Pune made resident engagement a central piece of its smart-city planning and design process, conducting a grassroots exercise which engaged hundred of thousands of residents. There were a variety of offline and online activities to identify and aggregate residents’ needs and co-create smart solutions to the city’s most pressing challenges.
Big data, the ‘internet of things,’ self-driving vehicles and other new technologies hold interesting possibilities for the future of urban life. An increasing number of cities are launching “smart-city” programs that aim to enhance urban services through internet-connected devices and infrastructure. However, there are serious questions about whose needs are being served and which values are being optimized by this movement, with a risk of industry-driven, top-down interventions that do not address residents’ most pressing problems.
How’d They Do It?
After Pune was selected as a participant in the Government of India’s Smart Cities Mission, the city took several measures to ensure effective public participation in its smart-city plan. Pune Smart City Development Corporation Ltd (PSCDCL), a partnership between Maharashtra state government and Pune Municipal Corporation, was launched to oversee and implement the plan. One of the first orders of business of the Development Corporation was to organize consultations with community leaders, civil society activists, and private sector representatives to define and structure resident engagement. These consultations resulted in a nine-phase engagement process to be implemented over 8 months. The Development Corporation also set up a “War Room” to plan and implement the intensive resident engagement efforts. The War Room consisted of diverse teams that had distinct roles, such as program planning and implementation; analytics and data analysis; and communications and graphic design.
The public engagement process adopted a “5S” approach: Speed, Scale, Structure, Solutioning, and Social Audit. It commenced with the launch of a large-scale survey, which invited residents to share their vision of the city’s future. Residents were also invited to share their views of the most challenging problems facing the city within six priority sectors (Transportation, Water and Sewage, Waste Management, Environment, Safety and Security, and Energy). The Development Corporation analyzed and presented the results of the survey in public discussion forums, where residents brainstormed and debated potential solutions. Intensive two-day workshops were then held for community leaders, elected officials and city administrators to flesh out and refine proposals. Finally, the Development Corporation launched a campaign to build public support for the plan.
During every stage of the process, the Development Corporation used various online and offline modes of engagement to reach a comprehensive, representative group of residents:
- Volunteers knocked on doors, stood on street corners, and visited campuses and offices around the city to distribute informational flyers and surveys.
- A website and mobile application were set up to collect feedback and share information about upcoming events and programs.
- Computer terminals were installed in local city offices, and local schools and colleges opened their computer labs for the public, in order to provide access to the online resources.
- Writing and graphic design competitions were organized to raise awareness and solicit creative proposals.
How’s It Going?
The scale of the outreach effort was immense:
- 3 million resident inputs were received in 45 days, part of the Development Corporation’s “Blitzkrieg Approach.”
- 50 percent of households in Pune were covered by the first phase of the engagement process.
- 70,778 people registered on the Smart City website.
- 150,000 people signed up to volunteer for the initiative, including local activists and university students.
- All 15 wards in Pune were covered by a door-to-door campaign staffed by volunteers, including university students, who spread the word about the initiative and inquired about residents’ vision for the city.
Public discussion forums to brainstorm solutions to widespread urban challenges resulted in 2,493 distinct solutions.
Public input has shaped planning in concrete ways:
- When a ‘trail mockup’ of planned street improvements was shopped to residents, they emphasized the importance of open space, traffic reduction and better parking. The final design added two-way traffic, wider footpaths and universal accessibility.
- After consulting over 12,000 people on the design of public bicycle share, the city moved from a docking to dockless system, prioritized connectivity across transit modes (including rickshaw service,) and included traffic safety regulations.
- New community spaces were designed to serve needs identified through resident surveys, including meditation, sustainability and skill development.
Following the smart-city challenge, Pune’s long-term goal is to establish a Government-Citizen Collaboration Portal to centralize and institutionalize resident engagement. Features are to include an open-data portal, push messaging to inform residents about government services and traffic, and a system for residents to submit queries. The city has also developed a digital strategy in consultation with Tel Aviv and Barcelona. These reforms contributed to Pune ranking first out of 23 Indian cities in Janaagraha’s Annual Survey of India's City-Systems (ASICS), which evaluates the quality of urban governance and the likelihood that a city’s residents will enjoy a high quality of life. The 2017 ASICS ranking cited Pune’s online publication of municipal staffing data and the digital governance roadmap, among other factors.
Pune did encounter resistance to incorporating technology into public services, as well as a shortage of qualified vendors. Their strategy included logging quick wins so that enthusiasm could spread to new areas of the bureaucracy, and prioritizing recruitment and retention of talented staff.
Public engagement was a significant criterion of the Smart City Challenge, which amounted to 16% of the total evaluation score. The challenge’s guidelines defined citizen involvement as a process to get residents engaged in the design, implementation and oversight of the smart program. Absent such incentives, it is easy for cities to rely on more traditional (and often more efficient) ways of administering public consultation.
Demographics and relationships
Pune may be fertile ground for smart-city planning and outreach because its population skews young, with a lot of universities and 27 national research centers. That also provides rich opportunities to engage experts. It also has a strong local media and civil society which has engaged with the government on slum redevelopment, sanitation and other issues.
When resident engagement efforts are conducted as part of a discrete challenge or competition, the timeline is often compressed. City officials reported being pushed to go further and be more nimble because of the nature of the challenge. A ‘sprint’ or ‘blitzkrieg’ certainly helps to focus attention and encourage creative thinking, but it also poses challenges for sustaining new practices and embedding them in government.