Sarah Wray talks to David Ogden, Business Director, Amey, about the next phase for citizen engagement.
Ahead of his presentation at the joint SmartCitiesWorld/Amey event, Whose City Is It Anyway? (London, June 19), Sarah Wray talks to Amey’s David Ogden about how approaches to developing smarter cities and involving citizens are evolving.
SCW: There’s a growing focus on the centrality of the citizen in smart cities. What stage, realistically, do you think we are at with making that a reality?
DO: Over the past five years, we’ve seen significant movement by industry and asset-owners to engage citizens differently. Predominantly, with positive outcomes for all. However, our ongoing challenge remains – we still believe we only engage with less than five per cent of citizens across the UK when assessing citizens’ views on their highways service.
Despite the growth of social media and new ways of engaging with citizens, this is far from truly representative of the communities and cities that we operate in.
Highways maintenance is undertaken by a variety of different organisations across the UK – government bodies, local authorities and private contractors. Each operates differently and are often unknown to the end user.
Ultimately, the end user cares about the reliability of their journey time from A to B but they find it increasingly difficult to know who to contact for information or to make enquiries. As an industry, we’re keen to understand more about citizens’ needs, views and opinions.
We still believe we only engage with less than five per cent of citizens across the UK when assessing citizens’ views on their highways service.
Traditional methods of seeking citizen feedback and understanding satisfaction levels are still being used within our industries – often paper-based, quantitative surveys. Supplemented by discerning reports from organisations such as Transport Focus who delve into detailed perspectives, these all provide valuable information and insight.
However, if we are truly going to recognise the citizens’ view, and correlate these against asset management principles, our data sources and analysis methods must compliment the research available.
Infrastructure and construction services are entering a period of data maturation, where large amounts of data are gathered but without evaluation of impacts or outcomes. Key technology is now available which offers the industry the opportunity to change the way we work and engage citizens.
From artificial intelligence to the Internet of Things and blockchain, the capability of technology is quickly overtaking our own ability to implement new ways of working and engaging.
The challenge now is to transition into a period of information creation to further engage the citizen, but also generate a switch from outputs and services to outcomes and solutions.
This challenge poses us with a question – should the citizen be involved in these discussions or do we leave it to the asset management experts?
We already see the direct correlation between the critical role citizens play in determining positive outcomes, such as recycling, and this would lead us to simply answer that ‘yes’, the citizens must be involved.
In a highways maintenance environment, you could argue there is a balance between professional asset management and the importance of citizens’ views. Technology and data analytics allow us to engage differently – now we need to use the data better to improve the quality of our engagement.
SCW: What do you think cities, local authorities and the public sector could do to engage citizens more?
DO: We’re at a stage where we are able to collect data in unprecedented volumes, and that will only continue to increase. As we start to consume and analyse this ‘big data’ in a very different way, this enables us to have greater confidence to make commissioning decisions based on data outputs.
By linking existing data from different sources and encouraging citizens to engage through new mediums such as mobility apps, we have the opportunity to look at measuring citizen experience differently.
However, many public sector bodies take different stances on their open data policies. Some openly share data, such as TfL, others release some data (although you could question its value) and some authorities haven’t started the data journey at all.
We’re at an exciting time to embrace the emerging opportunity to redefine ‘engagement’ - moving away from only being able to listen to direct interaction with the vocal extremes (both positive and negative).
We’re at an exciting time to embrace the emerging opportunity to redefine ‘engagement’.
Using data and alternative forms of behavioural engagement will provide insights into citizens’ experiences and associated outcomes of 95% of local communities who are currently ‘invisible’ to authorities. These views, opinions, experiences and preferences could reshape the procurement and delivery of public services.
This predicament provides a number of clear indicators that perhaps we need to revolutionise the procurement process to focus on outcomes, not outputs, to improve productivity and the citizen experience.
SCW: What do you think are the key benefits of approaches such as this?
DO: An interesting paper from Deloitte identified that adopting a human-centred approach to boost compliance will not only improve our understanding of the needs and preferences of our target populations; it will also make government agencies more efficient and effective.
We are seeing a shift in other countries and the positive outcomes data can produce. In Sacramento, a citizen group were informed about their home electricity and natural gas usage, highlighting individual household consumption relative to neighbouring homes. Increased data and societal perception in this case were an appropriate nudge to see a decrease in energy consumption.
The results of this trial were positive – consumption decreased by six per cent in homes using the most energy, and the reduction in electricity costs yielded savings for the enrolled citizens. If deployed across Sacramento, an estimated $20.7 million could be saved.
Creating a realistic ambition, which provides a way of mixing engagement with recognised operational principles, enables us to measure outcomes and impacts and provide the right environment to deliver expectations.
This could lead to a greater citizen understanding of the challenges authorities face to juggle budgets, urgent repairs, ongoing maintenance and citizens’ priorities. It could also significantly improve authorities’ understanding of what’s actually important to their citizens.
Over time, I think we’ll see a shift to a position where citizen engagement, and ultimately satisfaction, will have an increased importance weighting when making decisions to identify and prioritise projects.
SCW: What role does the private sector play in fostering citizen engagement?
DO: Collectively, the industry has a broad range of skills - asset management knowledge, traditional engineering experience, data services, technology developments and more. Through collaboration between the public and private sectors, we have the ability to deliver services that truly understand the highways asset and can be built to incorporate citizens’ needs.
It will take a collaborative shift in hearts and minds to realise that we can only unlock this potential together – no single company, organisation or individual can deliver this vision, but together it can be realised.
We still need to create a business environment that enables these elements to collaboratively unlock the potential public services offer in urban or rural environments. Too often, we compete where we need to collaborate.
Too often, we compete where we need to collaborate.
There is growing momentum for change, and great work is being done to move this forward, although too often it is still being conducted in silos.
We also need to support entrepreneurial start-ups who offer more open innovation and incubation of new ideas. Unfortunately, this is often restricted by legislation, out-of-date IP expectations or barriers to entry. We’re beginning to see some change, and I hope this could be accelerated by a common industry approach to unlock blockers and maximise the opportunities a full market collaboration could deliver for the citizen.
SCW: How do you think things will evolve from here?
DO: I think we’ll start to see that balance between priorities becoming ever-more important over time. Citizens, more than ever, want to have a voice on decisions and a mechanism for sharing that voice with authorities and decision-makers.
As these outcomes become more clearly defined and balanced to the needs of the local communities, this opens the door for outcome-based procurement to become a reality.
A revised procurement method, which produces a different type of service contract, would enable authorities and service providers to deliver contracts differently. This approach would enable both parties to better use the data available to make informed decisions which optimise the asset itself as well as fulfilling citizen’ needs.