Responses to Smart London proposals argue for people first, technology second

The Chief Digital Officer’s “listening exercise” on City Hall proposals for a Smart London has prompted responses emphasising the need to design for people first – going beyond developing ways to increase the efficiency of services.

I think these provide support in depth for our ideas on Why Smart City London should be a #NetworkedCity: participatory, sharing, inclusive and accessible.

I particularly like the recommendation from Doteveryone, the organisation fighting for a fairer Internet, that “the vision for a Smarter London should be reframed: London should be the global home for responsible innovation — putting people first, building trust, and prioritising effective governance. This will create solid foundations for innovation, economic growth and more efficient services.”

Doteveryone argue:

1: People first, technology second
Rather than prioritising data and AI (artificial intelligence), a Smarter London should put people first and be technology agnostic.

Technology should support the wider aims of London being a better place to live, work and visit, and not be an end in itself — not least because the horizon of the city should not be limited by dominant or fashionable technologies: London should be ready for whatever comes after AI.

2: Lead the way with inclusive and transparent data policies, meaningful consent, and useful new governance models
A Smarter London should have a robust data inclusion policy, clear guidelines to avoid biased decision-making, and systems that can be easily explained to maintain and build trust.

3: Help those who live, work in and visit London live more secure, informed and adaptable digital lives
As London faces the future, the people who live and work here should be confident about how technology is changing their lives. Digital capability is not simply about being able to code; it’s about being able to cope. More growth and more innovation will flow from better security, more information and the confidence to be adaptable.

The Doteveryone response is underpinned by their recent report on People, Power and Technology which argues that Britain needs new ways to understand and respond to the social consequences of technology.

There is a more detailed set of ideas from Famiio on how a Smart City should be designed to serve citizens. CEO Gary Todd argues that:

“The success or failure of London as a city, let alone a Smart City, rests on its ability to empower people, in particular families, to access the right information at the right time, and to act on it for the good of themselves and those around them.”

Families must be empowered so they can understand for themselves:

  • which services are available in their local or neighbouring areas;
  • what to do when they need assistance;
  • where to go and how to access services through efficient delivery of specific and timely information and guidance;
  • what constitutes good quality information, easily available to parents and young people at key points or situations in their lives such a when
    seeking childcare; accessing a school place; building safe neighbourhoods; understanding bullying; ‘county lines’; CSE; parenting at various stages; etc.;
  • how to gain knowledge, learn and grow in confidence to make changes for the better.
  • what information they can expect to be provided with by law, e.g. information that is comprehensive, accurate, current, timely, impartial, accessible, and free to access.

In A Right to the Digital City, Andrew Eland and Richard Pope set out the tech policies for a person-centred approach. In summary, they say:

“How to make London a smart city is, perhaps, the wrong question. A better question might be: how can London use digital tools to improve the lives of people who live, visit or work here?

“How can we house them better, make them safer, healthier and maximise their happiness? What infrastructure needs to be in place to enable all this? How can we do this while giving people agency over the data about them? How can we give them the democratic control over digital services?

“Fundamentally, what should a digital city be like? To start to answer this, we think there are three things that the Mayor, Chief Digital Officer and the Smart London Board will need to do:

“First is the adoption of open standards, the development of definitive data registries and open APIs. These are the foundations the GLA, London boroughs, private sector and others will need to build upon.

“Next, the use of data is set against increasing public concern over the effects of technology on our society. If Londoners are going to trust a digital city, then privacy, transparency and accountability must be core principles. Consumer technology and Silicon Valley struggle in these domains, leaving the opportunity for London to define and promote the worldwide standards for this emerging field.

“Finally, the real prize here is new and improved services for Londoners. Redesigning everyday things Londoners rely on — things like getting a school place, commenting on a planning application or joining a housing list — represents an opportunity to improve millions of lives. To do this, London will need to invest in the digital capability of the GLA, London Boroughs and the private sector.”

We started to address some of these issues at the recent Smart City meets Networked City event at Newspeak House, and I’ll follow up shortly with some reports from that. In addition, more news soon on further events with Outlandish.

We are developing the idea of a hack day in July, where we would hope to work through some of the challenges for citizens and communities in a smart/networked city, and how to meet those in ways that people without technical expertise can understand.

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