Citizens’ participation in urban governance is fundamental to local governance as envisioned in the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act and also by the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi whose 150th Birth Anniversary the world is celebrating. With the advent of technological advancements, governments can easily reach out to citizens and gather their inputs but processing and analysing of the humongous data still remain a challenge in order to take advantage of citizens’ collective intelligence
Jane Jacobs, the author of the famous book ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’ had once said, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” This holds true even today. Information technology and access to fast internet on mobile phones have made it easier for the governments to reach out to citizens for seeking their suggestions on policies and projects.
Collective intelligence is not a new concept to any of us. Groups of people, including families, and business teams, do gather for taking decisions that concern all of them. Meetings in our offices and by a group of ministers in the governments are examples of this concept. Many studies suggest that collective intelligence is not just manifested by humans but also by groups of animals, swarms of insects and flocks of birds. They are capable of aggregating the information gleaned from individual group members to find food and nesting places.
Big data for better decisions
Now the contours of data collection have also changed drastically with the introduction of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data concepts. Governments need not ask citizens to make feasible projects and programs. Under Smart Cities Mission, many Indian cities have begun using Big Data and information technology for managing urban assets such as public transit systems, wastewater systems, roads, parks, and so on. Under this concept, a host of physical assets of a city system are connected to the IoT via sensor technology with these sensors generating streams of valuable data: water consumption patterns, travel patterns, use of parking facilities in cities, etc.
This has become possible because of our access to connected devices. Most of the activities in city systems can be digitally captured. Any action on a connected city system leaves a digital footprint and it enables cities to have access to citizens’ preferences, behaviours that can be analysed to create recommendations for making informed decisions. For example, a smart parking system in a city centre can tell us the requirement of parking spots at each hour of the day. This can help city governments in managing parking facility and diverting vehicles to another parking facility nearby without creating traffic problems to commuters.
According to the definition by a provider of a smart parking facility, it is a parking solution that can include in-ground Smart Parking sensors, cameras or counting sensors. These devices are usually embedded into parking spots to detect whether parking bays are free or occupied. This happens through real-time data collection. The data is then transmitted to a smart parking mobile application, which communicates the availability to its users. Some companies also offer other in-app information, such as parking prices and locations. This gives citizens the possibility to explore every parking option available nearby. Such innovation is not just limited to smart parking systems but the arena of possibilities is immense.
Similarly, city officials in Boston, USA targeted restaurants for inspections for food safety violations based on reviews of citizens on a food review website. Usually, health officers do random checking of restaurants but the access to data on the website helped to zero in on their target restaurants. The sharing of data became two-way, health officers also made their report public for users to make better decisions before choosing a restaurant because now they were aware which restaurants had flouted norms in the past and have been penalised for the same.
Citizens and start-ups can come forward to help local governments process and analyse citizen contributions. Innovations from citizens can help in easing analysis and save governments both time and money but for this, the governments need to open data for the public with reasonable restrictions. This would help municipal governments tap into the collective intelligence of citizens and make better decisions based on their inputs. This, in turn, could increase trust in public decision-making and encourage dialogue between governments and their citizens.
Citizens no longer want to remain passive in the development process of their cities. They want to engage in effective ways in the process of redefining their cities. Bluenove, a technology and consulting company that pioneers massive collective intelligence and is actively committed to civic tech, developed a platform called Assembl. It is a tool for massive-scale, digital collective intelligence which was used by the City of Paris to engage residents in the development of the “Smart City to 2020 and beyond” strategic plan. It takes up a key issue, initiates a discussion about it with thousands of people and helps co-create a deliverable within two months that has been put together by all of the participants. The deliverable can be an action plan, a series of projects, a manifesto or a set of recommendations. The platform uses the forum feature which is based on Artificial Intelligence (AI), but everything is managed with human intervention.
Citizens and start-ups can come forward to help local governments process and analyze citizen contributions. Innovations from citizens can help in easing analysis and save governments both time and money but for this, the governments need to open data for the public with reasonable restrictions. This would help municipal governments tap into the collective intelligence of citizens and make better decisions based on their inputs
With “Madame la Maire, j’aiune idea” (Madame Mayor, I have an idea), the Paris City Hall has a web platform where Parisians can publish on subjects as diverse as sports in Paris in 2024. More than 22,000 people have signed up for what is called an ideation platform, a great idea box in the age of the Web. Such platform takes into account the suggestions of the citizens on various subjects and they can help the governments in making informed decisions for the benefit of a city.
These kinds of innovative technologies provide the leeway for a democratic process of collective decision making. This is for sure that when citizens participate in the decision making process, city officials and elected representatives will be surprised by the extent of innovation that arises out from the collective intelligence of our citizens.