Be a digital democracy: the ethos of leading smart cities

Blog by Brook Dixon, ASCA Vice President

Be a digital democracy – digital of the people, by the people, for the people. 

This is the ethos of leading smart cities, and the words I quote when asked to condense my smart city philosophy. But what does it mean? 

First, smart communities talk to people about their priorities, and how new technology is best applied to address these priorities. 

Second, smart communities use digital technology to talk to people. 

The old paradigm is decidedly not ‘smart’: Imposing new technology by assuming the priorities of community, service design without user input, community consultation that relies on ‘town hall’ meetings attended by only a handful of people. 

In speaking and working with cities and communities around the world, these lessons recur again and again. Each community is different, and what works (and is appropriate) in New York, Barcelona or Seoul, will not necessarily work (or be appropriate) in central Sydney, regional Queensland, or the outskirts of Melbourne. 

In Australia, our smart city dialogue is sophisticated. We recognise the importance of putting people first, and looking at liveability, sustainability and productivity from a local perspective (drawing on global lessons and experience). 

Putting this ethos into practice is the key to accelerating smart city action that has tangible and meaningful community impact. 

Easy to say, but how do we get started?

Here is my top three, which underpin the strength of leading smart communities:

  1. Modernise community engagement policy and practice to leverage digital technology and enshrine collaborative design.   
  2. Build innovation culture, capacity and pathways, both within local government and across the broader community. 
  3. Develop a smart community strategy which identifies the digital priorities for your community, and the actions, partners and reforms to make it work locally.

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