Digital Vision: COP26

Toward a Net Zero Future

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Building tomorrow’s city

Albert Seubers, Director Global Strategy in Cities, Atos & Pierryl Massal, Global Head of Business Development and Customer Engagement, Atos

Engaging householders and communities in action towards net zero.

As smart cities evolve, they are valuable testing grounds for anyone who wants to get involved in shaping a more sustainable society and while digital innovations are key, the real challenge is a human one – how to engage populations in making sustained positive change.

Change is most powerful when it starts with something relatively simple that is highly visible and in high demand, such as transport and energy use. Experience shows that people are most likely to use tools that are accessibly designed, secure and have an obvious benefit to them. That’s the thinking behind new initiatives to harness and share data with city decision-makers and householders.

Gathering and using data

As France’s largest urban area, the Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolis has been gathering and using data from sensors and systems across its territory to help enhance quality of life. In this context, it launched the Digital Alliance for Aix-Marseille Sustainability project, deploying a digital platform for exchanging and using data on air quality to enable everyone (city leaders, experts, partners and householders) to be involved in developing coordinated action plans at individual, regional and national levels. To make this a reality, 2,000 mobile sensors are being made available to citizens and public service decision-makers, who can each become actors in pollution monitoring and control in the city. Air quality data is collected through a digital platform, using Atos’ Urban Data Platform, and made available as open data to enable and promote the creation of new applications.

Empowering citizens

As part of another smart city initiative across the Grenoble Metropolis, a portal called Métroénergies enables citizens and local authorities to track – and reduce – consumption of natural resources aimed at citizens and local authorities. It shows citizens, among other things, their consumption of gas, electricity, water and wood. Built in collaboration with Gaz Electricité de Grenoble, using an Atos data platform, dashboards give every householder an up-to-date picture, not only of what their current consumption is, but also where they can reduce it, and how they can set about doing so and there are links to online communities and forums with practical advice, help and support to implement actions for saving resources and improving comfort within their homes.

Platforms like those in Marseilles and Grenoble have a critical role to play in speeding up the transition to net zero. Utilities, cities, public authorities and other agencies can deploy them in combination with other initiatives, such as smart metering or mobility, to encourage and enable positive action. Crucially, any initiative like this needs the trust and confidence of citizens if they are to take part. They need to understand and provide their consent for how their data will be stored and used.

Accelerating early success with urban data platforms will build confidence and create an appetite to expand and diversify citizen engagement. Most importantly, initiatives like this help to connect citizens and inspire communities into action, with a shared vision of the future and ways to learn and work together for a more sustainable future for all.

Five lessons for effective citizen engagement

  1. Citizen engagement is essential not only from the political and change management perspective, but also because citizens are a key source of ideas and innovation. Take advantage of existing community groups, with their direct knowledge and experience of local need.
  2. Open data is a powerful driver for innovation and the creation of new services where the local authorities have a fundamental role to play, both as a major supplier of data and as a regulator.
  3. Avoid over-complicated consultation: this can be difficult to initiate and is often frustrating. Instead, work with focus groups, for example, to beta-test systems and validate ergonomics.
  4. Apply the principle of ‘Privacy by Design’ and ensure continuous needs analysis around data use to anchor the initiative in clear governance and trust of citizens.
  5. Identify early quick wins and use confidence in those to gradually build functionality and complexity.

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Kulveer Ranger, SVP Strategy & Communications UK&I