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UK study: Who are smart cities going to help the most?

Submitted by doug.peeples on October 13, 2016

There's no one way to build a smart city. Cities are different and the wants and needs of their citizens, while similar in many ways, are different in others. As many cities have found out, it's not always easy to get citizens involved with planning and engaged in the process or who actually benefits (or does not benefit) from the results. Researchers from Open University are taking what may be considered a non-traditional tack, an  approach they hope will ensure that smart city benefits are accessible to as many people as possible. You may find some ideas in our story that you can use to do the same. — Doug Peeples

Milton Keynes, a town of about 230,000 in Britain's southeast, will be the focus of an Open University study to determine what types of citizens and other consumers are most likely to engage with smart city technologies, policies and direction.

The point?
Open University says more than half of the UK's cities are involved to at least some degree in smart cities projects. What the researchers hope to learn is how to ensure that projects are as inclusive as possible—that the great majority of citizens have access to the convenience, livability and sustainability smart cities are expected to provide.

The two-year project, supported by a $920,000 grant from the Economic & Social Research Council, will begin in January. The point, more specifically, is to help Milton Keynes public and private stakeholders learn who is engaging with and taking advantage of smart city technologies and services, how they're doing it and why.

Gillian Rose, Open University project lead, explained why the research is so important. "Although local community and citizen participation is a prerequisite for a successful smart city, almost nothing is known about how smart policies and technologies actually engage city residents and workers.

"Who are smartphone apps designed for and what social needs to they ignore? What kind of populations are described by smart data hubs, and who do policies using such data therefore address? Many are concerned that smart city activity may well not reach socially marginalized groups and individuals, for example, and that it might therefore contribute to increased levels of social polarization in chties between the digital 'haves' and have nots.'

Rose said their research expects to answer those questions, and provide a way to analyze and guide future projects and developments.

The Milton Keynes Council, a community action group of volunteer and community organizations and others are working with Open University researchers on the project.

For more on citizen engagement...
Take a look at the Smart People chapter in the Council's Smart Cities Readiness Guide to learn more about options cities can use to best engage their citizens in smart cities transformations—and why a "citizens first" approach is essential from the very beginning.

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.