are offline as well as online, and the power of collaboration – both present and potential.

“Social networks existed a long time before technology, and what technology and the web did was to enable and amplify the existing fabric of our society,” Amelia says. “I think the next wave of smart cities are those that recognise the latent potential and social capital in their community and enable those with a desire to contribute to help create smarter, more resilient communities.”

But what’s this social capital and latent potential we speak of? It’s the people and organisations willing to contribute time, energy and resources to help others in their community. You create social capital through good relationships and you can leverage or use this capital as social currency to ask for and create things in and for the community.

What does social capital look like?

“It can be as simple things like people helping their elderly neighbours with the groceries, or helping new immigrants settle into their community, or forming a social enterprise or not-for-profit to help address a bigger social challenge that they see in their community. You only have to talk to two or three people on your street to find somebody who is working for the rural fire service the lifesavers association, or a school canteen,” says Amelia.

And for governments to tap into the potential of this social capital, they need to spend more time understanding the people and networks in the community – asking about their needs, listening to input and building relationships so they can identify resources and the best people and organisations to collaborate with in future.

“This involves creating more opportunities for citizens and businesses to work with governments. To engage them in research, co-design and co-delivery of  the services, programs and policies that affect them in ways that leverage their interest and desire to contribute,” says Amelia.

The next wave

“I think the next wave of this movement will look at the way engagement is  being used to intentionally build communities – like the community development methods employed by the World Bank in developing countries – and how the lessons learned might be used here to tap into that potential to build more resilient communities.”

Things are looking good. We are already starting to see a smart cities movement talking about smarter and more resilient communities and a shift toward understanding social impact, opportunity and the use of engagement says Amelia. For example the Australian and New Zealand Smart City Council now have a social impact Taskforce, and the Future Ready Program recently ran some webinars to help councils understand the importance of engagement.

“I’m very pleased to see the smart city movement maturing and starting to talk about engagement, community resilience and development as a key part of building a smart, future-ready city,” says Amelia.

“And I’m excited about bringing ChangeCamp to different areas across Australia to connect, activate and strengthen networks of people and organisations as a way to build smarter more resilient communities across Australia.”

If you’d like to get involved in the next ChangeCamp or help us bring it to other locations in Australia, send us an email at info@engage2.com.au

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