04 Mar 2021

Smart community platforms can help us build back better

Pascal Coulon, Director Consulting Expert at CGI explores the theme of place-based innovation through the launch of Active Travel, Wales. Part of techUK's #GeospatialFuture Campaign

As we look beyond COVID-19, communities are asking how they can build back better, and put priorities like sustainability, health and resilience against future shocks at the centre of the recovery.

With public sector budgets likely to be tight in the aftermath of the pandemic, these aspirations may seem like pipe dreams. But they don’t have to be. Today, geospatial technologies, underpinned by Open Standards, are powering applications that bring communities together around shared social goals. Active Travel, a solution built and supported by CGI, is a good example of such a smart community platform.


Active Travel, Wales

Active Travel promotes healthy and sustainable travel in Wales, with the aim of making walking and cycling become the preferred ways of getting around over shorter distances. It is funded by the Welsh Government via grants to 22 local authorities that pay for the development and upkeep of route infrastructure such as footpaths, cycle ways, signage and public toilets.

Using the Active Travel service, citizens can plan “active” journeys, with walking and cycling routes displayed on a map. This visual format is most intuitive and engaging way to communicate a lot of information at once: after all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

At the heart of Active Travel is a database fed from multiple sources, including geospatial data sources such as Ordnance Survey and Sustrans. Citizens are another vital source of information: members of the public are encouraged to update Active Travel on the status of route infrastructure. If someone encounters a cycle way that has been rendered unusable or dangerous, they can submit a report to notify the authorities and other Active Travel users.

As well as facilitating community engagement, the solution supports Active Travel’s funding model, enabling the Welsh Government to monitor the condition and usage of the assets it has paid for.


Open is the enabler

Active Travel demonstrates how technology can bring a community together – with specifically geospatial technologies and data enabling a rich and dynamic platform that serves the needs of lots of different users and helps the Welsh Government, and local authorities promote their health and sustainability goals.

None of this could happen without Open Architecture, built on Open Standards, to securely share data across the Active Travel platform. The security aspect is critical: users have to have complete confidence in the integrity of the data if they are going to deploy it across multiple domains.

And a smart community platform like Active Travel would not be useful to users if they could not access it – seamlessly – across different interfaces. To provide this level of flexibility, the solution’s architecture has to be interoperable and cross-platform so the format of the data is not a barrier to sharing and using it – whether that’s on a web browser, a mobile or technologies like smart kiosks.


Let’s think bigger

With Open Standards in play, the sky is the limit when it comes to use cases for smart community platforms.

Topically, smart community platforms could inform Covid-safe public health initiatives. If local authorities know that the condition of footpaths - how wide are they, have they been properly maintained? - they can provide citizens socially-distanced routes through busy town centres. And insights from these rich, dynamic resources could drive all kinds of public services and amenities – from law enforcement to notifying you when the outdoor gym in your local park is out of order.

Active Travel has already caught the attention of the Department for Transport, which has a £2 billion investment plan to roll the concept out across England.  And it’s easy to see why: smart community platforms – enabled by geospatial technologies and data, based on Open Standards – are providing a powerful model for how we can build back better.

You can read more insights from techUK's #GeospatialFuture campaign here!

Laura Foster

Laura Foster

Programme Manager, Technology and Innovation, techUK

Laura is techUK’s Programme Manager for Technology and Innovation.

She supports the application and expansion of emerging technologies across business, including Geospatial Data, Quantum Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies.

Before joining techUK, Laura worked internationally in London, Singapore and across the United States as a conference researcher and producer covering enterprise adoption of emerging technologies. This included being part of the strategic team at London Tech Week.

Laura has a degree in History (BA Hons) from Durham University, focussing on regional social history. Outside of work she loves reading, travelling and supporting rugby team St. Helens, where she is from.

[email protected]

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Zoe Brockbank

Programme Coordinator, Policy, Tech and Innovation, techUK

Zoe is a Programme Assistant, supporting techUK's work across Policy, Technology and Innovation.

The team makes the tech case to government and policymakers in Westminster, Whitehall, Brussels and across the UK on the most pressing issues affecting this sector and supports the Technology and Innovation team in the application and expansion of emerging technologies across business, including Geospatial Data, Quantum Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies.

Before joining techUK, Zoe worked as a Business Development and Membership Coordinator at London First and prior to that Zoe worked in Partnerships at a number of Forex and CFD brokerage firms including Think Markets, ETX Capital and Central Markets.

Zoe has a degree (BA Hons) from the University of Westminster and in her spare time, Zoe enjoys travelling, painting, keeping fit and socialising with friends.

[email protected]
020 7331 2174

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