The opportunistic economic and technological climate fueling today’s smart city investments creates a parallel ethical urgency to effectively consult publics in the design and adoption of these investments. With new participatory frameworks and technologies, cities have the chance to move beyond tired and non-representative town hall models of engagement, and to entirely reimagine their processes for inviting publics to influence decision-making. For participants, these processes are built on an understanding of smart that appreciates their local expertise and involves publics from start to finish. Processes that request deep engagement should convey deep respect for elicited opinions and labor as well, committing to transparency and providing evidence of impacts on decision-making to build trust. Lastly, input into civic processes can be augmented with technologies as means of active and passive participation.
As technologies become more complex, smart city conversations are increasingly relegated to the realm of technology experts, who may be fluent in community inclusion rhetoric, yet struggle to actually include publics in smart processes. For civic smart city design, it is imperative that cities acknowledge and leverage existing local expertise, giving a diverse group a seat at the decision-making table. This play calls for a shift from “smart technologies in search of problems” to “defining problems with publics, then working to solve them with technologies.”
- Reframe “smart” to include local expertise.
- Support communities defining their own engagement processes.
- Be aware of demands placed on “at-risk” communities — assure expectations are equitable.