In any smart community, the focus must be on ‘community’
From the largest metropolitan cities to the smallest villages and hamlets, they all have one thing in common – human beings! So, how do we make sure smart community initiatives make create a better world for people?
Putting the ‘smart’ into community
Whether you live in the middle of one of our biggest cities or on a remote island, you’ll almost definitely be part of a community. So, it’s good news that in recent years, we’ve seen a growing emphasis on delivering smart community initiatives that save money, simplify citizen service delivery and are environmentally friendly. And because these laudable projects often involve newer technologies – IoT sensors, data analytics tools, AI, ML, etc – they can be quite exciting too.
However, amid all this digital advancement, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that communities don’t exist without people, meaning any new initiative or technology should be there to serve people, not vice versa. Art for art’s sake – or digital for digital’s sake.
I’ve talked before about how technology has the potential to remove day-to-day niggles from people’s lives to create frictionless communities, and how the key to making communities smarter is by tackling these problems: traffic jams caused by emergency roadworks; not being able to find a parking space; not knowing which platform the train will pull into and whether it will arrive on time.
These seemingly small issues are responsible for bigger problems. They can lead to people missing job interviews, hospital appointments and important social occasions – not to mention traffic congestion’s effect on air quality and our health. It can also result in hours of lost productivity. More on the impact of transport infrastructure and geography (plus other local themes) can be found in our recently published Cisco Productivity Index.
Community is about connectivity
The smartest communities should bring together the physical and the digital, taking the strain off people and make things better for residents, workers and visitors, such as intuitive signage notifying us that that the motorway is closed or guiding us to the right train platform.
As a social species, people often worry that greater reliance on technology can result in social isolation, but in fact, digital can increase contact between people, connect us to our environment and help us organise our lives, particularly isolated groups.
Nottingham City Hospital’s cystic fibrosis centre, where patients on isolation wards can keep in touch with the outside world via video conferencing, is a great example of technology’s ability to draw people back into their communities. This connectivity can help other socially secluded groups too – nursing home residents, new parents, people with disabilities – linking them to neighbours or local support networks.
A continuum for smarter public services
In a logical progression, interactive connectivity can also be applied to local services delivery.
When people need care from one agency – health and care, social services, registering a birth or death for example – they very often require further support from other areas. The patient discharged from hospital might need home care. The person under social services might need help finding suitable housing. The new parent registering a birth might already be on a care continuum, taking them from hospital to council offices to child health visitor.
I call this the Citizen Services Continuum and it’s something I’ll discuss in more detail next time as a way of helping public sector service providers place people at the centre of everything. Because technology should always be an enabler, not a barrier.
And a smart community that doesn’t make things better for its citizens, isn’t really smart at all.