Back in November, FutureEverything hosted the first in a series of four Community Forums. We’ve just finished the last in the series, boxed off our analysis and it’s now time to move onto the next phase of CityVerve Community engagement . But, what has happened so far?

What are Community Forums?

CityVerve Community Forums are a way for FutureEverything to facilitate a conversation about CityVerve with different communities in and around Manchester. The aim of the forums has been to explore CityVerve technology through contemporary Smart City themes and gather community opinions and insights. Everything discussed at Community Forums has been analysed and fed back directly into the CityVerve consortium to help influence technology design and development. Themes that have been unpicked and discussed were: Data and Privacy, Lifestyle, Necessity and Accessibility. Forums looked at each of these themes through three different fictional Smart City futures and within each of the futures, we embedded, debated and analysed CityVerve technology.

The Community Forums bridged a gap between our initial Community KPI workshop and the point where CityVerve technology is ready to be tried and tested by the growing CityVerve Community.The Community KPI’s set an agenda for measuring  CityVerve’s success from a community perspective and the Community Forums set out to give  Manchester’s communities an opportunity to influence the developing technology.

How do the Community Forums contribute to CityVerve?

The aim and ambition of the Community Forums was to understand the breadth of different community perspectives about:

  • What it means to live in Smart City
  • What we know about data and privacy
  • Whether new technology is necessary
  • What accessibility means

These four themes are hugely  important when considering the design and development of a Smart City and have a huge bearing on how technology can and will be used by people. Documentation and insights from each Community Forum were pulled together to feed directly back to the partners whose technology had been featured in the fictional Smart City narratives. Each partner could pull out opinions from the community to help them better understand how to improve, design and develop the technologies that they are working on.

CityVerve Community Forum

What have the outcomes been?

We’ve had a very diverse audience at the past four community forums, each of which has been at different locations across the city. Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the events

Let’s Talk About Data and Privacy

One of the most controversial topics that surrounds Smart Cities and the Internet of Things, Data and Privacy is something that we’ll all need to know more about as technology continues to become a cornerstone of everyday life (for some of us, not all of us).  

One of the biggest takeaways from this event was the need for more education around data and privacy from a young age. The general consensus was that as technology develops, it’s important for people to be able to educate themselves on what data they own and what they’re giving away and to whom. Attendees felt there wasn’t enough being done to be transparent about data and privacy rules and regulations.

People were also concerned about the divide between people in the know (those who have a thorough understanding of technology and data and privacy) and those who aren’t technology or digital natives (those who don’t have access to the latest technology). How people are able to access technology was a huge factor to consider, resulting in questions such as:

  • How can we make sure everyone is empowered with equal knowledge of new technology?
  • How can we support the most vulnerable people in society?
  • How can everyone in Manchester have the opportunity to access and utilise CityVerve?

How Can We Live In A Smart City?

The crux of a Smart City is how it impacts the way we live – the changes in our lives because of technology. One of the biggest takeaways from this forum was around the impact of community driven and owned technology and services (open source) versus government and corporate owned initiatives. People got into heated discussions about the implications of each. People were simultaneously concerned and excited that community driven services could open the door to a more transparent and democratic service. The alternative futures were discussed at length, to understand the benefits for different stakeholders. There were concerns that initiatives driven by corporations would change the structure of services and products to be aligned with  profit rather than what’s best for the service user. In a similar regard people discussed whether politics could potentially jeopardise the development of services.

There was a great attendance for this event, and people were excited to discuss how  CityVerve could be implemented in Manchester. It became clear that what people wanted most clarity around is  understanding what technology needs from people in order to have a direct impact on their lives:

  • What data do I need to give to service providers in order for them to provide better services?
  • What are the repercussions, benefits and concerns of giving that data to an organisation?
  • How long would it take for my data to have an impact on the services that I’m using?

CityVerve Community Forum

Is New Technology Necessary?

This community forum highlighted concerns over how and why technology is developed and if new technology is created to meet specific user needs or purely for its own  sake. People joined the discussion to look at the parameters of Smart Cities and to give insights on how they adopt and prioritise new technology. Unlike the other Community Forums, we used a video from one of the partners in CityVerve as a provocation and starting point for conversations about the Internet of Things and technology in the project.

Discussions focussed on the extent that technology would or could influence behaviour change and habits and therefore the way we interact with the city and people around us. In particular, a technology discussed involved monitoring driving habits with a direct impact on insurance premiums, the idea being to encourage better driving habits and improve road safety. Interestingly, people were concerned that the data wouldn’t be used effectively to encourage positive behaviour changes. Key to the success of technologies in CityVerve, is that technology design is optimised to support the user. Key discussion points:

  • How can people be better educated about financial implications of new technology?
  • How can we ensure that people have control over what information is pushed towards them?
  • How can we make sure that incentives are used to positively impact behaviour change and not purely for the reward?

What Does Accessibility Mean?

Accessibility can mean a lot of different things to different people, and as such it’s important for CityVerve to develop an understanding of the complexities of the subject and the considerations needed to ensure that Smart City technology is designed and developed with different needs in mind. We framed discussions at this forum around the impact that a city can have on a person, focussing on the fact that city infrastructure and networks can disable people, by not taking their physical or mental differences into account. We discussed  what could be done in the three Smart City futures to make everyday tasks more accessible to more people. We designed persona cards and action activities to frame the conversations. People were asked to look at the Smart Cities from their own perspective and then through the eyes of a persona to see what changes need to take place to empower more people. 

Despite our best efforts to get a representative group of people into the room, we weren’t able to get a truly representative bunch of people together to discuss accessibility. However, great insights were gathered ranging from how Smart Cities might better support mental health patients through to people with financial constraints. It was interesting for people to speak about their personal accessibility needs at the very beginning of workshop, including how being a cyclist can limit the way you access Manchester. Some of the biggest points of discussions were:

  • Technology is great to help connect people, but what measures can be put in place to prevent people from becoming too dependent on virtual socialisation?
  • How can technology that’s being implemented on an infrastructural city level, become commercialised and accessible for home use?
  • How can communities be reassured that all members of society have access to new technology from the beginning of its implementation?

What next?

The next few months of CityVerve are the most exciting, as technology starts to be ready for testing and different communities can get involved in some first hand experiences of  what might be deployed in Manchester.

CityVerve Community Forums will be back once some technology is available to play with and we’ll be reaching out to people to take part in some user testing and workshops to see how it feels to live in a Smart City. The next phase of Community Forums will be looking back at the Community KPI’s to see if they still align with community needs and expectations and what CityVerve can do to make sure it has a lasting positive impact on Manchester.

If you’re interested in getting involved with future Community Forums, email Vimla on vimla@futureeverything.org.