Citizen, Consumer, Customer
Making the citizen and the city into a business case will enable us to test ideas and make key areas of life simpler and more efficient
In our discussions around cities, we talk a great deal about enabling business and investment. But we avoid talking about the city AS a business. This is deliberate; treating citizens as consumers is unsustainable; we must be ‘participants’ not just consumers. But there are big lessons from business that are applicable to the world of the city – and we don’t have to demote citizens to customers: they can be both.
Right now, the most direct voice most citizens have is through voting. But this changes as cities start to deploy faster, more responsive, flexible and efficient services based on self-service interfaces; this speeds up service and makes it much more efficient; it also (1) makes citizens customers, with immediate redress and access to service, while (2) still ensuring they are part of the service and city, as a citizen.
This is a key way in which we can ensure efficient revenue streams (it becomes easier and simpler for people to pay for services, and gives them more control); and it enables the city to completely reimagine vital things, such as approval for licenses by business. Easy applications – say the right for a restaurant to offer outdoor eating on the street – are simplified, while (in a neat example of the 80/20 rule) automatic triggers ensure deeper review of more complex cases, such as late hours drinking, for a street fair, or the right to stage a protest.
What does this show? That while we all need to remain focused on our strategic agenda as we transform our cities, we also need to be creative in the way we do seemingly small things. Efficient self-service and agile license approvals create cascading efficiencies; business becomes more viable and therefore areas can be more easily energized and employment goes up; there is considerable speeding up of processes and removal of waste in terms of forms, travel, time, etc. Larger investors see your city as adaptable and practical, not stuck in the old ways – and you become more attractive. It’s a simple way to help ‘kick start’ a more viable city. All based on the idea that citizens can be treated and given the tools of customers as well.
And the city – more importantly – can adapt on a micro-level to the needs of the people, solving problems in a more agile way that’s appropriate to the needs of the locality and community. So, like everything, making the way we use IT more people-centered – and slightly evolving the way we enable businesses to get business done – we can help the entire urban environment to become more livable, sustainable and supportive of humanity.