In part two of this series of blog posts on enabling the smart city, I spoke about things that we must understand of conceptualise.I asserted we must understand value in more ways than simply financial, and over a longer term; that we must embrace complexity, in the face of a tendency towards reductionism; that we must be comfortable with stakeholders who have diverging or conflicting purposes; and that we must finally be willing to change ourselves, and our delivery organisations, if we truly want to deliver change in the way we live.

This week, it is on to some more practical initiatives – things we must DO. Well, to put it less forcefully: things I think we probably ought to do, based on what I have seen of city governance and urban change programmes. And that is a fair bit.

  • Truly joined-up teams: This won’t sound new to any of you, and we all claim to be doing it. However, what we get in major projects these days, are a lot of different sector-specific experts in a board room, coming together once or twice a month, meeting the various client-side sector experts, then returning to their sector-specific desks in their sector-specific worlds, speaking their sector-specific-jargon, to their sector-specific-colleagues. Projects are driven by attempts to create a merger of various sector-specific lists of targets, rather than holding outcomes for society up as a goal. The result is often a lowest common denominator solution, value engineered out of a design-by-committee process. This is a recipe to eliminate transformational ideas from the start, and end up with a slight variation on what has happened in the past.
  • Open Data, NOW: We must make the masses of data we now have at our fingertips available to ALL. If information is power, then devolve that power to citizens by releasing it NOW, and dramatically multiply the number of people who can devise solutions OVERNIGHT. Open, Big Data, which is collected, published and made available for analytics, across boundaries and in standardised units and representations, is mission critical. The forces affecting projects and creating issues in society cross these boundaries, as do people, money, resources, and systems – so tying up the data (in which insightful solutions are often hiding in plain sight) in our artificial sectorial pots is ludicrous, if not dangerous. Some, like our friend Justin Lyon (CEO of Simudyne.com) would go so far as arguing this ought to be considered criminal negligence.
  • Independent project leaders: We must think long and hard about the governance of major projects. Those running projects to develop systems, services, places, or infrastructure for the public good, must come from organisations or businesses which have business models dependent on creating positive outcomes – not transactions, or units, widgets, drawings, etc. There was a time when architects were the chosen leads for big urban projects – they are good at thinking across sectors – but their remuneration is still linked to the size of the thing they design. (Declaration of interests: I studied Architecture (among other things)). Property agents whose fees are percentages of transactions are not incentivised to reflect on the true value of bad urban designs either – and these are only a few examples of a mismatches in incentivisation in the urban development marketplace.

Like I have said before – this is no manifesto, and in many ways is not new. What would be new would be actually doing all these things. We are constantly trying to find innovative ways to make these kinds of practices commonplace in the world, here at Concerto. Please do get in touch, and let’s get to work fixing the world together!