New technology holds huge potential to help address some of society’s most pressing challenges, but without getting citizens involved in the design and implementation, these technologies could have adverse effects. Luke Loveridge FRSA, an innovation professional, explores in this blog why he has set up with support from the Welsh Fellows Award, a new project in Cardiff - Citizen Tech Pioneers - to help tackle this.
I work in innovation, and I’m particularly interested in and passionate about exploring how new technologies can help us improve and strengthen our society. In 2014, I travelled the US and spoke to inspiring people in the field of city and civic innovation, from public administrations, social enterprises as well as research and community organisations. I learnt a huge amount and was definitely inspired (see my report here).
One lesson from a story I was told by Laurenellen McCann (voted one of TIME’s 30 under 30 world changers) when I met her in Washington D.C. really stuck with me. Laurenellen told me about an app I had heard of in the UK and was keen to find out more - an app that automatically detects and reports potholes as you drive along. What a great idea, I thought; you cut out people even having to report a problem and government gets great data on where to prioritise its resources.
Win-win all round. But Laurenellen made a really important point I hadn’t considered. To start with, most of the potholes appeared to be in relatively well-off areas. That seemed a bit odd. It turned out that the people using this app were relatively well-off professionals who lived and worked in less deprived areas. So the information the app was generating could inadvertently be drawing resources away from where it was most needed.
The app was eventually rolled out to municipal vehicles which gave a better representation of the problem. But the lesson for me was clear:
Technology is self-selecting, but government must cater for everyone.
Needless to say that the public purse in the UK has had to save huge amounts since the 2008 financial crisis. Local government led the way in many respects, making savings of nearly 26% in the last government. But more significant savings are on the horizon, and a lot of the low-hanging fruit has already been picked. Services will need to be delivered differently. At the same time, society is facing some complex challenges including climate change, demographic changes, pollution and widening inequalities. New technologies will aid in addressing these problems but we need to be careful that they don’t address some issues whilst making others worse or creating new ones.
The Internet of Things (IoT) – where everyday objects are connected to a network in order to share their data – is one transformative technology that could help address some of these issues by offering environmental improvements, economic opportunities, and more efficient and effective delivery of services such as transport, healthcare and energy. However, key to realising the benefits of this, just like in the case of the pothole app, and overcoming challenges such as privacy and security concerns, is ensuring citizens and communities are involved in the design and implementation of these new services.
Based on my experience in London, the US and Bristol, I’ve been inspired to set up a project called Citizen Tech Pioneers in Cardiff, with support from the RSA Cymru Welsh Fellows Award that aims to work with local people to understand what local issues people want to address, and then helping them to pilot new technologies and develop new apps and services.
In the initial phases, we particularly welcome support from people with relevant skills and experience that could contribute to the project, such as:
- User centred design
- Community engagement
- Technologists (in smart cities, data, sensors, internet of things etc.)
- App developers
- Economic and behavioural analysis
If this project is of interest to you, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can read more via my RSA project page as I develop the idea and begin to engage with citizens and partners from, in and around Cardiff.