Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Research reveals the best ways for cities to empower citizens and businesses to engage with smart cities


  • Citizens are already seeing the impact of their engagement with smart cities through digital technologies but are eager for more interaction and influence
  • Businesses are keen partners for smart cities, both in providing feedback and facilitating citizen engagement through hackathons and other programmes

Technology is changing cities in a multitude of ways. Part of what it takes for cities to become “smart” involves investments in the information and communications technologies that underpin the functioning of everything, from the power grid to transportation systems. But this is only part of the story. Equally important are the kinds of technologies that enable stakeholders—residents, visitors, daily commuters and tourists alike—to derive more value from their cities’ infrastructure and services and to contribute to their planning and design. Armed with little more than a smartphone and some apps, engaged stakeholders can provide direct feedback on services or submit their ideas for improvements. As digital technologies facilitate the “crowdsourced city”, the question for policymakers is how to adapt to a new culture in which residents are no longer passive consumers of services but active participants in efforts to improve the planning and operation of their cities.

In order to understand how these stakeholders already are seeing the benefits of smart cities and how they would like to interact with and shape their cities in future, The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), supported by Philips Lighting, surveyed citizens and businesses in 12 diverse cities around the world—Barcelona, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Chicago, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, New York City, Rio de Janeiro, Shanghai, Singapore and Toronto.

The report, EMPOWERING CITIES: The real story on how citizens and businesses are driving smart cities, finds that smart cities have active citizens, but there is room for further engagement and citizens want more ways to interact with their cities. Citizens feel they can guide the improvement of infrastructure and services in three top areas: social services, such as healthcare and education; pollution reduction and environmental sustainability; and waste collection, treatment and recycling. Yet when it comes to smart city projects specifically, few respondents (15%) believe they can make any meaningful contributions.

While just under one-third of citizens (32%) are currently providing feedback to their local authorities, over one-half say they would like to do so. They prefer the usual suspects—social media and e-mail—as the means to interact with local governments. A large number of citizens (51%) want wider access to digital platforms to enable them to communicate with government; they believe that the expansion of free Internet access in public spaces and more information about smart city projects (both 50%) would encourage them to engage further.

Other key findings of the report are:

■ Digital technologies are already improving city services

Almost one-third of respondents (31%) say that digital technology has improved transportation services in the past three years. One-quarter of businesses see it as an area that will be improved in the near future. However, the impact of digital technology goes beyond transportation. From sensors that can receive and transmit information to data-analytics systems, digital technologies can facilitate the real-time or near real-time monitoring of infrastructure such as power and water networks, improving the efficiency of those assets and addressing vulnerabilities before they become problematic.

■ Using new tools effectively requires more action

The survey also reveals an interest in participating in hackathons—events in which computer programmers and others collaborate on software design—or similar events (54%), even though few citizens have ever done so. Some cities are responding, but they need to do more than organize idea-generating events. While cities are making their data publicly accessible, open data portals have yet to take off, with a relatively small group (10%) selecting these. Even so, while citizens are not interacting with these data directly, many use them via apps for everything from finding schools to checking the status of local transportation.

■ Business is a willing partner for smart city initiatives

Like citizens, businesses call for more transparency and more channels of communication when it comes to smart city initiatives. Most executives urge the government to do more to engage businesses in public decision-making around improvements to urban infrastructure and services (58%) and believe that it should be investing more heavily in digital technologies that enable businesses to play a role in urban improvements (63%). The majority of executives (52%) also say that improved digital communication channels would encourage them to provide cities with feedback. They are also demanding more smart city developments as they see the direct and indirect benefits—more than half (53%) of businesses believe smart cities can help to attract top talent, which they believe can impact the bottom line.

Monica Woodley, Editorial Director, EMEA at The EIU, says: “Our research found that the promise of smart cities, and the digital technology that drives them, is already being seen in the levels of citizen feedback being given to cities on a range of municipal services and projects. But there is a huge opportunity for cities to build on that – not only soliciting and managing feedback but truly engaging citizens in shaping their cities. Citizens, and businesses, are keen partners in building the smart cities of the future if city governments give them the means.”

Read EMPOWERING CITIES: The real story on how citizens and businesses are driving smart cities, supported by Philips Lighting


For further information, please contact:

Mathew Hanratty, corporate communications manager

+44 (0)20 7576 8546 

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Monica Woodley, editorial director

+44 (0)207 576 8361

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Notes to editors

About The Economist Intelligence Unit
The Economist Intelligence Unit is the world leader in global business intelligence. It is the business-to-business arm of The Economist Group, which publishes The Economist newspaper. As the world's leading provider of country intelligence, The Economist Intelligence Unit helps executives make better business decisions by providing timely, reliable and impartial analysis on worldwide market trends and business strategies. More information about The Economist Intelligence Unit can be found at www.eiu.com or follow us on www.twitter.com/theeiu.

About Philips Lighting

Philips Lighting (Euronext Amsterdam ticker: LIGHT) provides lighting products, systems and services. It serves professional and consumer markets with connected lighting systems and services, leveraging the Internet of Things to transform homes, buildings and urban spaces. With 2015 sales of €7.5 billion, we have approximately 36,000 employees in over 70 countries. News from Philips Lighting is located at http://www.newsroom.lighting.philips.com

An Economist Group business © 2011 The Economist Intelligence Unit Limited. All rights reserved.

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