Crowdsourcing and Smart City Innovation: A Winning Combination

The evolving trend of smart city innovation is one that governments should be wholeheartedly embracing, but as with many government initiatives, seems to be having a hard time getting off the ground. Embedding crowdsourcing and innovation management into the smart cities initiative could be what makes the difference.

At first glance, the term “smart government” appears to be oxymoronic. And no further explanation is needed. However, on a closer glance, when you read about and think about the deep changes business and industries have gone through, including digital transformation, you look back at the governments and think, “Aren’t they stuck? No wonder nothing much is achieved!” And when you look at the way things are progressing: from smart phones to smart watches to smart cars, smart offices, smart cities, etc., the natural evolution of the course should be smart, or digital, government that not only enables more efficient engagement between its personnel but also upgraded contact with the people, including value-generating services.

Is Your City Becoming Smarter?

In recent years, thanks in large to the Internet and proliferation of mobile devices, people have become accustomed to receive instant customer service. It logically follows that local administrations and governments should follow suit. Cities such as around the world are all adapting technological and digital tools to optimize services and the city infrastructure. In Amsterdam, for example, over 500,000 households are connected to smart meters. These digital gas and electric meters automatically send consumption information to the utilities provider. This also allows users to see their exact consumption and what steps they can take to save energy. In Barcelona, the transport tickets are embedded with chips which pass along data on public transportation times and usage, which can be used to make the system more efficient as well as keep commuters informed on travel times. Copenhagen’s smart city ambitions aim to harness technology and digital tools to make the city greener, healthier and attract more businesses. While these are an auspicious start to the smart city innovation trend, they are still the outlier, and not indicative of most cities.

smart city innovation - infographic

Taking a page from cities around the world who are adapting advanced technologies and digital tools to systematically upgrade the infrastructure and quality of life for the citizens, the government needs to adapt a similar approach to make its branches more accessible while more effective in its handling of statewide affairs. The most obvious example would be natural-disaster prone cities and states, where technologies can be used to prepare these places well in advance, as well as try and reduce potential damages as much as possible.

Smart City Innovation: Harnessing Digital Transformation

Digital transformation has enabled direct, practically instant communication with citizens. Harnessing this ability has enabled local governments that have gone through the digital transformation process to keep up with citizen demands and provide instant feedback and support to citizen requirements. Even the cities that have embraced digital transformation, however, are lagging behind the private sector.

It’s no secret that most of the tech innovation and digital disruption takes place in the private sector. It’s also no secret that digitally mature organizations tend to rate much higher with customers than those who are still in the middle or start of the process, to say nothing of not digitally transforming at all. In order to become “smart”, governments need to “import” talents, ideas and innovations from that world and adapt them to the somber-looking world of clerks and seemingly never-ending cycle of bureaucracy. Because digital and technological transformation cut more deeply than a simple website or social media “paint job,” as it were, external innovators from the private sectors must be involved from the start.

In order for a smart city innovation program to be successful, the government's initiative should include:

Like all good things, everything starts with a strategy to implement the digital transformation and its core attributes – culture, leadership, staff, accompanied with a way to track and measure the department/body’s goals.

Internal Engagement
As a part of the launch of the initiative, as many different players and internal stakeholders should be engaged, establishing sustainable collaboration from within the government.

External Engagement
Once the internal component of the program has been launched and is running smoothly, it is time to complete the second stage of the rollout, engaging external stakeholders as well, from all sectors of the economy.

One can and should only take a hard look at the drought in South Africa, where the embracement of technological solutions from external sources could have greatly alleviated, if not prevented, the water catastrophe. Shortsighted water management strategy, coupled with the resistance for collaboration with external groups to implement solutions such as desalination, helped dig South Africa into the serious drought hole in which it found itself.

Private Sector Participation
It’s been proven that companies with consumer-centric digital solutions have made the digital transformation far more successfully than companies that didn’t.

While until now “government” and “quality, customer-centric” service seemed like a difficult combination, technology and digital transformation does make connecting with people easier. The question is, how can the government implement digital solutions to cater its citizens in the best possible manner?

Give a Man a Fish

Embracing collaboration with the private sector in your Smart City initiative can do more than just "lend" digital transformation abilities to the local or municipal government. Instead of the classic "Give a man a fish" method of social responsibility, cities can begin teaching people "how to fish". Private companies can launch innovation hubs and accelerators, whose main goal is to involve community members and leaders who will suggest creative ideas and solutions. An example of this type of hub is the Copenhagen Solutions Lab, Copenhagen's incubator for smart city initiatives.

smart city innovation - photo
The Capital 1 Labs, an example of the type of private innovation hub which can be formed to foster Smart City innovation

In the next stage of the program, the same companies will continue the process by taking the best ideas/startups, funding them through the accelerators and promoting them using the financial resources at hand. In the final stage, these new initiatives will be adopted into the company.

By doing this, a positive-feedback loop of productivity can be created, where real needs are raised, the citizens are engaged in suggesting solutions, are given professional guidance by the private sector, who commit to employ the entrepreneurs at the end of the process.

Digital Israel

An example of a smart cities program taking advantage of the digital transformation in citizen engagement is the Israeli government’s Digital Israel, which launched Smart Cities, an open innovation platform engaging Israel’s largest municipalities.

smart city innovation screenshot

Powered by Qmarkets, this system supports Digital Israel’s smart cities initiative not only by allowing anyone to suggest ideas, but also by continuing the innovation process once the idea suggestion phase is over. Ideas are advanced through a comprehensive best practice-driven idea workflow which includes:

Reviews and consultation with external experts: The Qmarkets innovation management platform allows you to engage external experts to weigh concerning ideas. In addition, Qmarkets' Review Committee, where designated employees can review ideas, is a key element of the innovation workflow.

Timeline layout: The Qmarkets platform offers built-in campaign and idea workflows, which take into consideration the entire process, from ideation all the way through the implementation process. You can also create a timeframe with deadline for idea generations and assign various participants to different sections of the project.

Financial planning: 
As part of the platform and engaging stakeholders, the financial team can (and is expected to) help with financial planning and execution of the idea.

Inter-departmental engagement: 
Use the Qmarkets platform to collaborate and exchange feedback with various other departments within your company, such as Marketing, Legal, R&D, etc. in order to get the most relevant and pertinent feedback on your ideas.

To learn more about how Qmarkets can help with your Smart City innovation initiative, contact us today. 

Ben Gross

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