Date Published: July 26, 2017, 9:40 p.m.
bout CityNet: Established in 1987, CityNet is an association of urban stakeholders that gathers 135 municipalities, NGOs, private companies and research centres. CityNet’s mission is to connect urban actors to exchange knowledge and build commitment to more sustainable and resilient cities across the Asia Pacific region. Through capacity building, city-to-city cooperation and tangible projects, CityNet helps its members respond to Climate Change, Disaster, the Sustainable Development Goals and rising Infrastructure demands.
The first characteristic of Asia is the rapid spread of smartphones: the number of smartphone users in the region is expected to reach nearly 1.5 billion by 2019, and to grow further at a faster pace than the rest of the world. The second characteristic is the familiarity of young residents with software apps. They have become a digital tech-savvy generation, from mobile learning to social media and games. Most of the time spent on mobile devices is for usage of the apps. And third, games greatly enhance the potential of applying ICT to improve governance and accountability. An interesting example is the “Block by Block” initiative led by UN-Habitat in partnership with Mojang that uses Minecraft (digital lego) to design public spaces by engaging community for participatory public space design, enabling the youth to identify and visualize their needs. Block by Block reaches groups such as urban poor and children who are often not included in the decision-making processes. Asian cities have begun to appreciate the power of big data analytics and cloud computing to improve urban management. We are seeing cities as diverse as Kathmandu (Nepal), Makassar and Sidoarjo (Indonesia) run hackathons to encourage young people to suggest innovative apps to enhance city management.
Technology is an instrument to enhance transparency, accountability and participation and not an end in itself. There are two key challenges in optimizing the use of technology: first is to develop cost effective solutions without creating significant burden to the public purse; second is to be wise in dealing with various vendors or providers in order to avoid irrelevant services. City government has to prioritise citizens first and ensure their satisfaction with government services.
I would suggest three main points to cities that would like to engage in ICT projects: Review options, check with peers and do not sign on with vendors offering magic solutions. Before a city makes any decision, they need to review the available options thoroughly by elaborating both the advantages and risks that might occur in short, mid and long-term. Organisational synergy among relevant departments need to be developed in order to make the right and informed decision. City governments also need to realise that there are no ICT vendors that can offer a quick and magic solutions to improve municipal finances, they need to combine all the necessary components for the citizen’s interest and it is a process. We believe that peer to peer learning among cities is the way to go.
CityNet has partnered with Microsoft and developed two main initiatives.
Since 2014, CityNet and Microsoft have held CityApp, an innovative series of events designed to create web and mobile applications to help citizens, businesses and governments better address urban challenges. It is a method to employ technology in ways that are citizen-centred, responsive and efficient. Tapping into the talent, creativity and commitment of start-ups, local NGOs, government officials and hundreds of young software developers, CityApp seeks to catalyse technological and social transformation through web and mobile applications. In Sidoarjo, for example, the local government launched the winning app, M-Bonk, for public use. It enables citizens to report poor road conditions to the local governments for prompt actions, using their smartphone’s GPS. Improved road infrastructure means faster and more reliable travel times which eventually bring benefits to the city.
Another initiative was the production of a White Paper that included a survey on the benefits of cloud computing and its applicability to cities. The advantages of cloud adoption were found to be relatively well-known amongst senior city officials. Over 80% of those surveyed acknowledged that cloud computing can deliver a variety of benefits for Asian cities. It debunks some of the common misconceptions around cloud, such as high security risks and costs. In order to address Asian cities urban challenges (providing reliable and equitable services, ensuring equitable access to services, ensuring environmental sustainability, etc.), you need a common platform that can integrate the various performance indicators and start measuring performance. In order to do this, cities need a proper infrastructure and ICT has proven to improve municipal governance and finance in many cities in the region.