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Helping cities drive human-centered design

Jen Hawes-Hewitt shares her views on UK city devolution and how smart cities put citizens first.

What are the implications of the United Kingdom cities devolution shift?

Moves to more flexible decision making open up the potential for various stakeholders to come together to meet local needs. This is where data sharing is essential, so it becomes a priority to find greater clarity on data sharing protocols for cross agency working. In the UK we’re seeing a government consultation around data sharing at present. Naturally, there are some frustrations around slow progress on data sharing protocols. I believe there is a need to reset the debate and have a more mature discussion about how we deliver better public services across often blurred boundaries; for example, health and social care, the police and the interrelationship with education. Delivering better public services is about putting citizens first and driving better outcomes for them. Technology is an enabler, but it is human-centered design that will drive smart cities.

What are the priorities as cities adopt a smart cities approach?

One of the chief priorities is finding the best return for digital investments. Specific digital use cases or digitally-enabled use cases that link to a known business or social issue need to be identified early on. It is important to cut through the noise around generic smart cities and the power of data to focus on answering the question, where is the core value? Cities need to hone in on where the greatest impact can be—whether supporting a specific hard-to-reach demographic, or handling an issue that could have a negative impact on the council.

Are there any specific challenges in the UK with a smart cities approach?

There are a couple of obstacles to progress; first, is the fact that although there is a wealth of experience in public sector service delivery, a city and government might be unable to embrace the digital mind-set since they do not understand the breadth and depth of digital capabilities. Second, there needs to be a much clearer value proposition. Cities are struggling to articulate the value in social, economic and environmental terms—benefits must be measurable, making it easier to justify the investment.

When UK smart cities are set up, will they be ready for a data-driven future?

By using a “best-of-both-worlds” combination of being driven from the center of city hall and an outside-in model, an integrated smart cities program can bring enormous rewards, especially with respect to business intelligence. There is incredible potential for an approach that is based less on intuition and more on being informed—which has been common practice in the private sector for decades, but is still relatively undeveloped in the public sector. While evidence-based policy making is clearly present in the public sector, smart cities can help the public sector benefit from the real-time data-driven decision making and future forecasting that is characteristic of the private sector.

Is it important to have smart city “evangelists”?

Accenture recommends a digital leader, appointing a Chief Digital Officer with authority and decision making power and influence. Leadership is vital and any evangelist needs to be supported by examples of where digital makes a difference. There are some regions across the UK where such a person is already in place and the concept has been relatively successful. In particular, I would mention the city of Manchester that recently announced the GM Connect program that is going to be focused on data sharing.

“We should bring together public and private sector to problem solve and make big data, good data, for the future of our cities, for everyone.”

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