Earlier this year, a video showing a passenger being dragged off a flight sparked a social media campaign against the airline. The feedback on social platforms was so negative and so widespread that the company lost hundreds of millions of dollars in market valuation in less than a week.
But what lessons could this have for cities and city managers? To answer that we need to understand how cities use information to make decisions – and how real-time analytics can help.
Technology Benefits Cities
The term “Smart City” has caught on as a leading buzzword of the last few years, attracting huge investments, attention, and criticism. The growing ability to collect and analyze data, coupled with real-time connectivity, can improve life in cities through data-driven management.
Over the next few decades our society will complete its transformation into one that is almost fully urban. We can no longer afford to make decisions without a rationale driven by data. While urbanization is happening rapidly, many processes remain slow. We need to act now to impact how our habitat will look, feel, and continue to develop years from now. Therefore, over the last few years we’ve seen technological solutions arise around waste management, energy, water and traffic. While these solutions provide important incremental benefits to cities, they fail to understand the center of city life: residents.
Cities are first and foremost about people. It’s people who make neighborhoods lively, complex, and unpredictable. Nevertheless, the road to building thriving cities must go through engaging residents.
Using Social Media to Boost Resident Engagement
Recently we have seen a surge in new approaches to resident engagement. These approaches focus on listening to and mapping resident’s needs. While aspects of city life are becoming digitized, the tools used to understand residents are often archaic. Such as costly phone surveys or public hearings that allow collection of anecdotal information from limited crowds at best.
This crucial process is still a long way from getting useful data in realtime and on a wide, inclusive scale. That poses a problem. But there is also an opportunity here. We as a society live in an ‘always-on’ reality – creating more than 1.2M new posts and tweets every minute. We have become used to the fact that our real-time feedback immediately impacts brands and businesses. If you tweet a complaint at a brand, you are likely to be heard. But cities, which should be run according to residents needs and preferences, remain disconnected from residents.
Leveraging Residents Voices with Artificial Intelligence
This is why we founded Zencity. Like analytics platforms that help in understanding users on a website or app, we help cities understand their residents. Our platform leverages cutting edge AI to make resident voices a useful, decision-powering data source for local governments. We want cities to have the ability to measure the impact of their actions and to create a feedback loop.
Our platform supports data streams from social media, 311, other open data sources. With that, it creates a real-time, detailed score of how people view the city. We can recognize emerging trends, issues and anomalies. Alerts, performance measurement, and public trust are all aspects of city life that can be impacted by data. With the right data, we can ensure that planning and decision-making are based on real-time picture of residents needs.
As cities grow and become more complex, their defining challenge is the ability to be adaptive to evolving residents needs. Can we make sure that all this incredible development is focused on the human experience?
In light of this challenge, our work and the technology that drives it is just beginning. The next few decades will define our urban future, and it’s up to us to decide if this development is aligned and connected to the needs of our residents.
But what lessons could this have for cities and city managers? To answer that we first need to understand how cities use information to make management decisions – and how real-time analytics could help.