The city and the connected citizen
While many reports and discussions explore the concept of the connected citizen by focusing on a specific aspect of day-to-day life, few focus on what being connected means for the citizen as an individual.
Being able to go online to access eGovernment services such as paying tax, applying for permits and so on is a form of connected citizenship. The focus here is on easy access to processes and giving information, often to save costs of delivering public services.
Connected citizen programs that focus on traffic flow and energy consumption levels provide the data needed to update those citizens who are connected via dashboards or apps.
The connected citizen also means membership of online communities or social media, and participating in the education system by enabling children to do homework online. In this case, connected means prioritizing spending on devices and connectivity above other family expenses.
In many of these examples, the citizen is connected via the smartphone they carry. As the number of smartphones keeps rising and mobile networks expand across the world, this ‘connected citizen’ model becomes more powerful. Just remember the crisis in Haiti in 2010 and the Philippines in 2013, when through mobile connections to citizens, rescue and crisis management operations were started rapidly.
Reaching more widely
For me, the connected citizen is also the citizen who may have no smartphone but needs assistance, such as elderly people who are living independently for as long as possible. I know that many elderly people already use smartphones and this number will only grow. Yet the moment they really need help, the smartphone may well be out of reach. This is where other means of connectivity should be available (and I don’t mean by implanting chips). Older people, vulnerable people and those with medical conditions should be able to get connected so that vital information can be shared through a secured connection that can vary depending on location, type of information and network availability.
Connectivity can be through wearable devices, or sensors embedded in the steering wheel of a car, for example. A device could even be designed as a piece of jewelry, so the person carrying it is not instantly associated with it.
Data from the connected person can be captured and monitored constantly, prompting immediate responses to provide personalized care by the most appropriate selected provider. In this way, cities can provide more personalized care at lower costs to citizens in need of support.
Today, elderly people who need to be connected are confined to their homes because that is the only place where connectivity can be provided. This situation will soon change. Cities too can benefit through the data captured, which might reveal, for example, that traffic or transport systems are not suitable for all citizens.
Ensuring trust and security
As always with connected citizens and ‘smart cities’, data is the key word, which triggers questions about privacy and security. Who can access the data? Can we always trust the data as sensors might malfunction or networks might not be available? What actions can be triggered? Data therefore needs to be monitored and used in the context of the citizen’s profile, triggering actions accordingly and notifying the people who can provide help. Security for data collection can be ensured through devices such as a wristband that authenticates the wearer using their heartbeat, which is already on the market to help people who need support.
Being a connected citizen has many different facets. We each need to be able to create our own way of being connected, possibly through multiple technologies and networks, to ensure we derive personalized benefits in an appropriate, trusted and secured way.