Empowering citizens in the development of smart cities: the Cork case

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Pham, Long T.
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University College Cork
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Cities around the world are piloting combinations of technologies to develop smart cities. As an urban management and governance trend, the smart city idea has moved from concept to mainstream within the past decade. As end-users of public services, interactive subjects of physical systems, and generators of data and information, citizens/residents should also be key contributors of ideas for policy-making processes and co-creators of city solutions. However, citizens/residents are not always empowered to engage in the development of smart city initiatives. Greater engagement, with timely input from citizens, can be achieved with the development of more efficient and effective mechanisms for the collection and analysis of stakeholders’ feedback. Gaps around the involvement of citizens in all the steps of smart city initiatives have been identified as key challenges in successful scaling up of the smart city initiatives in pioneering cities Using Cork City, the second largest city in the south-east of Ireland, this thesis establishes the key components and factors in how to effectively engage and empower local citizens in the development of smart city through the Cork Smart Gateway (CSG) initiative. Within the CSG, the researcher generated primary data sets to set up a baseline of Cork citizens/residents’ participation practices and perceptions, digital skills and usage and awareness of the smart city projects and local infrastructure. From city-wide surveys of inclusive citizen/resident groups, the baseline showed that (1) local citizens/residents (N=3600) value a shared and collaborative vision of their participation in public issues; they believe that they have positive impact on their city, but they don’t have many opportunities to participate in the local decision-making. Other findings include (2) two-thirds of the citizens/residents volunteer in community and public activities and those who volunteered in the activities have high willingness to participate in smart city projects; (3) citizens/residents use and want to be contacted via email and mobile text message; and (4) hardware access (i.e. tablet or computer) is still a problem for both urban and rural areas, and the problem can be solved by better investment in public libraries and offices. The research also shows that (5) self-reported digital skills of urban residents are not as proficient as their peers in rural areas and the need for computer/tablet access is high in both areas. A qualitative analysis of the research shows a strong awareness about challenges and solutions to address them among the movers and shakers of the city, including members of the CSG steering group. An experiment carried out during the data collection process shows that crowdsourcing could work as an instrument to activate people’s participation in public good activities. This is replicable, cheaper than using professional services, and effective to engage and raise awareness among local people. Overall, the findings provide Cork City leaders with empirical evidence to develop strategies and tools to stimulate, engage, and maintain citizen engagement in their smart city initiative. Besides the key factors, the research also uncovers some challenging issues around the engagement and empowerment of citizens/residents, some contradicting with the existing literature. The research contributes new learnings for empowering citizens/residents in the development of smart city – new ICT and technologies enabled contexts – while identifying areas for future research such as institutional requirements, data management, and citizens’ data privacy and security for further research.
Smart city , Citizen engagement , Local governance
Pham L. T. 2018. Empowering citizens in the development of smart cities: the Cork case. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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