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Media (R)evolutions: Citizens are eager to interact with their cities but need greater access to digital platforms

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

Digital technologies have been lauded for their ability to set aside social and geographic boundaries, allowing people to communicate with others from different backgrounds in different parts of the world.  They are also known for their capacity to collect and track data on end users that can be used in the aggregate to inform decision-making. This level of engagement and data analysis led some to wonder if digital technologies would democratize communication and service delivery between governments and their citizens. Civic leaders, the argument followed, who embrace new technologies could benefit from deeper community engagement and increased stakeholder awareness on government initiatives and would be equipped with a steady flow of constituent feedback and a transparent track record.  Communities would be rewarded with insights into the functioning of new systems and the demand for city services as well as means to report inconsistencies or problems.
While the dream of proper two-way communication and digital feedback loops has not been realized by most cities, citizens would appreciate direct, real-time interaction with their local governments. While less than one-third of citizens (32%) are currently providing feedback to their local authorities, over one-half say they would like to do so. A large number of citizens (51%) want wider access to digital platforms to enable them to communicate with government or expansion of free wifi in public spaces (50%), perhaps signaling that basics, like access to the Internet and digital literacy skills, may have the greatest impact on citizens’ ability to interact. Many citizens— in both developed and developing countries— still lack broadband access at home and have limited data to use on smartphones. This means that as governments attempt to interact on digital platforms and share information online, they also need to be mindful of the digital divide within communities.


In terms of the areas in which citizens feel they can best contribute most, they believe that they can help improve infrastructure and services, with the top three areas being social services such as healthcare and education, pollution reduction and environmental sustainability, and waste collection, treatment and recycling. Businesses, for their part are keen to facilitate citizen engagement in urban planning and design, particularly smart city projects and social services.  

In May 2016, The Economist Intelligence Unit conducted a survey of 1,950 citizens 1 and 615 business executives in 12 cities: Barcelona, Berlin, London, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, New York City, Singapore, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro as part of their Smart Cities research program with Philips Lighting.  About 150-185 respondents were drawn from each city, about have of which are aged 18-34 and the other half are over 35. They are split evenly in terms of gender. Business respondents come from a range of seniorities, functions, industries and company sizes. Coupled with expert perspectives, these insights paint a fresh picture of how digital technologies can empower people to contribute—giving city officials a roadmap to smart city life in the 21st century.

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