The promise of smart cities has been around for a long time: As smart technology has become more accessible, city officials are eager to find cost-efficient ways to make better informed decisions and improve the lives of business owners, residents, commuters and city visitors. But even as new technology gets integrated into communities every day, there are plenty of ambitious efforts that have failed to succeed or even launch. New smart city technology integrations fail for many reasons, but one prominent reason is lack of robust and meaningful engagement with the local community For smart city solutions to take permanent hold, cities and solution providers must engage with the local community together and directly to build public trust. Below are some critical ways Comcast's partners have started to build trust within the communities they work:
Understand the issues that are important to the community
Technology can address community challenges in ways that are tangible and easy to explain. For example, if a city implements a smart trash solution, residents will immediately see the impact on their daily lives. Other solutions have more opaque benefits like eliminating operational steps, simplifying processes and improving building efficiencies. Implementing a smart streetlight solution is a good example of this: While the benefits eventually get passed to city dwellers, they are not as clear cut as a smart trash solution. Building trust is greatly simplified when you solve a known issue, so the best place to start your smart city journey is to understand what those issues are. Municipalities with an already in-depth knowledge of critical pain points and concerns can use that information to make better informed decisions about what solutions to deploy.
Engage a broad range of local groups
Building support is long, labor intensive and social process. People are more likely to purchase an item recommended by someone they know or follow. This concept applies to larger groups of people as well. Engaging with a wider variety of local organizations, community groups and business leaders allows leaders to:
- Build a foundation of supporters who can serve as advocates for the initiative(s)
- Ensure representation from all groups to address potential equity or access issues
- Give community members a voice in the process to make them feel invested in the project(s) and give city leaders a direct connection to specific issues
One way to formalize engagement is to create a task force that include diverse members of the community. These working teams can tackle potential roadblocks or other awareness-building, adoption and implementation pitfalls. An effective task force should consist of representatives from advocacy groups, local small- and medium-sized businesses, enterprise organizations, government leaders and individual citizens. An effective team can assist with communicating back to their respective communities to facilitate adoption efforts.
New technology is intimidating. Communicate early and often about the plan, the issues they solve for, what costs may be passed on to taxpayers, and what other benefits are in store for stakeholders. Without a significant and obvious benefit to the broader public, it is likely that initiatives with a high price tag or privacy implications will fall flat.
For costly efforts, underscore the ROI community members should expect and how it impacts them directly. To get ahead of privacy concerns, set a clear and standardized policy for how data can be collected, stored, managed and shared. In addition to proactive communications, be sure to establish a public website or other tool to host this type of information for anyone seeking it outside of public forums.
Privacy is a constantly evolving field. Look to organizations like the Future of Privacy Forum, to advise municipalities and technology partners with the latest best practices in technology implementation and privacy policies. For example:
We recommend municipalities interested in smart city deployments establish clear guidelines and goals with input from the public and the business community. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, municipalities should engage the right technology partners who support this approach. Smart solution providers must align with the goals of the local government and be willing to work with community and business groups to address local concerns and issues. Collaborating with the local stakeholders and building public trust is key to establishing and executing a successful smart city strategy.