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Half public sector say they do “nowhere near enough” to involve citizens

There’s a consensus that it becomes more important to engage citizens as more technology is added in cities – so why isn’t it happening?

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Half of both public sector organisations and private sector service providers (46 per cent and 50 per cent respectively) say they do “nowhere near enough” to engage citizens in the development of their city or products and services for this market.

 

These are the findings of new research from SmartCitiesWorld, in partnership with Amey and the Ferrovial Services Centre of Excellence for Cities.

 

Just ten per cent of public sector organisations (including cities, regional authorities, public transport operators and more) said they are doing “very well" with citizen engagement – no private sector organisations said this was the case.

 

A third of both types of organisations believe they do “enough but could do more”. One respondent said: “Enough means that what is done is better than nothing.”

 

This is despite the fact that the vast majority in both groups said it becomes more important to engage citizens as more technology is added in cities – much of it invisible. This includes the use of sensors, data collection and analysis, artificial intelligence, and more.

 

One respondent said: “Enough means that what is done is better than nothing.”

 

 

The research was presented at the Whose City is it Anyway? event in London on June 19, which was also run in partnership between SmartCitiesWorld, Amey and the Ferrovial Services Centre of Excellence for Cities.

 

Speakers included: David Ogden, Business Director, Amey; Konstantinos Champidis, Chief Digital Officer, City of Athens; Suzanne Jameson, Head of Creative Economy, City of Liverpool; Tiernan Mines, CEO, Hello Lamp Post; and Ben Edmonds, IT Programme & Change Manager, London Legacy Development Corporation (London 2012 Olympics). See the full line-up here.

 

The role of citizens

 

In terms of the role citizens play, a quarter of public sector organisations said citizens are either informed or consulted about plans for the city and a similar number are using data proactively to drive some services.

 

Just seven per cent say they’re using data proactively to improve all services over time. Further, only 14 per cent enable citizens to be active agents in improving the city.

 

Workshops were the most popular method of public engagement at almost half (46 per cent), followed by web-based engagement platforms for around 21 per cent. Next came participatory budgeting (17 per cent). A minority are using social media and public art initiatives (both 4 per cent).

 

The tech gap

 

Three-quarters of public sector respondents and all private sector respondents said that citizen engagement becomes more important as cities push to become smarter using technology. However, a quarter of public sector responses disagreed and said that technology doesn’t increase the need for public input.

 

Two-thirds across both sectors think citizens should be consulted about all aspects of their city’s development.

 

Two-thirds across both sectors think citizens should be consulted about all aspects of their city’s development but a third said it isn’t necessary to involve citizens in all decisions and initiatives.

 

Sarah Wray, Editor at SmartCitiesWorld, said: “The bad news is that public sector organisations appear to have a long way to go with better involving people in their strategies, and this comes at a time of growing debate about the increasing use of technology in public spaces – from concerns about data ownership and usage to fears about AI ethics and job losses.

 

"The good news is that cities know they need to do more and are making some progress, if not enough. If they don’t find a way to enable co-creation at scale, they could see increasing apathy from citizens or even push-back against their plans.”

 

Benefits and challenges

 

When it comes to the major advantages to be gained from better citizen engagement, 60 per cent of public sector respondents said the main benefit is to better understand citizens’ priorities.

 

Just a third of the private sector said this was the main benefit – with the same number saying the key advantage is increasing satisfaction with quality of life in the city. This was seen as lower down the order of benefits by the public sector (12.5 per cent).

 

A quarter in the public sector and a third in the private sector said better engagement increases trust between cities and citizens.

 

When it comes to the biggest obstacles to better citizen engagement, public sector respondents said the key challenge is being worried that citizens will demand things they can’t deliver (33 per cent).

 

This was followed by the concern that not enough people will participate (22 per cent) as well as a perception that involving citizens can be costly and overcomplicate things (17 per cent).

 

Many of the services delivered by councils and their partners impact citizens directly. In this case, the citizen is the ‘customer’.

 

Mark Saunders, Director, Centre of Excellence for Cities at Ferrovial Services, said: “Many of the services delivered by councils and their partners impact citizens directly. In this case, the citizen is the ‘customer’. We should definitely engage with them more and create a dialogue to understand their needs better. This will lead to improved services and more satisfied citizens.”

 

Data

 

Half of public sector (46 per cent) and private sector (50 per cent) respondents consider themselves “quite mature” when it comes to using data to understand their residents better and give them the services they want and need.

 

However, 42 per cent (public sector) and 33 per cent (private sector) consider themselves immature. One in ten and 17 per cent respectively say they are very mature.

 

Public sector respondents said the biggest challenge to doing more with data is access to the necessary skills and tools while the private sector cited citizens’ concerns about privacy (33 per cent). Only 9 per cent of public sector responses flagged this as a challenge.

 

Other public sector concerns are not having enough data and lack of clarity about data ownership. Interestingly, no private sector respondents were concerned about the latter issue.

 

Collaboration

 

On the topic of how the public and private sectors can better pull together to co-create with citizens, only 34 per cent of the public sector said they use outcome-based procurement (selecting a provider based on their capability to deliver against defined outcomes and rewarding them in part or whole on the delivery of those outcomes). 19 per cent have considered it but 15 per cent say they have never heard of it.

 

Of those that use outcome-based procurement, just a quarter include citizen-related KPIs.

 

Saunders concluded: “The Whose City is it Anyway? event demonstrated a huge interest from councils in engagement of citizens and many important topics were covered, including trust, data analysis and procurement.

 

A collaborative effort is required from all parties to achieve better outcomes."

 

"What sang out for me was that a collaborative effort is required from all parties to achieve better outcomes – none of us can do it on our own.”

 

The survey received 108 responses with a 60 per cent/40 per cent split between public sector (including cities, transportation authorities, local authority representatives) and private sector suppliers.

 

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