Smart people are the real brains behind smart cities

Wed, 2015-06-17 06:00 -- SCC Staff

When talking about smart cities, it’s easy to get caught up in the technical wizardry. But Schneider Electric's Charbel Aoun says the real story is what it actually does for people.

Schneider Electric is a Council Lead Partner. Aoun, its president for smart cities, spoke on a panel called “Delivering the Promise of Technology” at the recent New Cities Summit 2015 in Jakarta. During the panel, he talked about why it’s so important to think of people first and to let them take control.

Solutions for the people, by the people
Aoun says cities really need to re-think their role. Traditionally, problems are defined -- either because citizens complained or government leaders identified the issues -- and then cities come up with solutions on their own, presenting them to the public only after the plans are already written.

That’s not what people want now, he says. “Today, people want to propose a solution to their problems to the city,” he said.

That means people need to be involved not only in the decision-making process, but they need data in order to be able to suggest effective solutions.

Communication also needs to change
But it’s not just about letting citizens participate. He says cities also need to re-think the way they talk to people.

Aoun says despite the Internet and smartphones, cities predominantly use the same channels of communication they’ve always used: newspapers and broadcast media. Yet what’s the first thing we do when we want to know something? He says most people turn to a search engine. They’re resourceful and they want to help. But for that to happen, communication must be two-way.

He says the evidence of that was a hackathon that Schneider Electric and Microsoft, another Council Lead Partner, jointly sponsored in Barcelona. The city wanted to find ways to get citizens to conserve energy and the public responded with creative ideas.

The winning app shows people the potential energy they could generate with solar panels on their roofs. Other ideas include apps that let people vote on their desired temperature for public buildings to help the city reduce air conditioning and heating costs, an open data app that encourages the use of recycling and public transportation, and a game where people try to design the most energy-efficient rooms possible.

The lesson is that people don’t just want solutions; they want to be part of the solution. But first, cities have to find ways to involve them.

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