The consequences of putting public infrastructure and services in place when we don’t understand the user can be dire. Not only are there excessive costs in time and money associated with retro-fitting infrastructure to suit the needs of the user, but there is also less buy-in and acceptance from citizens, making the cities we live, work and play in unhappy places for us all.

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This was the view at the recent Future Cities Innovation series, hosted by the Future Cities Catapult. Below is an overview of some of the key messages that came out of the discussion.

What do we want?

Discovery is not about asking users what they want.

Rather, finding out how to improve public infrastructure and services is about understanding the key needs of users. We can do this by finding out who they are and how they use the public infrastructure available to them. What is working well? What could be improved? Where do the gaps lie?

Using surveys, diary studies, workshops and observations, we can include users from the very beginning of the design process for experience-based, citizen-led innovation to get to heart of how cities should operate.

How do we get there?

We should put people at the centre of technology, not technology at the centre of people.

Technology can be utilised to move from helping one individual to helping many. Live data-feed 3D models can aid urban planning and decision making for example, or behavioural data analysis can create user personas and help frame specific challenge areas.

Data can also be analysed to understand key drivers for people. For example, it has been found that sustainability, although important, is not a key driver for most people; this is not new but it is key. Instead, citizens tend to be driven by quality of transport systems, reduction in energy costs and an increased sense of community. As such, these things need to be taken into consideration if we want our cities to be healthy, happy places.

Key message

Citizens don’t want to be ‘done to’, they want to be ‘done with.’

By the year 2050, it is estimated that 70% of the global population will live in cities, placing an even higher demand for effective public infrastructure. Smart city technologies will be instrumental in helping manage these pressures. However, it is key that innovation is citizen-led; in other words, those who have personal experience of the public infrastructure and services within their cities, using it day in, day out, should inform decision-making and innovation if we truly want sustainable, healthy cities.

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