Innovation in the Public Sector: Smarter States, Services and Citizens

Book by Fatih Demir: “The book discusses smart governments and innovation in the public sector. In hopes of arriving at a clear definition of innovation in the field of public administration, the volume provides a wide survey of global policies and practices, especially those aimed at reducing bureaucracy and using information-communication technologies in public service delivery. Chapters look at current applications across countries and multiple levels of government, from public innovation labs in the UK to AI in South Korea. Providing concrete examples of innovation culture at work in public institutions, this volume will be of use to researchers and students studying new public management, public service delivery, and innovation as well as practitioners and professionals working in various public agencies…(More)”.

Platformization of Urban Life

Book edited by Anke Strüver and Sybille Bauriedl: “The increasing platformization of urban life needs critical perspectives to examine changing everyday practices and power shifts brought about by the expansion of digital platforms mediating care-services, housing, and mobility. This book addresses new modes of producing urban spaces and societies. It brings both platform researchers and activists from various fields related to critical urban studies and labour activism into dialogue. The contributors engage with the socio-spatial and normative implications of platform-mediated urban everyday life and urban futures, going beyond a rigid techno-dystopian stance in order to include an understanding of platforms as sites of social creativity and exchange…(More)”.

What does AI Localism look like in action? A new series examining use cases on how cities govern AI

Series by Uma Kalkar, Sara Marcucci, Salwa Mansuri, and Stefaan Verhulst: “…We call local instances of AI governance ‘AI Localism.’ AI Localism refers to the governance actions—which include, but are not limited to, regulations, legislations, task forces, public committees, and locally-developed tools—taken by local decision-makers to address the use of AI within a city or regional state.

It is necessary to note, however, that the presence of AI Localism does not mean that robust national- and state-level AI policy are not needed. Whereas local governance seems fundamental in addressing local, micro-level issues, tailoring, for instance, by implementing policies for specific AI use circumstances, national AI governance should act as a key tool to complement local efforts and provide cities with a cohesive, guiding direction.

Finally, it is important to mention how AI Localism is not necessarily good governance of AI at the local level. Indeed, there have been several instances where local efforts to regulate and employ AI have encroached on public freedoms and hurt the public good….

Examining the current state of play in AI localism

To this end, The Governance Lab (The GovLab) has created the AI Localism project to collect a knowledge base and inform a taxonomy on the dimensions of local AI governance (see below). This initiative began in 2020 with the AI Localism canvas, which captures the frames under which local governance methods are developing. This series presents current examples of AI localism across the seven canvas frames of: 

  • Principles and Rights: foundational requirements and constraints of AI and algorithmic use in the public sector;
  • Laws and Policies: regulation to codify the above for public and private sectors;
  • Procurement: mandates around the use of AI in employment and hiring practices; 
  • Engagement: public involvement in AI use and limitations;
  • Accountability and Oversight: requirements for periodic reporting and auditing of AI use;
  • Transparency: consumer awareness about AI and algorithm use; and
  • Literacy: avenues to educate policymakers and the public about AI and data.

In this eight-part series, released weekly, we will present current examples of each frame of the AI localism canvas to identify themes among city- and state-led legislative actions. We end with ten lessons on AI localism for policymakers, data and AI experts, and the informed public to keep in mind as cities grow increasingly ‘smarter.’…(More)”.

Breakthroughs in Smart City Implementation

Book edited by Leo P. Ligthart and Ramjee Prasad: “Breakthroughs in Smart City Implementation should give answers on a wide variety of present social, political and technological problems. Green and long-lasting solutions are needed in coming 10 years and beyond on areas as green and long lasting solutions for improving air quality, quality of life of residents in cities, traffic congestions and many more.Two Conasense branches, established in China and in India, report in six book chapters on initiatives needed to overcome the obvious shortcomings at present. Three more chapters complete this fifth Conasense book: an introductory chapter concerning Smart City from Conasense perspective, a chapter showing that not technology but the people in the cities are most important and a chapter on recent results and prospects of “Human in the Loop” in smart vehicular systems…(More)”.

Smart Streetlights are Casting a Long Shadow Over Our Cities

Article by Zhile Xie: “This is not a surveillance system—nobody is watching it 24 hours a day,” said Erik Caldwell, director of economic development in San Diego, in an interview where he was asked if the wide deployment of “smart” streetlights had turned San Diego into a surveillance city. Innocuous at first glance, this statement demonstrates the pernicious impact of artificial intelligence on new “smart” streetlight systems. As Caldwell suggests, a central human vision is important for the streetlight to function as a surveillance instrument. However, the lack of human supervision only suggests its enhanced capacity. Smart sensors are able to process and communicate environmental information that does not present itself in a visual format and does not rely on human interpretation. On the one hand, they reinforce streetlights’ function as a surveillance instrument, historically associated with light and visibility. On the other hand, in tandem with a wide range of sensors embedded in our everyday environment, they also enable for-profit data extraction on a vast scale,  under the auspices of a partnership between local governments and tech corporations. 

The streetlight was originally designed as a surveillance device and has been refined to that end ever since then. Its association with surveillance and security can be found as early as 400 BC. Citizens of Ancient Rome started to install an oil lamp in front of every villa to prevent tripping or thefts, and an enslaved person would be designated to watch the lamp—lighting was already paired with the notion of control through slavery. As Wolfgang Schivelbusch has detailed in his book Disenchanted Light, street lighting also emerged in medieval European cities alongside practices of policing. Only designated watchmen who carried a torch and a weapon were allowed to be out on the street. This ancient connection between security and visibility has been the basis of the wide deployment of streetlights in modern cities. Moreover, as Edwin Heathcote has explained in a recent article for the Architectural Review, gas streetlights were first introduced to Paris during Baron Haussmann’s restructuring of the city between 1853 and 1870, which was designed in part to prevent revolutionary uprisings. The invention of electric light bulbs in the late nineteenth century in Europe triggered new fears and imaginations around the use of streetlights for social control. For instance, in his 1894 dystopian novel The Land of the Changing Sun, W.N. Harben envisions an electric-optical device that makes possible 24-hour surveillance over the entire population of an isolated country, Alpha. The telescopic system is aided by an artificial “sun” that lights up the atmosphere all year round, along with networked observatories across the land that capture images of their surroundings, which are transmitted to a “throne room” for inspection by the king and police…(More)”.

Belfast to launch ‘Citizen Office of Digital Innovation’

Article by Sarah Wray: The City of Belfast in Northern Ireland has launched a tender to develop and pilot a Citizen Office of Digital Innovation (CODI) – a capacity-building programme to boost resident engagement around data and technology.

The council says the pilot will support a ‘digital citizenship skillset’, enabling citizens to better understand and shape how technology is used in Belfast. It could also lead to the creation of tools that can be used and adapted by other cities under a creative commons licence.

The tender is seeking creative and interactive methods to explore topics such as co-design, citizen science, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and data science, and privacy. It cites examples of citizen-centric programmes elsewhere including Dublin’s Academy of the Near Future and the DTPR standard for visual icons to explain sensors and cameras that are deployed in public spaces…(More)”

Why Japan is building smart cities from scratch

Article by Tim Hornyak: “By 2050, nearly 7 out of 10 people in the world will live in cities, up from just over half in 2020. Urbanization is nothing new, but an effort is under way across many high-income countries to make their cities smarter, using data, instrumentation and more efficient resource management. In most of these nations, the vast majority of smart-city projects involve upgrades to existing infrastructure. Japan stands out for its willingness to build smart communities from scratch as it grapples with a rapidly ageing population and a shrinking workforce, meaning that there are fewer people of working age to support older people.

In 2021, the proportion of Japan’s population aged 65 and over hit 29.1%, the highest in the world. By 2036 it will be 33%. Regional cities, especially, face a long, slow economic decline.

As a resource-poor, disaster-prone country, Japan has also had to pursue energy efficiency and resilience following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and the tsunamis it triggered. The resulting meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant initially encouraged a shift away from nuclear power, which accounted for less than 4% of Japan’s energy use in 2020. However, there are growing calls, led by Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, for some reactors to be reopened to provide energy security and tackle rising fuel prices…(More)”.

Turning city planning into a game

Article by Brian Owens: “…The digital twins that Eicker’s team builds are powerful modelling tools — but, because they are complex and data-intensive, they are generally used only by experts. That’s something Eicker wants to change. “We want more people to use [these tools] in an easier, more accessible and more playful way,” she says.

So the team harnessed the Unity video-game engine, essentially a software-development workspace that is optimized for quickly and easily building interactive video-game environments, to create Future City Playgrounds. This puts their complex scientific models behind the scenes of a computer game, creating a sort of Minecraft for urban design. “You can change the parameters of your simulation models in a game and send that back to the computational engines and then see what that does for your carbon balance,” she says. “It’s still running pretty serious scientific calculations in the back end, but the user doesn’t see that any more.”

In the game, users can play with a digital version of Montreal: they can shape a single building or cluster of buildings to simulate a neighbourhood retrofit project, click on surfaces or streets to modify them, or design buildings in empty lots to see how changing materials or adding clean-energy systems can affect the neighbourhood’s character, energy use and emissions. The goal of the game is to create the most sustainable building with a budget of $1 million — for example, by adding highly insulating but expensive windows, optimizing the arrangement of rooftop solar panels or using rooftop vegetation to moderate demand for heating and cooling.

A larger web-based version of the project that does not use the game engine allows users to see the effects of city-wide changes — such as how retrofitting 50% of all buildings in Montreal built before 1950 would affect the city’s carbon footprint….(More)”.

Design in the Civic Space: Generating Impact in City Government

Paper by Stephanie Wade and Jon Freach:” When design in the private sector is used as a catalyst for innovation it can produce insight into human experience, awareness of equitable and inequitable conditions, and clarity about needs and wants. But when we think of applying design in a government complex, the complicated nature of the civic arena means that public sector servants need to learn and apply design in ways that are specific to the complex ecosystem of long-standing social challenges they face, and learn new mindsets, methods, and ways of working that challenge established practices in a bureaucratic environment.

Design offers tools to help navigate the ambiguous boundaries of these complex problems and improve the city’s organizational culture so that it delivers better services to residents and the communities they live in. For the new practitioner in government, design can seem exciting, inspiring, hopeful, and fun because, over the past decade, it has quickly become a popular and novel way to approach city policy and service design. In the early part of the learning process, people often report that using design helps visualize their thoughts, spark meaningful dialogue, and find connections between problems, data, and ideas. But for some, when the going gets tough, when the ambiguity of overlapping and long-standing complex civic problems, a large number of stakeholders, causes, and effects begin to surface, design practices can seem ineffective, illogical, slow, confusing, and burdensome.
This paper will explore the highs and lows of using design in local government to help cities innovate. The authors, who have worked together to conceive, create, and deliver innovation training to over 100 global cities through multiple innovation programs, in the United States Federal Government, and in higher education, share examples from their fieldwork supported by the experiences of city staff members who have applied design methods in their jobs. Readers will discover how design works to catalyze innovative thinking in the public sector, reframe complex problems, center opportunities in resident needs, especially among those residents who have historically been excluded from government decision-making, make sensemaking a cultural norm and idea generation a ritual in otherwise traditional bureaucratic cultures, and work through the ambiguity of contemporary civic problems to generate measurable impact for residents. They will also learn why design sometimes fails to deliver its promise of innovation in government and see what happens when its language, mindsets, and tools make it hard for city innovation teams to adopt and apply…(More)”.

A South African City Says It’s Putting QR Codes On Informal Settlement Cabins To Help Services. But Residents And Privacy Experts Are Uncertain.

Article by Ray Mwareya: “Cape Town, South Africa’s second wealthiest city, is piloting a new plan for the 146,000 households in its informal settlements: QR-coding their homes.

City officials say the plan is to help residents get access to government services like welfare and provide an alternative to a formal street address so they can more easily get packages delivered or hail a taxi. But privacy experts warn that the city isn’t being clear about how the data will be stored or used, and the digital identification of poor Black residents could lead to retreading Cape Town’s ugly history of discrimination.

Cape Town’s government says it has marked 1,000 cabins in unofficial settlements with QR codes and made sure every individual’s information is checked, vetted, and saved by its corporate geographic information system.

Cape Town, South Africa’s second wealthiest city, is piloting a new plan for the 146,000 households in its informal settlements: QR-coding their homes.

City officials say the plan is to help residents get access to government services like welfare and provide an alternative to a formal street address so they can more easily get packages delivered or hail a taxi. But privacy experts warn that the city isn’t being clear about how the data will be stored or used, and the digital identification of poor Black residents could lead to retreading Cape Town’s ugly history of discrimination.

Cape Town’s government says it has marked 1,000 cabins in unofficial settlements with QR codes and made sure every individual’s information is checked, vetted, and saved by its corporate geographic information system…(More)”.