Sometimes the most amazing smart city projects are those you least expect
Smart city projects have already seen a lot of criticism for being too technology driven. Writer and urbanist Adam Greenfield, for example, explains the unprecedented dominance of technology businesses – or commercial actors, as he calls them – such as Microsoft, Cisco and Siemens in shaping the future of our cities with the following analogy:
“It is as if the foundational works of twentieth-century urbanist thought had been collectively authored by United States Steel, General Motors, the Otis Elevator Company and Bell Telephone rather than [Swiss-French architect and urban planner] Le Corbusier and [American-Canadian journalist, theorist and activist] Jane Jacobs.”
The smart city megaprojects of the past two decades, such as Songdo in South Korea and Masdar in Abu Dhabi, are yet to come to fruition – the latter is still stuck in phase two – and are widely considered flawed endeavours that have failed to deliver. They both demonstrate the difficulties of designing a city from scratch without factoring in the vagaries of human behaviour and organic urban development, and how it can leave people feeling cold. Although she was appreciative of the technology, 35-year-old Lee Mi-Jung, who followed her husband to Songdo, for example, complained to Bloomberg City Lab about "the lack of human warmth from neighbourhood interactions,” and feeling “something cold,” thanks to the lack of a vibrant local community.
The more recent example of a rolled-back project, Google’s Sidewalk Lab in Toronto, is another example of how important the involvement of citizens and other stakeholders is in smart city developments.
Up until recently, the criteria for measuring the success of smart cities – the amount of technology deployed and the talent the city could attract as a result – have also reflected the values and interests of big technological corporations.
To be sure, tech companies can bring a lot to the table when it comes to solving persisting problems of the metropolis. But the solutions they offer to municipal governance shouldn’t blind us to analogous solutions and alternative approaches that, although less sexy, may bring just as much positive change in citizens’ lives.
Smart cities during and after the pandemic
The pandemic has been gruelling, but it has also provided opportunities to rethink smart city design. In India, for example, Integrated Command and Control Centres (ICCCs) have been converted into Covid war rooms, and GIS (Geographic Information System)-based tracking has been leveraged to enforce social distancing.
But, sadly, converting smart city dashboards into pandemic surveillance systems won’t by itself make smart cities stand out as the most resilient locations to pandemics.
Even in countries that have maintained impressively high suppression of the virus such as China or New Zealand, or Singapore, the city-state at the forefront of the smart city league, the clever use of smart technologies was just one of the multi-pronged approach to pandemic management, with capitalising on previous epidemic experience and timely closing of national borders playing equally seminal roles.
This is not to say that the world hasn’t witnessed any smart projects implemented in densely populated areas to fight and monitor Covid, even if they are not smart city projects per se. One of the most interesting examples is also a fairly mundane one: urban waste-water monitoring.
Waste-water-based epidemiology is a relatively new approach to monitoring the health of larger communities, and a similar approach has been used to identify and manage the polio virus and mass drug abuse in urban areas.
When scientists provided evidence that people infected with SARS-CoV-2 shed viral RNA through their faeces within just a few days after getting infected, sewage monitoring started – first in the Netherlands, with several other countries following in its steps.
Since then, new technologies have been invented to make the laborious and multi-sensory process of creating samples faster and more efficient. A group of scientists at the University of San Diego School of Medicine, for example, have developed liquid-handling robots to automate the otherwise time-consuming waste-concentration stage.
Even though it lacks the glamour of other such endeavours, waste-water monitoring is the ideal, universally adoptable smart city project. It works invisibly, in the background or underbelly of the city without intruding into citizens’ lives. While waste management experts and virologists are busy keeping an eye out for any potential surges and new variants, citizens can go about their business without being on alert all the time. And as monitoring takes place in communities, ranging from campuses to whole cities, there is no personally identifiable information involved, meaning privacy and data protection concerns which thwart so many western smart city projects are absent.
Criticism that the technology will only be effective in urban communities and doesn’t respond to genuine needs holds no water either. Although China’s response to the pandemic – a Covid-proof built-from-scratch smart city – is already in the works in Xiong'an, near Beijing, enabling life in lockdowns with huge balconies and communal work areas, greenhouses and drone terraces, smart solutions addressing burning problems in a discreet, non-intrusive way are more likely to have post-Covid mass appeal.
GIS- a computer system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying in layers various data related to positions on the Earth’s surface, which can help individuals and organizations better understand spatial patterns and relationships.
This is how we create the age-friendly smart city
Senior citizens need help and encouragement to remain active as they age in their own communities. Given the choice, that’s what most would prefer. The smart city can provide the digital infrastructure for them to find and tailor the local neighbourhood information they need to achieve this.
Our research shows senior citizens want to pursue active ageing as a positive experience. This depends on them being able to stay healthy, participate in their community and feel secure.
Most city planning efforts to encourage active ageing are siloed and fragmented. Older people are too often shut away in retirement villages or nursing homes rather than living in the community. Current approaches are often based on traditional deficit models of focusing on older people’s declining health.
Another issue is that senior citizens are treated as receivers of solutions instead of creators. To achieve real benefits it’s essential to involve them in developing the solutions.
Working towards age-friendly cities
Cities and towns around the world, including local councils in Australia, have begun working towards this.
We need to recognise the diverse demands of living in cities, where most seniors live, particularly as we age.
Smart city approaches can make urban neighbourhoods more age-friendly. One way technology and better design do this is to improve access to the sort of information older Australians need – on the walkability of neighbourhoods, for example.
Our research has considered three factors in ensuring smart city solutions involve older Australians and work for them.
Replace ageism with agency
Government efforts have focused on increasing life expectancy rather than improving quality of life and independence. Ignoring quality of life leads to the perception of an ageing population as a burden to be looked after.
It would be better to bring about changes that improve older people’s health so they can participate in neighbourhood activities. Social interaction is a source of meaning and identity.
Active participation by older adults using digital devices can give them agency in their lives and reduce the risk of isolation. Bloomberg reports older adults have become empowered using technology to overcome social isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Connect to smart city data
Cities are about infrastructure. Senior citizens need to have access to information about this infrastructure to be motivated to spend time in their neighbourhood and reduce their risk of isolation.
Growing numbers of active ageing seniors are “connected” every day using mobile phones to interact with smart city services. Many have wearable devices like smart watches that help monitor and manage their health and physical activity.
These personal devices can also be used to better connect older adults to public data about urban environments. For example, imagine an age-friendly smart city “layer” linked to a smart watch, to highlight facilities such as public toilets, water fountains and shaded rest stops along exercise routes.
Access Map Seattle is an example of an age-friendly, interactive, smart city map that shows the steepness of pedestrian footpaths and raised kerbs. The National Public Toilet Map, created by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing, and Barcelona’s smartappcity are among other mobile apps integrating city services and urban plans.
This information then helps us understand and improve the liveability of neighbourhoods for older adults. The data can be used for more proactive policy and city planning.
Include co-design in planning
Co-design processes that involve older adults, giving them agency in smart city planning, lead to greater participation and inclusion.
We need to start asking senior citizens questions like “How would you like to access this data?” and “What would you like the digital layer to tell you?” Their goals and needs must drive the information provided.
It’s not just a matter of deciding what specific data older adults want to get via their devices. They should also be able to contribute directly to the data. For example, using a mobile app they could audit their neighbourhood to identify features that help or hinder walkability.
To create truly age-friendly smart cities, it is important for older people to be co-designers of the digital layer. The co-design includes deciding both the types of data available and how the data can be usefully presented. We also need to understand what mobile apps could use the data.
If we know what information within the digital city layer motivates older adults to participate more actively in their neighbourhoods, we can plan more age-friendly cities.
Through connecting infrastructures and citizen-led approaches, we can achieve social participation and inclusion of citizens regardless of their age and recognising diversity and equity. We will create places where they feel capable and safe across a range of activities. Redesigning age-friendly and smart communities directly and collaboratively with those affected can enable them to achieve the quality of life they desire.
Sonja Pedell, Associate Professor and Director, Future Self and Design Living Lab, Swinburne University of Technology and Ann Borda, Associate Professor, Centre for Digital Transformation of Health, The University of Melbourne
Enabling next-gen technologies to create smart, scalable and secure future cities
The pace at which cities are adopting newer technologies including 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), drones, the internet of things (IoT) and cloud to transform themselves into smarter cities is growing exponentially as they strive to deliver unmatched service experience and cost-savings.
IoT as a technology has already secured its place in the digital transformation of cities to deliver innovative and sustainable solutions to solve complex metropolitan challenges of managing water, waste, energy, traffic, parking, ports, healthcare, environment, and emergency services, to name but a few.
Where does the problem lie?
Even though technology adoption is happening at a rapid pace, disparate data sources, connectivity technologies, high maintenance costs, and security risks present daunting challenges for chief information officers (CIOs) and city administrators to fully realise the business value of IoT implementations.
The reason is very simple: many enterprises do not recognise that there is a need for a platform to monitor, manage and leverage the data collected from IoT-enabled devices and gain business value.
From people and traffic flows to air quality, city management platforms aid the efficient operation of cities
This drives the need for a robust platform which is able to process, analyse and utilise the data and then convert such data into smart city solutions, delivering agile and cost-effective services, positive business outcomes and faster return on investments (ROI).
Urban planning isn't a straightforward process. Complex research needs to be carried out, too many boxes may need to be checked, and countless bureaucracy tends to block the road toward effective problem-solving scenarios.
Not to mention that any potential development on that front must be thoroughly designed and tested in advance if they are to meet the expectations of a wide variety of stakeholders present within a given city.
In short, the process is time-consuming and calls for investment. As cities worldwide currently face budget constraints while also having to respond quickly to global pandemics, for instance, investing in critical infrastructure such as IoT platforms demands careful considerations and flexible partners.
As a result, Nivid Technologies and FIWARE have partnered to deliver high-performance solutions for collecting and managing data from the most diverse sources. Nivid’s complete suite of IoT solutions and out-of-the-box services address a critical gap in the marketplace and strives to make IoT adoption easier.
Nivid Technologies’ flagship solution N-Smart is a fully managed global IoT-as-a-service solution that seamlessly deploys, enriches and manages IoT assets and services. It combines and transforms data from a myriad of data sources into useful, contextual information for people to act upon, in a quick and effective fashion.
N-Smart is a modular, flexible, and scalable platform that provides a single pane of view for an end-to-end IoT solution. With a combination of cloud platforms and mobile apps, N-Smart enables enterprises to deploy and connect sensors, compute data and build custom applications, as well as monitoring and managing a global IoT solution in a highly scalable environment. It offers:
1) Real time insights
2) Monitoring and maintenance
3) Scalable and flexible design
4) Smart response
N-Smart comes with operational dashboards and capabilities such as complex event processing. It is a highly comprehensive platform with both big data and AI algorithm support. Following FIWARE’s open source and open common standards approach, this platform offers different APIs for third-party integration and advanced data-driven maps.
Fig.1: N-Smart connectivity. Image provided courtesy of Nivid Technologies.
The FIWARE platform enables the aggregation of cross-field information from distributed and smart data models, services and events and supplies these to users and service providers. It strives to address a key issue: how to manage context information, enable and perform updates and bring access to context simultaneously?
FIWARE NGSI API specifications have evolved over time, initially matching NGSIv2 specifications, and now aligned with the ETSI NGSI-LD standard. Some Context Broker implementations like Orion-LD, Stellio or Scorpio support NGSI-LD. The Orion-LD Context Broker supports both NGSI-LD and NGSIv2 for backward compatibility with the original Orion Context Broker, which supports NGSIv2.
Real-time and reliable data collected by the FIWARE platform helps developers create applications in a fast and easy manner. In simpler terms, solution providers benefit from knowing that their solutions can be connected with other applications or pieces of software – already developed and widely available – or that they can be replicated for multiple customers and sectors (not to mention across a wider variety of geographical locations), with relatively low adaptation costs.
A thriving community
FIWARE is industry-proven for IoT use-cases but there is more than meets the eye. Its community plays an active role in the evolution of ETSI NGSI-LD specifications – which were based on NGSIv2 – and is fully committed to delivering compatible open-source implementations across the spectrum.
Open standards, flexibility, scalability and transparency are key for building smart city solutions. FIWARE’s open-source platform components are the definition of reliability and, when combined with N-Smart, result in a wide scope for the development of smart solutions.
Nivid’s horizontal solution caters to different business domains including city and government, utilities and infrastructure, healthcare, retail, manufacturing, transportation and logistics, as well as agriculture.
Fig.2: N-Smart integration. Image provided courtesy of Nivid Technologies.
The internet of things is an eminent technology for any smart city vision. Orchestrating heterogeneous devices and huge amounts of data collected from these devices is key for IoT initiatives to succeed.
Fig.3: N-Smart IoT Device Management. Image provided courtesy of Nivid Technologies.
To learn more about Nivid’s centralised, efficient, and scalable platform, visit www.nsmart.io.
Sustainable packaging – addressing consumer desire for green brands together
Alvin Lim, CEO and Tin Zi Jie, Technical Program Manager, RyPax
Survey after survey confirms that consumers want to be greener in their purchasing decisions. Across various industries, from electronics to pharmaceutical as well as cosmetics, sustainability is redefining how shoppers choose the products they buy. Take, for example, a 2019 survey by Accenture. Its broad sample of 6,000 consumers in 11 countries determined that almost 72 per cent of respondents reported buying more eco-friendly products than they had five years earlier, and 81 per cent said they expect to buy more over the next five years.
When it comes to determining how a consumer perceives the sustainability of a product, packaging plays a crucial role. Consumers are increasingly mindful of whether packaging is recyclable or compostable or whether it must be thrown in the trash.
However, many companies still procrastinate over making the switch to sustainable packaging as they find implementing this change to be dauntingly complex. They worry about the ease and cost of transition as well as the potential impact to their branding.
Debunking the myths
Ease of conversion
RyPax can help companies convert to sustainable packaging seamlessly. We have the engineering, design and logistics resources to meet clients’ needs every step of the way, from designing unique prototypes to manufacturing and delivering only the highest quality moulded fibre packaging. As part of our integrated packaging solutions, we can produce every part of the packaging, from the inlay to the box and manual. Smart packaging options are also available.
RyPax solutions are also supported by relevant green certifications such as FSC Standard for Chain of Custody, G7, Environmental Management System and IECQ, providing assurance that materials and manufacturing processes are truly environmentally friendly.
The increase in cost for sustainable packaging used to be as high as 30 to 50 per cent. However, with improvements in technologies and the implementation of government taxation such as the EU plastic tax that went into effect on 1 January 2021, the difference in costing is now negligible.
Additionally, consumers have also expressed their willingness to pay more for sustainable packaging options. According to a Canadian study, 62 per cent of adults would pay more for products packaged in sustainable materials. And almost two-thirds of those people would pay up to 10 per cent more making cost less of a deterrent.
Impact on branding
Moulded fibre is a top choice eco-friendly material that can be used for aesthetic sustainable packaging. New technologies have enabled this adaptable, biodegradable material to be designed with smooth draft angles and a premium feel. It is also highly customisable and can be formed into many shapes and textures. Additionally, it can easily be matched to brand colours.
Other advances in packaging technologies, such as smart packaging, can help luxury brands maintain their image and boost consumer engagement. For example, a QR code can be printed on or attached to moulded fibre packaging. When consumers scan the code with a smartphone, they receive information about the brand’s sustainability efforts and instructions on how to recycle or reuse the packaging.
Taking the next step
Given the growing interest in sustainable products, the willingness of many to pay more for more sustainable packaging, as well as the backlash against plastic, the clear message is that if you have not switched to a green packaging option, now is time to make that change and send a powerful message to customers about your commitment to sustainability.
The future of water: plenty or peril?
A recent report titled Water Management 2040 – Future Scenarios brings together an influential panel of water experts around the world to discuss the possible futures that lie ahead of us in terms of clean water. It maps out different scenarios for the global water supply over the next two decades.
Commissioned by Kemira, a leading provider of chemistry for water treatment, the report examines how global trends could impact the future of water and what challenges and opportunities we might face.
According to the World Bank, population growth, increased water usage, pollution and more extreme weather makes water one of the greatest risks to economic progress, poverty eradication and sustainable development.
For years, activists and stakeholders from across the public and private sectors have sought to increase equitable access to safe water, protect reservoirs and natural waterways from contaminants, and increase the resilience of water-related infrastructure. Most recently, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals have set a new target: clean water and sanitation for all by 2030. But there are significant challenges, not to mention emerging issues – some of which may be completely unforeseen.
Kemira’s goal is to shed light on issues that impact water quality and availability and to bring key actors in the sector together. The “what if” scenarios are hoped to inspire discussions, cooperation and problem-solving. The four scenarios posited by the Water Management 2040 report offer possible alternate futures based on present realities.
The report is based on a systematic inductive scenario development method and input from 17 water experts from around the world, including representatives from industry, academia and finance. In addition to considering current water industry and infrastructure trends, the experts analysed megatrends in politics, economics, climate and the environment, consumer behaviour, and technological development.
Scenario 1: nationalism leads to water conflicts
In the first scenario, experts envision a post-pandemic world where nationalism and protectionism prevail. We fail to learn from Covid-19. Countries turn inwards. Cooperation on global issues backslides. We neglect to combat climate change.
Population growth continues and economies rebound, driving overconsumption. As a result, there is significant strain on resources and natural ecosystems. Extreme weather conditions are increasingly common because of climate change, driving migration from water-stressed regions. Industry, energy companies, the agricultural sector and consumers wrestle for control over water, leading to more water trade marred by conflict.
Scenario 2: cities and corporations take the lead
The second scenario is based on a loss of public confidence in centralised governments, leading to a future in which city-level leaders and the private sector play more prominent roles.
Megacities and large corporations respond to public cries for a more sustainable society. Together, they form a powerful force, setting ambitious sustainability targets and collaborating on decarbonisation.
In this scenario, companies move from linear to circular business models. Water reuse becomes common practice. There could be swift advances in renewable energy and energy storage technologies.
The private sector pursues ownership of urban water and energy infrastructure and controls it through technology, data and service deals.
Scenario 3: digitalisation drives equitable access
In the third scenario mapped out by Water Management 2040, experts imagine a future in which digitalisation drives global development. Open-source software, online platforms, internet access and free data are widely available, challenging the traditional global order. Political systems are overshadowed by online platforms, where citizens directly engage in decision-making. Digitalisation stimulates free markets and new growth, especially in emerging economies.
Financial growth and better economic conditions encourage increased investment in water infrastructure, which improves water availability and affordability worldwide. However, as living standards increase, overconsumption becomes a key challenge for the environment.
In this scenario, too, renewable energy matures quickly, and electricity prices drop, allowing energy-intensive water solutions such as desalination to develop and scale. Local water companies and utilities develop and deliver creative solutions for urban and rural areas thanks to fresh investment and external expertise.
Scenario 4: circularity and regulated water
The fourth and final scenario is based on the idea of a renaissance for international institutions like the United Nations and the European Union. There could be restored faith in multilateral agreements and development schemes. There might also be more strictly enforced emissions targets, which would successfully slow down global warming.
This scenario is depicting a post-pandemic world in which economic growth is no longer the only measure of success. People recognise the interconnected nature of society and the importance of protecting public health.
With sustainability and health high on the global agenda, experts believe there would be strong public pressure to improve water quality. Ageing water treatment utilities in Europe and North America would receive investments, boosting public confidence in centrally managed water systems.
Not a foregone conclusion
None of these visions are foregone conclusions and no single scenario is more likely to come true than another. Rather, they are a way of exploring the possible outcomes of developments that are already recognisable today.
Evocative of the butterfly effect, Kemira’s Water Management 2040 report suggests the future holds many alternate realities, each dependent on a confluence of factors already in motion.
To discover more about each of the above scenarios, download the Water Management 2040 – Future Scenarios report here.
by Marikka Nevamäki, Director, Customer Communications, Kemira.
Image provided by Kemira
Solving IoT trust to build smarter cities
The technological advances triggered by the pandemic offer us the opportunity for smart cities to thrive. Truly smart cities will be those that allow open and interoperable exchange of data via the Internet of Things (IoT). According to IoT analytics, IoT connections reached 12 billion in 2020, surpassing non-IoT connections. 2021 will bring dramatic changes to how IoT is scaling.
This is due to two drivers. Firstly, the health crisis brought to the fore the importance of data-driven strategic decisions for businesses in all sectors. Secondly, it is due to the proliferation of low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) wireless technology, specifically designed for M2M devices with low-bandwidth at long range with resilient cellular networks – for example, gas and water supply data.
The amount of data generated even by a small city is vast, and city officials must ensure that data at the origin, at rest and across all data exchanges is trusted and secure.
For a device and its data to be truly trusted, security must be built in from the start. The familiar SIM already offers a tried-and-tested blueprint. Enhanced features with new SIM standards – such as embedded SIM (eSIM) that are soldered into the device and bolstered by GSMA IoT Safe – provide a way to safeguard businesses from disruptive outages or change in suppliers while offering the device maker and service provider remote management.
Innovations like integrated SIM (iSIM) help unlock entirely new IoT use cases while offering additional out-of-the-box functionality packaged with security for applications services to build on. This technology is already catalysing new areas of innovation in urban mobility, bringing more e-bikes and e-scooters to our streets or smart tracking solutions that enable real-time visibility of critical goods and supplies.
Trust frameworks and transparency will need to be woven into all IoT layers for our cities to dispel concerns and ensure these new technologies can help our smart cities thrive.
by Loic Bonvarlet is VP of Product Marketing at Kigen.
Molecular recycling: an infinite solution to end plastic waste
Steve Crawford, Senior VP of Chief Technology and Sustainability Officer at Eastman
The world has a plastic waste crisis that has been growing for decades. The need for plastic products has outpaced our ability to recycle them. Of the 300 million tonnes of plastic produced annually, less than 15 per cent is recycled. However, innovation of recycling technologies and infrastructure can drive circular materials to become mainstream and make plastic waste a thing of the past.
Eastman is dedicated to innovating recycling technologies to produce products that are more sustainable and without a compromise in performance. Our molecular recycling technologies can provide an infinite lifespan – a truly circular solution – for waste materials that were previously destined to end up in landfills, incinerators or waterways. These technologies can process materials that cannot be recycled by traditional, also known as mechanical, recycling methods by breaking down waste into its molecular building blocks and rebuilding it into new materials.
We’re a global materials innovation company, but more than that we’re a people company. And our people, driven by a purpose to enhance the quality of life in a material way, are working to accelerate a circular economy through innovation. Eastman believes molecular recycling is an essential element to creating a true circular economy. Molecular recycling allows us to break down hard-to-recycle plastics, reduce our carbon footprint and leave fossil-based resources in the ground.
Sustainability without compromise
Eastman believes the right material should be used for the right application. And, given its performance and light weight, plastic is the right material for many applications, including containers that provide safe drinking water for people around the globe, medical equipment, and packaging or containers that enable food storage and longevity.
As a maker of mostly durable plastic products intended for long-term use, Eastman’s commitment to circular materials is grounded in the belief that plastic and textile waste should not only be reduced and reused but reinvented over and over again.
The company has two molecular recycling technologies operating at a commercial scale for more than a year, delivering sustainable change now with real environmental benefits. These technologies show 20 to 50 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions in the production of key building blocks compared to processes that use fossil resources.
Some of the world’s leading brands – including H&M, Estée Lauder, Nalgene, Snips, Williams Sonoma and others – are choosing Eastman Renew for a more sustainable choice without compromising the performance they rely on.
Collaboration is key to a recycling revolution
To solve the plastic waste crisis, it’s going to take a recycling revolution – and we know one company cannot do it alone. Eastman’s molecular recycling technologies complement traditional recycling, which processes the most basic plastics and does so efficiently. Where traditional recycling methods can be used, they should. But both traditional and molecular recycling are needed to eliminate waste and create a circular economy.
Eastman is collaborating with organisations such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, policymakers, our value chain, and others with a shared vision for a more sustainable future. Working together, we can advance the acceptance and implementation of circular economy solutions, technologies and concepts – creating new ways to make durable materials from plastic waste and preserve our world’s natural resources.
AI-driven CCTV upgrades are coming to the 'world's most watched' streets – will they make Britain safer?
Renewed concern about the safety of public streets, especially for women, has prompted the UK government to announce the doubling of a “Safer Streets” fund to £45 million, with planned measures including more CCTV in public places such as parks.
This would be to add to a street surveillance ecosystem that is already extensive in the UK – often referred to as the most surveilled nation on Earth. The first wave of surveillance cameras went in 30 years ago, and by 2013 an estimated 5.9 million units were watching UK streets. That figure is likely far higher today, driven in part by the new availability of compact cameras like dashcams, bodycams and doorbell cameras.
But the overall picture of the UK’s street surveillance ecosystem is muddled, with some cameras too old to produce quality images, others aimed at entryways rather than streets, and some smaller cameras, like those attached to bodies and vehicles, not suited to general public safety.
Enlarging that ecosystem still further may be a seductive policy solution to street safety concerns, but there’s limited evidence of their effectiveness at reducing and deterring crime. And, as women’s groups have recently pointed out, the focus on street surveillance neglects the wider societal change required in order to make women feel safer in public places.
Most CCTV cameras in the UK are actually privately owned – either put up by businesses looking to protect their premises, or attached to private residencies for security. According to some estimates, just 1 in 70 CCTV cameras are state-owned, and many of these are placed in and around public buildings.
This has resulted in a disparate and fragmented CCTV ecosystem, with cameras concentrated in commercial districts rather than in residential neighbourhoods. This disparity has led to concerns that cameras may serve to displace crime from central, surveilled areas into residential ones.
Even in commercial areas, many cameras were initially installed to monitor entryways into buildings – not to enhance street safety – and the angle at which they’re positioned reflects this function. Meanwhile, a certain proportion of cameras are broken and out of use – some are too old to offer reliable footage in criminal prosecutions, while others are actually switched off too due to funding issues. There are concerns that such cameras merely offer the illusion of safety and security, without the capacity to record crime on our streets.
Public support for CCTV, which is still relatively strong, is based on the premise that cameras work – and that they can be used in the public interest. While there are millions of cameras watching UK streets, they’re only watching select parts of them in what is a fragmented patchwork that may have little effect on street safety.
But the CCTV ecosystem is also evolving. Old cameras have been replaced by new digital ones with significantly improved surveillance capabilities. Sharper recordings now offer clearer pictures that could used as trustworthy evidence in legal proceedings. And the growing profusion of internet-connected “smart cameras”, offer a new way to analyse footage via Artificial Intelligence (AI), both in real-time or via recordings after incidents have occurred.
Such AI, in use across some CCTV ecosystems, can be used to automatically analyse unfolding situations, potentially enhancing public safety. These systems are proving useful for identifying objects on train tracks, monitoring crowd size, recognising unusual behaviour, and identifying known suspects in a dragnet of recordings from a certain area.
But new, AI-driven surveillance technology is fiercely contested. For instance, facial recognition software, which is seen as desirable for policing, has been criticised for being unreliable and racially biased. Police access to personal surveillance footage, like that from a doorbell camera which records everyone who visits your home, could also become a contentious privacy issue in the near future.
New technology within and behind cameras has the potential to enhance the reliability of street surveillance. If it’s leveraged correctly, it could deter crime and facilitate the successful prosecution of criminals caught on CCTV. But to operate effectively and legally, this new ecosystem will require new forms of governance and coordination that weren’t needed a decade ago.
Earlier this month, the UK government appointed a new Surveillance Camera Commissioner, who has been tasked with governing the fast-moving world of surveillance cameras. Noticeably, this office has been combined with that of the Biometrics Commissioner – a possible indicator of the direction of travel for the UK’s CCTV ecosystem, which may be set to merge with biometrics and advanced surveillance software.
Still, the UK’s Safer Streets initiative does also look beyond CCTV: funding improved street lighting and increased street patrols. This points to a recognition that CCTV technology is no silver bullet solution for public safety issues – even within the limited scope of urban design.
In this context, and given existing flaws in the UK’s patchy CCTV ecosystem, faith in street surveillance as an effective public safety provision may be misplaced. Real street safety, extending far beyond the reach of CCTV cameras, won’t be achieved by technology – it’ll be achieved by social change.
How open source makes cities sustainable, smart, resilient and inclusive
Even though Covid-19 vaccination plans are currently in place across the world (some regions are meeting their vaccination targets faster than others), the impacts of the pandemic are set to stay for years to come, across all sectors of the global economy.
Whether adjusting to working from home, online shopping, home schooling, staycations, the way we live, work and socialise has drastically changed. Almost everything is just one click away before it gets shipped right to our doorstep. We are also witnessing what digital public service delivery looks like.
At the forefront of this new world stands technology, which has undoubtedly been impacted by current circumstances. When it comes to cities, technology alone, however, can be seen in the very same way most of us feel lately: isolated.
Cities represent distinctive ecosystems of collaborative frameworks such as private and public businesses, not-for-profit organisations, social enterprises and citizens. When done right and aided by emerging technologies, these ecosystems facilitate the transformation of cities into enablers of economic growth, innovation and wellbeing.
Enabling next-gen technologies to create smart, scalable and secure digital solutions
The global Industrial IoT (IIoT) platform market size is projected to reach $329.8 million by 2026, and at a CAGR of 13.0 per cent from 2021 to 2026. Millions of smart devices across the globe are generating data at an ever-increasing volume, variety and velocity.
The challenge is to have a robust platform to process, analyse and use this data and convert it into smart solutions, thereby delivering unmatched service experience, positive business outcomes and quick return on investments.
Many organisations embark on developing and deploying their own IoT platform, and often run into unexpected challenges. Urban planning isn't a straightforward process. Complex research needs to be carried out, too many boxes may need to be checked, and countless bureaucracy tends to block the road towards effective problem-solving scenarios.
In short, the process is time-consuming. As cities worldwide currently face budget constraints, whilst also having to respond quickly to global pandemics, investing in critical infrastructure such as IoT platforms demands careful considerations and flexible partners.
Fruitful collaborations are delivering results
To tackle these problems, Nivid Technologies – a FIWARE Foundation gold member – has joined forces with FIWARE to deliver high-performing solutions to collecting and managing data from the most diverse sources. Nivid’s complete suite of IoT solutions and out-of-the-box services address a critical gap in the marketplace and strive to make IoT adoption easier.
Nivid Technologies’ flagship solution, N-Smart, provides a modular, flexible and scalable platform providing a single-pane view for an end-to-end IoT solution. It turns data from a wide variety of sources into useful, contextual information for people to act upon quickly and effectively.
N-Smart comes with operational dashboards and capabilities such as complex event processing. The platform supports both big data and AI algorithms, while offering different APIs for third-party integration and advanced data-driven maps.
N-Smart IoT Device Management. Image provided courtesy of Nivid Technologies.
Open standards, transparency and scalability are key to building smart city solutions. FIWARE’s open-source platform components breathe reliability and, when combined with N-Smart, result in a wide scope for the development of smart solutions.
Real-time and reliable data offered by the FIWARE platform has helped create applications in a fast and easy manner, not to mention its easy replicability across locations and sectors of the economy.
Nivid’s horizontal solution caters to different business domains including city and government, utilities and infrastructure, healthcare, retail, manufacturing, transportation and logistics, as well as agriculture. To learn more about the solution, visit www.nsmart.io.
AI Marketplace: the digital platform for tomorrow’s innovations
Artificial intelligence (AI) is an important key to innovative and efficient product creation. From automating technology scouting to optimising design data to incorporating energy efficiency in the design process, the potential of artificial intelligence in product creation is manifold.
Users such as companies or public administrations often lack sufficient expertise to unlock this potential. Providers of AI applications, on the other hand, do not have access to domain knowledge to develop solutions for concrete problems currently faced by companies.
An ecosystem for AI in product creation
The AI Marketplace is a joint initiative driven by several partners from the IT and manufacturing industries as well as the research community. Both FIWARE and it’s OWL Cluster Management are part of the consortium – alongside dozens of other partners – that is creating an ecosystem that is unique in Germany and builds a bridge between AI providers and users.
Image provided courtesy of the AI Marketplace project.
At the forefront of the project is the AI Marketplace platform, where providers, users and experts can develop and exchange AI solutions. The vision is a marketplace that intelligently links platform users according to their supply and demand profile, while providing a protected space for secure data exchange and data sovereignty.
Additionally, an app store for AI applications will be created for companies to use directly, along with a toolkit allowing individual AI components to be configured into complete solutions tailored to the needs of individual companies.
FIWARE reference architecture as a building block
The development of the platform architecture is largely driven by FIWARE. It allows the necessary standards to be set for the AI Marketplace platform and advises on the selection of technologies, reference architectures and standardised APIs.
FIWARE aids in the implementation of the developed concepts and their evaluation and contributes wide expertise in building a marketplace for digital services that deploy FIWARE components and TM Forum APIs.
The success of the project is thanks to the combined expertise of 19 research institutions, networks and companies, under the leadership of the Heinz Nixdorf Institute. The AI Marketplace emerged from the Leading-Edge Cluster’s OWL (Intelligent Technical Systems OstWestfalenLippe), which is considered one of the largest German initiatives for Industry 4.0 in medium-sized companies.
200 companies and research institutions in the Leading-Edge Cluster it’s OWL are already jointly developing new technologies for the production of tomorrow. The AI Marketplace is heavily contributing to ensuring the competitiveness and sustainability of the industry and significantly increasing the global visibility of Germany in the field of artificial intelligence.
It’s time to ditch the hype and start acting
What do we really want out of blockchain and distributed technologies (DLTs) in the public sector? If you work in the emerging technologies scene, you may be familiar with blockchain and its often overenthusiastic promise to transform currencies, governments, and businesses.
Much of this perception can be seen across the private and public sectors, which have brought in a wave of experiments with distributed ledger technology. Whereas some of these initiatives found room for success, others failed even before reaching the implementation phase.
Although the hype surrounding blockchain has decreased in recent years, and in spite of the fact that the foreseen benefits of blockchain and DLTs for government – trust, transparency, privacy and efficiency – might be seen as somewhat uncertain, we’ve reached reality-check time.
As the coronavirus crisis has substantially sped up the digital transformation of public service delivery and public use of data, the government must get the hang of what has – and has not – worked out if it is to fully serve its citizens.
The time could not have been better fitted to focus on why DLTs may be the answer to better public governance, and what it is that we actually can and want to achieve with DLTs in the public sector. Moreover, how can DLTs be designed to meet the needs of our societies and what would this require in concrete terms?
Such reflections have been a core part of the TOKEN project, funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. The project has been trying to tackle these very same questions in the context of pioneer cases within four European cities.
Additionally, TOKEN has a dedicated Policy Observatory to discuss and explore the use of DLTs within the government. Improved public sector capabilities stand at the core of TOKEN’s Policy Observatory vision so that services and approaches to societal challenges can come to life.
Image provided courtesy of the TOKEN project.
A holistic approach is needed
However, questions about the DLTs role and efficacy remain. TOKEN's first briefing paper is a tentative and exploratory reflection on the transformative role of DLTs in the public sector. It aims to support policymakers and civil servants worldwide to understand the possibilities of DLTs in transforming public services, while also identifying changes required in the sector for meaningful DLT application.
The paper emphasises the need to move from pure privacy-by-design solutions to a more comprehensive approach of data empowerment, focus on clarifying the purposes of the public sector, and build accountability on top of the transparency offered by DLTs.
Such changes will not be triggered without a comprehensive understanding of technology, a holistic approach within the public sector so that it systematically develops not only appropriate technology but new structures and processes, relevant skills and capabilities, and a supportive culture and mindset to drive such transformation.
To fully benefit from DLTs, the public sector needs to be open to experimenting with real use-cases, but also dedicate time and resources, and be aware of environments and spaces that help them fully address such questions.
Sustainable supply chains
Sustainability isn’t just good for the planet (although that’s pretty important, of course). It’s good for business, too.
Consumers actively seek out sustainable companies, as do private investors. Meanwhile, most employees want to work for companies that are seen to be actively contributing to society, rather than damaging it. And the result of this is that companies that are good at sustainability do better financially than those that are not.
This has been proven in numerous research projects. For instance, according to Harvard University, sustainable businesses deliver an extra 4.8 per cent in stock market performance annually compared to low sustainability companies.
Why is this? One clear commercial advantage of sustainability is that it reduces costs: businesses that use recycled materials and reduce waste can bring down their overheads. But this isn’t just about saving money. It’s also about making money. Over three-quarters of consumers will actively change their purchase decisions based on environmental impact, social responsibility or inclusiveness.
These commercial factors have a strong effect on institutional and private investors who are increasingly seeking out sustainable companies. In fact, more than half of the investors surveyed in the BCG’s Investor Pulse Check said that it’s important for companies to focus on environmental and social outcomes, even if it means lower earnings per share. And governments are adding to the pressures. For example, the European Union’s €750 billion ($868 billion) COVID-19 recovery fund excludes environmentally damaging investments.
Supply chains and ESG investment
Some elements of corporate sustainability are very visible. Recycling practices, energy saving, diversity, charity – all these are well-established parts of corporate social responsibility. But for many industries (perhaps with the exceptions of fashion and grocery retail), the supply chain is not a significant part of sustainability thinking.
It should be. More than 80 per cent of environmental and social effects are in the supply chain. And increasingly the supply chain is a critical factor in environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing.
For investors, there are many benefits from good ESG risk management in supply chains. Perhaps the most obvious is better alignment with responsible investment policies. In addition, alignment with internationally accepted best practices will drive credibility. And supply chain management around sustainability can make assets look more attractive, which is important when investors look to exit.
The problem with ESG scores
For companies looking to attract investors, it’s important to know about the sustainability profiles of the suppliers who are bidding to be part of their supply chains. The problem is that this information cannot always be found easily.
The simplistic method is for investors to look at company ESG scores. But while these are often available for quoted companies, they are not available for private businesses. Instead, most ESG ratings are focused on a predetermined and inflexible list of suppliers.
In addition, current ESG rating systems provide incomplete insight. It isn’t sufficient to have a simple sustainability “credit score”: you need to look under the bonnet. Different aspects of sustainability will be of significance to different companies. A packaging company may be very interested in plastics and recycling, while a garment manufacturer may be more focused on slavery and a logistics company will most likely be focused on energy consumption.
To manage the sustainability in the supply chain properly, you need to go beyond simple scores and consider multiple issues in depth, including real impacts on pollution, natural resource management and the human rights of all stakeholders.
That isn’t just because private equity investors want this depth of information. It’s because there are important benefits to getting this right. A scandal about slavery or pollution will not only reduce the investment potential. It could also cause problems across the organisation – in finance, HR, marketing and sales, and even operations as suppliers back away.
Enhancing sustainable investment
Better decisions around ESG investments can be achieved if two basic requirements are met: better data and collaborative working.
Firstly, there is the requirement for complete and accurate measurement. One essential source of data is the suppliers themselves. Traditionally suppliers are sent sustainability questionnaires to complete. Unfortunately, supplier fatigue often sets in, driven by too many surveys and a lack of feedback that would help the supplier improve.
There is a need to promote a more positive supplier experience where answers are shared across many clients rather than the supplier having to address the same questions repeatedly. In addition, suppliers should be given proactive feedback with the procurement professional not just asking if they are sustainable but also how they can help them improve.
As well as external data from suppliers, there is a need for internal auditors to analyse exactly how supplier sustainability is impacting a business, so it can focus efforts on the suppliers, facilities and products that will have the biggest impact on sustainability. Without this insight, there will almost inevitably be a temptation to revert to the easiest course of action – the use of simplistic ESG scores.
Secondly, there is a requirement for collaboration around sustainability measures, with investors, companies and suppliers working together on sustainability information. All should be marching towards the same goal, with each entity creating pressure for the next to become more sustainable and providing resources to support them in that journey.
For collaboration to foster progress, both goals and performance should be shared transparently between each party. That way, the investor can point out that a company doesn’t have, for example, any policies around diversity in their supply base and offer support in creating these policies because it suits their ESG goals. The company in turn can then reach out to their suppliers, express the importance of implementing these goals and incentivise those suppliers to begin implementing sustainability initiatives, starting with the creation of policies.
Sustainability delivers corporate value
Promoting sustainability within the supply chain is an increasingly important strategic imperative for both large and small organisations. It is no longer sufficient to sign up to a code of sustainability good practice. Companies must be seen to be acting sustainability across all their operations, including their procurement and supply chain management.
As part of this, the procurement professional should ensure responsible sourcing by requiring prospective and existing suppliers to make sustainability an essential part of their pitch. By doing this, they will increase company valuations by promoting the attractiveness of their companies to investors.
SupplyShift is the supply chain sustainability platform for creating more transparent, lower risk, higher-performing supply chains. Assess suppliers, unify your data, uncover insights, and take action — all with one platform.
Join a network of over 90,000 businesses driving supply chain sustainability at supplyshift.net. SupplyShift will also be announcing a new suite of tools to deliver enhanced ESG insights for investors. Watch this space!
All your transport options in one place: why mobility as a service needs a proper platform
Uber, Ola, Car Next Door, GoGet, Urbi and Shareabike have transformed the mobility experience for millions of people, but are just the tip of the looming iceberg of changes in transport. Globally, 93 million travellers use the Uber app on a monthly basis.
The public clearly has an appetite for mobility as a service (MaaS). People want to plan, book and pay for various forms of transport via a digital platform.
However, mobility service providers are actors in search of a stage. As with software, computing and entertainment, only when a properly designed and managed platform underpins all the services will the real transformation be unlocked.
The three pillars of the platform
MaaS is part of a broader evolution as novel technologies have driven the rapid transformation of products and offerings into collections of services. Smartphone applications rely on digital distribution platforms such as Google Play Store, Apple Store, Microsoft Store and Amazon Cloud. Similarly, the evolving technologies and mechanisms of mobility systems require a platform for distribution.
The platform concept should include at least three key elements:
If the platform is designed poorly, markets will be distorted, privacy will be violated, and escalating infrastructure costs will continue to burden taxpayers.
Moving towards integrated payment
Historically, the transport platform has simply been the physical networks – roads, walking paths, cycle paths, rail and so on – and the ancillary infrastructure such as stations, airports, ports, vehicle storage and parking. Governments must reimagine existing physical infrastructure as part of the mobility services platform.
Recent innovations have focused not only on infrastructure development – autonomous vehicle systems, for example – but also on managing existing infrastructure. For example, cities around the world have moved towards rail automation and smart ticketing for public transport (Opal, Oyster, Octopus and Myki cards). The smart cards market for public transport in the US alone was valued at US$57.2 billion in 2018.
Setting up seamless payment across services is the first pillar of the platform needed to support mobility as a service. It removes a major barrier to entry for service providers and users.
Significant efforts to integrate payments are ongoing. The other two essential pillars of a MaaS platform require much more attention.
Mobility as a service is seen as a solution to various transport problems, particularly by reducing private vehicle use. Customers are being promised efficient door-to-door multi-modal travel through a single holistic application. In reality, the infrastructure to achieve this is not yet present.
Research has raised questions about its benefits, social impacts and governance. For instance, emphasising smaller-scale, more flexible mobility services in unideal environments can increase congestion and undermine urban planning goals.
Why regulation is essential
The value and risks the platform creates for mobility providers, users, disadvantaged groups and society must all be kept in mind. The aim should be to create a fair marketplace that enables participation, innovation, equity and quality service.
The second pillar, accessible, standardised regulations with open data paradigms, will enable service providers to participate in a market that delivers societal benefits. Innovations by providers must conform to a common “plug-n-play” approach that meets the mobility needs of the community as efficiently as possible. Crowd-sourced data (such as from Google or TomTom), user demand data from travel cards and traffic volume data should be available in the one platform for all service providers.
This is a complex undertaking, and data privacy must be a core component. It calls for strong professional leadership.
A big part of the challenge is that civil infrastructure cannot be unified in the same way as IT infrastructure or cloud computing. Civil infrastructure, especially transport infrastructure, is also expensive to build and maintain over its long lifespan, so the MaaS platform must be able to help optimise existing infrastructure to meet public mobility needs.
Regulation based on the protection and service of society is the only way to achieve this. The regulatory framework must be standardised, fair and accessible. This means any service providers adhering to the standards can join (and leave) the market without “insider” barriers.
Balancing profit with public benefits
Though it is a difficult task, we should apply the “everything as a service” concept with clear standardisation and regulation to deliver equitable and sustainable transport services.
This also offers a way to integrate profit maximisation and social welfare within transport but also involving adjacent services such as parking.
In the rail industry, standardisation has enabled more commoditised heavy and light rail systems and vehicles. Commoditisation is a process that creates reliable nearly identical products – rail services in this case – in the eyes of consumers. They can choose between these competing products based on cost and which best suits their needs at the time. This process has improved the economics, safety, accessibility and technology of rail services.
Over the past decade, the European Commission has implemented laws and policies to create a Single European Railway Area. The goal is to revitalise the sector by creating a single market for interoperable rail services that are more innovative and competitive.
Managing reviews and reputations
Finally, reputation management is essential for a mobility infrastructure platform. Reviews and reputation management have been a driving force for Uber, Amazon, eBay, iTunes, Airbnb etc.
A user-driven reputational management system must be trustworthy, scalable and resistant to tampering and malignant reviews. Blockchain technologies could help build the required trust.
Mobility will increasingly be delivered as a service to travellers. New technologies combined with social awareness and strong professional leadership will all be needed to develop the platform.
This article was co-authored by Victor Prados-Valerio, a Senior Associate at the advisory firm TSA Management, who has been a project manager and senior rolling stock engineer on train, light rail and depot procurement projects in Australia and overseas.
Digital services for the public good
Over the past 20 years, digital transformation has shaped our daily activity beyond recognition. The platform economy has delivered a range of new services for people, from easy home deliveries, to on-your-doorstep mobility options and hassle-free city trips. And today, in the midst of a global pandemic, many of us find we can hold meetings, events and even conduct office jobs from the relative comfort of our own homes.
For cities, meanwhile, digital transformation brings other benefits, such as greater revenues from tourism. In many ways, city administrations are drivers of this transformation: cities power innovation ecosystems, invest in tech start-ups, support digital skills development and provide digitalised public services.
Nonetheless, digital transformation creates many challenges for cities. This is partly because existing legislation was not designed to take the new business activities of the platform economy into account, leaving gaps where current regulations are unable to rein in some of the negative impacts of digital services on public life.
What can cities do to protect local retail against unfair competition from global online retail platforms? How can the right to housing be ensured if short-term rental platforms do not comply with the rules that govern the real estate market? And what can be done to protect the rights of platform workers?
In places where the freedom for digital services does not serve the public interest, current European legislation makes it very difficult for city administrators to take effective measures against globally operating companies.
Matching our online and offline worlds
Cities, as the level of government closest to citizens, are only too keenly aware that digital transformation can create both new opportunities but also new layers of inequalities, unless the policies guiding the process are user-centric and citizen-focused.
Indeed, in a recent joint statement by 22 European cities, city representatives pointed out that cities welcome tourism as an important source of income and employment for many people, but the responsible rental of private homes can only be done if the necessary regulation is in place.
Central to this debate is enabling the flow of data between public authorities and businesses, without which the enforcement of regulations, taxation and health and safety rules cannot be applied.
More precise data – on, for instance, short-term holiday rental (STHR) – would enable city administrations to levy taxes and better serve the interests of residents, who should be their primary concern. Additionally, data can also be used to create better public policy and better services.
For example, the consequences of illegal housing rentals can include reducing the stock of houses intended for residential use, the increase of nuisances (such as noise disturbance) in city districts, and sometimes breaching other areas of public safety such as how many people can stay in one location. With access to the right data, city authorities can start to work with these companies to address these issues.
Yet the status of collaborative economy companies is often ambiguous, given that their evolution has occurred since the EU’s e-Commerce Directive was first introduced, which provides the current grounding for what are considered “information society services”.
Moreover, there is often little incentive for collaborative economy platforms to do anything about illegal activity occurring through their services. With this in mind, we need better ways for cities to flag up illegal activity, as well as placing more responsibility on service providers, such as requiring platform economy businesses to take down illegal goods and services from their sites.
In this endeavour cities are natural allies of European policymakers working towards a more digitalised society which puts people first. Cities are ready and able to work with the European Commission and European Parliament to ensure an effective EU framework that protects and empowers people and businesses, while ensuring data and new technologies are used to deliver better public policy.
Let’s ensure that what is illegal offline is also illegal online.
Eurocities wants to make cities places where everyone can enjoy a good quality of life, is able to move around safely, access quality and inclusive public services and benefit from a healthy environment. We do this by networking almost 200 larger European cities, which together represent some 130 million people across 39 countries, and by gathering evidence of how policy making impacts on people to inspire other cities and EU decision makers.
by Anna Lisa Boni, Secretary General, Eurocities
Beyond the hype: what are the real pros and cons of blockchain in public services?
Once associated largely with cryptocurrencies, especially bitcoin, blockchain is now increasingly proposed as a solution for governments seeking to transform the delivery of a wide range of public services. However, opinion is divided with regards to the extent to which blockchain can really transform government-provided services.
On the one hand, blockchain advocates see it as a kind of utopian panacea – a tool ripe for deployment to accelerate a government’s digital transformation of the public services it provides. On the other hand, blockchain cynics point to its limitations: claiming it can only be deployed in a small section of public services, and that its uptake by governments has been slow to date.
In reality, over the past five or so years, a growing number of governments have experimented with and deployed blockchain. This includes governments working inside international organisations, as well as national efforts to implement blockchain projects across diverse public sector activities.
In parallel, the number of publications on blockchain has risen dramatically. Real deployments – as well as increased research into blockchain in public services – mean we can now ask what consequences blockchain has for public service delivery.
Sono Creative - stock.adobe.com
To address this question, we delved into research on blockchain deployment across public services using the methodology of a systematic review. Firstly, we inquired which of the hundreds of public services delivered by governments were most suitable for transformation by blockchain and, in each case, what the pros and cons of blockchain might be.
Secondly, we asked how blockchain could affect different actors working within these public services – not just government itself, but also citizens and workers – who historically may resist technological change. Our findings were recently published as an article.
The public services blockchain is transforming
Blockchain is not a cure-all, and will not transform all public services. It is particularly apt to transform processes involving records management and transactions which require trust and authentication.
We found that blockchain is already quite diffused among different public services. However, the “top ten” public services being transformed by blockchain are: records management; healthcare; international trade and customs; voting; environmental protection; public procurement; food safety; digital identities; energy; and social protection.
|Public service||Number (% of N=92)|
|Government information infrastructure||9 (10%)|
|International trade and customs||6 (6%)|
|Environmental protection||4 (4%)|
|Public procurement||4 (4%)|
|Food safety||4 (4%)|
|Digital identities||3 (3%)|
|Social protection||3 (3%)|
The “top ten” categories of public services deemed most apt for transformation by blockchain, according to the systematic literature review.
The pros and cons of blockchain for government
The leading advantage of blockchain in government is an increased level of efficiency, since it promises to replace heavy, bureaucratic processes with automated, “tamper-evident” and secure means of storing and sharing information.
The second major advantage is traceability: it enables processes that can establish the authenticity, origin and safety of products. The third is decentralisation: blockchain can help ensure data is secure, reducing government dependence on information silos.
By far the foremost potential disadvantage is the challenge of regulatory uncertainty posed by blockchain, including issues of interoperability of blockchains and rules on data across borders. Secondary issues are the questionable scalability of blockchain projects, and, given its high energy consumption, the environmental impact.
Jacob Lund - stock.adobe.com
Blockchain and public sector workers
For public sector employees, blockchain means less paperwork and fewer human errors, as well as an improved co-ordination of certain tasks – workers in different departments can access the blockchain more easily than previous systems.
Challenges include the fact that many employees will lack the knowledge and skills required to use blockchain technology. A long-term resistance by workers may come about in response to the cultural change blockchain may induce, including perceptions that blockchain might take or change their jobs.
Blockchain and citizens
The overriding advantages of blockchain for citizens are enhanced cyber-security and transparency, both of which should lead to greater trust in government. Blockchain also promises that individuals will be better placed to manage who they share their personal data with.
However, though data security is a plus, it is also a concern: no system can promise full protection – and blockchains have already been hacked. Further headaches can be found in an inherent lack of flexibility within smart contracts.
Finally, though blockchain proponents speak of a design which is built on a “trust-minimising” logic, because of the way in which the blockchain is added through consensus, critics say this does not automatically mean the blockchain will make governments more “trustworthy”.
Governments are implementing blockchain around the world, but there are advantages and disadvantages to this emerging technology. We need greater research into the potential effects of blockchain and how it might affect public service delivery. This is the ongoing task of TOKEN. Visit the website and learn more about our work.
by Diego Cagigas, Judith Clifton, Daniel Díaz-Fuentes, and Marcos Fernández-Gutiérrez, Researchers at TOKEN, one of the largest European projects on blockchain.
Header image - Gorodenkoff - stock.adobe.com
The power of cities
With increasing environmental footprints, growing urban populations and resource consumption forecasts, there is a strong argument that sustainable cities may be the best and possibly only opportunity to tackle today’s critical challenges.
Smart solutions can be a key part of this. The smart city has turned from concept to reality, as cities and companies move from small proof-of-concept projects to smart implementation at scale. New governance models and new approaches to equity and circular economies have also emerged, along with IoT, artificial intelligence, drones, self-driving cars and new forms of micromobility. New ways of processing and distributing information, such as blockchain and IOTA, have also come into the picture. Technology is and will be the backbone of smart cities, but the approach has shifted to a more complex vision, where the citizen is at the centre of everything, and the decision-making process is no longer top-down.
Cities have become socio-economic and political actors on both national and global stages, and have a major impact on the development of nations. Six hundred top cities represent 60 per cent of worldwide GDP, while the world expects to have 43 megacities (cities with more than 10 million people) by 2029. So we need to keep on exploring new paths, reinventing places and scenarios, drawing new maps of our imagination, as we know there’s no one-size-fits-all formula and we still have the opportunity to make things happen just the way we need them to be.
Smart City Expo World Congress is the annual meeting point for worldwide cities. For three days, Barcelona becomes the global hub where the city of tomorrow is realised. Leaders from the most innovative cities and organisations will come together to reveal the latest innovations addressing the biggest challenges cities face today: digital disruption, sustainability, clean and efficient mobility, open governance, and inclusive and collaborative solutions.
Industry players, policy makers, entrepreneurs and academia from around the globe will join forces to empower cities, open new paths for international collaboration, and collectivise urban innovation. Stay tuned to smartcityexpo.com.