Citizen Engagement Strategy for a Smart City

Public reasoning includes the opportunity for citizens to participate in political discussions and influence public choice. (…) While democracy must also demand much else, public reasoning, which is central to participatory governance, is an important part of a bigger picture.”      —Amartya Sen (2005)

According to the Smart City Plan (SCP) of  Smart Cities Mission, the process for planning the Smart City commences with the self assessment of the city, preparation of the city profile and thereafter progresses to intense citizen engagement at multiple levels in the city using different means. The SCP says, ‘a sound engagement strategy should involve better communication by government, soliciting feedback for problem identification, co-creating solutions and involving local citizen champions, while ensuring the active participation of various groups of people, such as youth and students associations, welfare associations, tax-payers associations, senior citizens, special interest groups, slum dwellers and others.’ The evaluation criteria of SCP at Stage II of Smart Cities Challenge loudly announces the significance of citizen engagement. 16 points out of 100 at this stage is devised for citizen engagement, split up as 10 points in creating city vision and developing strategic plan, 5 points in proposal for area based development and 1 point in proposal for pan city solution.

While it is beyond argument that a sound citizen engagement can create an ownership of the plan among citizens and hence make implementation of the same easier, it is also true that citizen engagement if not done in an effective manner can only delay development and yield no productive results. Therefore, it is required that the right method of engagement be deployed at the right time to the right people to avail the full benefit of citizen engagement in any smart city. This within the very short time frame of Smart Cities Mission is a challenge for  the city authorities. Hence, the activity of strategic planning and comprehensive citizen engagement is expected to be widely held beyond Smart City Mission in coming years. Foreseeing this, CIDCO Smart City Lab has developed a strategy for citizen engagement which can help city authorities guide the activity in their city.


Citizen Engagement in SCP Framework
In the SCP, the profiling of the city is the basis for selecting the appropriate techniques and the target groups for the engagement strategy. The profiling should thus arrive at a detailed demographic profile of the city, identifying various groups of people, whose aspiration for their city may be different. This profiling is necessary so as to identify the target groups for engagement and also to ensure representation of various groups in the different rounds of engagement process. As rightly stated in the SCP, citizen engagement provides support for projects and reduces potential conflict by ensuring that the projects meet the most urgent needs of the communities. It provides the opportunity to co-create the smart city by collectively identifying creative and innovative solutions to common urban challenges, thereby creating a significant sense of ownership among the citizens.

SCP mandates citizen engagement at three stages-  visioning the smart city, identifying area based development and pan city solutions, and implementation of the area based development proposal and pan city solution. Though participation of maximum number of citizens is expected, the scope, mode, extent and other particulars of citizen engagement is left to the liberty of the city authorities such that each city may deploy its most effective strategy.

cidco_nl3-13Citizen engagement strategy developed at CIDCO Smart City Lab is illustrated in the diagram on the next page. International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) identifies five forms of engagement, which are, inform, consult, involve, collaborate and empower. A simplification of the same is attempted here by regrouping these five into three broader categories namely, (i) information: one way communication of city authorities to citizens, (ii) direct participation: engagement in terms of two way communication or collaboration of city authorities with citizens directly, and (iii) indirect participation: engagement in terms of two way communication or collaboration of city authorities with representatives of citizens. These three categories at various stages have varied purposes, as elaborated in the diagram. Within the framework defined by SCP, the comprehensive strategy, as described under, deploys the various forms of citizen engagement at various stages so as to yield the best outcome. The strategy proposed here is most suitable for SCP, while it can also be absorbed with suitable modifications in any city or area development exercise.