Guest blog: Digitally Enabled Places

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    Friday07Dec 2018
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    Guest blog by Michelle Warbis, External Affairs Manager at InLinkUK - Getting Councils ahead of the curve: Digitally Enabled places as part of our #CounciloftheFuture...

The British Standards Institute define smart cities as processional: “The effective integration of physical, digital and human systems in the built environment to deliver a prosperous, inclusive future for its citizens.” For resource-constrained local governments, understanding the potential of this has increasingly been part of their core efforts to improve how they deliver services and meet the needs and expectations of residents, and will only continue apace.

It is no small task to effectively inform and ensure communities to feel part of this transition and to clearly articulate how it can improve local places and individuals’ experience of them. And getting it right can not only make for happier residents, but also improve the delivery of local services. Helpfully, a number of emerging and small to medium businesses are uncovering new ways to support this transition.

With ever increasing reliance on being able to be online, improved public connectivity is a key way in which people can identify with places’ transition to digital, clearly and markedly improving people’s experience of places. High quality free public Wi-Fi can create opportunities for residents far beyond those that had existed before. And where those connections are in the public realm, rather than coffee shops or private businesses, such spaces become greater drivers of local economies and better suited to contemporary urban life, whilst helping to reduce the digital divide.

At InLinkUK we’ve been working with BT and collaborating with Councils to deploy InLinks across the UK. Each InLink brings free Gigabit Wi-Fi to a 100m radius, with the connectivity provided by more than 320 InLinks has allowed more than 230,000 users to connect for free to the country’s fastest, most robust public fibre network over more than 10 million sessions. Through our planned integration of small cells into InLinks, we will also be bolstering mobile service and enabling cities to become 5G ready.

Having high quality connectivity in the public realm -- particularly being 5G ready -- enables more sophisticated digital interventions to emerge, helping people better feel more a part of their local communities as new methods of public engagement and civic participation can emerge. Calvium are one organisation taking advantage of improved connectivity with their app-based experiences that draw on AR, 3D sound, and haptic technologies, bringing communities into regeneration processes through the existing or future physicality of the city. Such interaction between new technologies and the people that use them in the places they concern increases the publicness of spaces, supporting enquiry, understanding and use in ways far deeper than existing mainstream engagement tools can go.

Built I-D are also pathfinding in their development of tools that draw on newly available technology, taking users on a journey through proposed changes to their local places, enabling them to be part of it in ways that far surpass what’s been possible before. With Built I-D’s efforts, user-friendly interfaces and signalling real propensity for change also plays an important role in increasing and expanding the numbers and types of people who want to engage with physical and digital changes to their built environment.

And what of making cities work for people by augmenting public opinion with big data? The omnipresence of connected devices increasingly makes this possible for Councils too. Personal and public devices collect vast amounts of non-personal data, which can provide a multitude of insights to improve city streets and spaces.

Unlike Internet of Things conversations and implementation of years passed, current efforts are not about “data because data”, but are instead about identifying what challenges can be overcome to better meet the needs of local users and improve the use of local places. For example councils might find that MAC codes support efforts in time efficient street cleaning, whilst knowing the type of devices used in certain areas might indicate socio-economic profiles and support in nuanced service delivery. This process can be strengthened further when councils sharing information in the public realm to support user decision making.

Crucially councils, not necessarily technology suppliers, need to lead the way in these efforts,  An inclusive, prosperous future for councils and their local residents requires the public accountability that comes from publicly led initiatives and clear oversight of private sector efforts. This accountability can then filter through the partnerships and collaboration with businesses at the forefront of innovation, as everyone works to improve the digital and physical aspects of quality public spaces, and bringing the public into the process effectively.

Michelle Warbis

External Affairs Manager, InLinkUK

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