Smart Cities Week: Technology is the vehicle, not the end game

Australia’s focus on innovation is now so strong, it hosted its first Smart Cities Week In October. Astrolabe Group was proud to be in the room to support this event.

Australia’s focus on innovation is now so strong, it hosted its first Smart Cities Week In October. Astrolabe Group was proud to be in the room to support this event.

There was a genuine sense of commitment over several days of discussion in Sydney to sharing our ideas and experiences, to get communities further into their future.

There is momentum in the sector and for me, there were four key messages that kept emerging over the course of the event.

Firstly, that we must consider people as our primary focus. Technology can achieve many great things but as exciting as it is, it should not drive smart city policy. Often conversations can get side-tracked into what is the most cutting edge, futuristic technology. But, in many instances we are not using these tools to anywhere near their capacity and there is a danger of viewing the technology as the end in itself. We need to remain mindful that the best technology enables the delivery of what people need to live well and feel connected.

Next, that we should be planning for the future user as well as ensuring the needs of current users are met. Pre-empting how those future users might need smart spaces to behave raises a key question “are we involving the right people in the planning process?” This is particularly true for large scale, infrastructure solutions. For example, new highways and motorways may meet our current need but will they meet those of future generations and take into account new transport modes such as autonomous vehicles? The answer may need us to rethink our approach, including how we engage with future users.

Following on from this was the opportunities presented by data.  There is a lot of information available to inform how we plan, design, implement and improve products and services.  But how do we extract valuable insights from this mountain of data? And how do we ensure that the quality of the data we use is high and representative in order to improve everyone’s experiences in the places they work and live.

The fourth strong theme was that collaborative governance is vital. Disconnected government service delivery is a major impediment to smart city progress. The three tiers of government in Australia can have different policies and priorities which can result in actions that do not complement each other. The conference heard there needs to be a shift, to ensure that governance is more connected and responds to the needs of a place with the output delivered co-ordinated to achieve the best possible outcome.

Finally, a take away I think liberates all policy makers is that we need to start trying things now! The future will not arrive at a given point in time on a given date. It will not be the result of a quantum leap for any one place or city but by working on innovative approaches during which governments, researchers and industry collaborate to create better places by putting people first. We need to make start testing, trailing and experimenting, not wait for a vision of what an ideal smart city should look like to arrive first. The solutions can come from within Australia as much as anywhere else in the world and Smart Cities Week gave us more confidence than ever that working together we can be leaders in this space.

Making the most of feedback

Feedback is an essential part of our learning process and a key ingredient to acting innovatively. And usually, it’s the reason we engage people during a project – to find out what they think and incorporate those views into the development of your project. It’s also why we talk about our work to our peers – to get advice and test viability.

But sometimes engagement is used as a “tick a box” along a project timeline with no real thought to how to meaningfully use that information. And sometimes our workplace doesn’t give you a chance to get feedback as you develop a product or service.

This is an opportunity missed. So, here are two techniques you might like to consider to enhance the use of feedback in your project development:

Modes of Feedback:

Using feedback is something teachers are very familiar with and there is a lot of research about how to do it to maximise effectiveness too. John Hattie has been studying this topic for over a decade and found that feedback is essential when we want to improve practice and attain high professional standards.

Hattie has identified three effective feedback modes to improve learning:

 

Framing our feedback in this way provides a structure to close the gap between our goals in a project and how we might achieve them.

Feedback Capture Grid:

Another great method is a feedback capture grid. This provides a real time structure to sort feedback you are receiving into four quadrants:

making-most-of-feedback

This is a great tool to immediately start to synthesize the feedback you are receiving that you can then action, particularly if you are testing a product or new service.

How do you use feedback to inform your work?

 

Who is the City?

Next week is Smart Cities Week Australia and on Tuesday 30 October 2018 I’m chairing a Boardroom lunchtime session asking, “Who is the City?”. As a demographer I’m interested in the people who make up our cities, what that means for our future and the smart cities’ agenda.

One of the things that stands out in our cities is the young age profile, particularly when we compare Australia’s capital cities with the rest of Australia. Millennials, those born between the mid-1980s and early 2000s are the biggest generation living in Australia’s capitals. They outnumber every generation that is older than them.  Even outside the capitals, Millennials number the same as the Baby Boomers and almost match the number of those from Gen X.

Number of people by age, Capital Cities and Rest of Australia 2017

Number of people by age, Capital Cities and Rest of Australia 2017

One of the things I’ll be asking around the Boardroom table is whether our planning for smart cities is ready for this new generation. Millennials and the children who follow them, more than any other generation, will live with the long-term consequences of smart city planning decisions we make today. Are they part of the planning process? Are we listening to their ideas about what’s important and potential solutions? Are we acting on those ideas? How do we balance new ideas with learning lessons from the past?

Part of being a smart city, is meeting the needs of the people who live there. And to do that we need to be smart about understanding who those people are and making sure they are engaged in preparing for the future.

What's stopping good community engagement?

Effective citizen engagement

Since starting work with Astrolabe Group Pty Limited, I have been working with the Committee for Sydney on a report focused on one of the core building blocks of successful liveable cities – effective citizen engagement.  As our cities change in response to demographic shifts and technological advances, those of us involved in place-making need to engage early to make sure we really understand people’s needs. This is the only way to bring everyone along for the ride.  

Early engagement requires continuous community involvement in the planning process as opposed to one-off engagement exercises. Key to this is making sure we plan engagement properly – plan it before we make decisions, with the explicit intention of meaningful collaboration.  

But what stops early and continuous community engagement taking place?  I have been struck by two pieces of research that show government structures may be a key barrier.  

Mazhar et al. published an article last year about Nottingham City Council in the UK, who are undertaking energy policy reform as part of a five-year EU funded study on sustainable urban regeneration. A review of Nottingham City Council’s community engagement found a high commitment to community engagement among staff. But the researchers found that when Council staff talked about engaging citizens at the start of the process, they were actually talking about a point after decisions had been made. This means engagement often ended up being citizens presented with a binary choice – accept it or don’t, do you like this a lot or just a little?   

 

Identifying the needs of a community

Continuous community engagement starts by identifying what the community cares about. Understand why change is feared. Ask questions and listen to the answers before giving solutions. It’s active listening at a community level.

But this can be challenging in a traditional policy development setting. A recent article by Ron Levy reporting results from a survey of nearly 2,000 state and federal public servants showed that public servants most consulted with other public servants. Moreover, they assumed that members of the general public lack the capacity to deliberate well on broad policy directions.  

This is frankly a misplaced view.  It means key issues might be missed or that unintended consequences create a negative impact.  It also means that the people affected by planning choices are not part of developing solutions that will meet their needs. It leads to engagement that presents people with limited choices.

Good community engagement then needs leadership from those agencies controlling the engagement process to engage early and often.  One way is exploring how digital engagement tools may enhance when you engage, how you engage, and being able to focus on different sectors within the community. This can lead to better outcomes for cities, as well as greater shared ownership by all the stakeholders, a powerful tool in creating lasting innovation and change.

These two studies also show that governments who control community engagement also need to be willing to relinquish decision-making power to those most affected by the planning decisions being made.  

What if we halved migration to NSW?

Today the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she wants immigration to the state halved and already businesses and universities have raised concerns about the impact of halving immigration to NSW. As a demographer, I’m interested in what impact halving immigration would have on NSW’s population.

When we talk about immigration, most people are referring to net overseas migration – that is the balance between people who come into Australia for 12 out of 16 months and those who leave Australia for 12 out of 16 months. It’s this measure of immigration I write about here.

As the chart below shows, net overseas migration has a history of going up and down with large peaks typically followed by lower levels. Large inflows that can drive a high net count (the balance between in and out flows) are often followed by people leaving again after a few years. While temporary migrants can transition to permanent migrants, they aren’t counted again in the migration data. Net overseas migration has been high in the past two years, but the levels are not as high as in 2008, and we’ve never seen levels over 100,000 of more in-migrants than out-migrants.

It’s also important to remember that NSW’s growth is not only driven by migration. Natural increase, the balance between births and deaths, also contributes to the state’s growth. NSW growth is an amazing success story as people continue to survive to older ages. The pressure of population growth on our health infrastructure is testament to this success.

NSW population growth 1982-2017 source: ABS

NSW population growth 1982-2017 source: ABS

Which migrants would we cut?

The practicalities of halving migration to NSW means we would have to cut the numbers coming in specific visa categories.

I’ve assumed that Australian Citizens wouldn’t be part of the regulation to halve immigration (even though they’re counted in the migration numbers when they leave for work or study and then return home after a few years).

The biggest net gains in NSW come from visas for higher education, visitors, working holidays (all temporary) and the permanent skilled migration visa. Looking at data for 2016-17, if we assumed the number of departures were about the same next year, to halve the number making up net migration we’d have to see a decline in higher education students from almost 38,000 to just under 24,000.

Visitors arrivals would need to go down by 10,000 from 29,000 to 19,000. We’d need to see 5,500 fewer working holiday makers. And the permanent skilled intake would need to decline by over 6,000 from its current level of 15,300.

Net-overseas-migration-1617

Net-overseas-migration-1617

What would happen in the future?

I ran a simple projection looking at what would happen to the NSW population if we halved migration. First, I assumed that the average net overseas migration for the past five years stayed the same into the future (77,630 people) and the other factors that drive population change also stayed the same both for the levels and age profiles (total fertility rate, life expectancy at birth and net interstate migration). I then changed net overseas migration to 38,815 to compare the difference.

Not surprisingly, halving immigration led to a smaller population in 20 years’ time – reaching 9.1 million compared to 9.8 million if we keep migration at current levels. This difference of 700,000 people is seen in the working ages with the number of people aged 20-64 years projected to grow to 5.7 million if migration levels stay the same as now, compared to 5.0 million if they are halved. Indeed, if migration is halved, my projection indicated there would be fewer people aged 25-34 in 20 years’ time compared to now.

Because the population of NSW has different age profiles across the state, with proportionately fewer working age people in regional centres and rural areas and a higher reliance on in-migration (from overseas and elsewhere in Australia) to maintain service delivery, we could expect to see disproportionate negative impacts in some areas if migration is halved. In Sydney, where a large number of migrants live on arrival to Australia, we would see a change in the age and cultural mix of our suburbs, particularly in those places with students.

Population policy for all population issues

Having an informed discussion about population is critical for NSW. But population is more than international migration – there is a constant flow of people between states, regions and within our towns and cities. Even with no migration, NSW would grow to 8.5 million people over the next 20 years. What we must consider is the mix of generations seen in each part of NSW and the different impact they have on how that community will grow into the future, including the types of jobs, housing and infrastructure it will want and need. Importantly, a population policy must reflect the fact that our planning needs to respond to the 7.9 million people who already call NSW home.

Not surprisingly, halving immigration led to a smaller population in 20 years’ time – reaching 9.1 million compared to 9.8 million if we keep migration at current levels. This difference of 700,000 people is seen in the working ages with the number of people aged 20-64 years projected to grow to 5.7 million if migration levels stay the same as now, compared to 5.0 million if they are halved. Indeed, if migration is halved, my projection indicated there would be fewer people aged 25-34 in 20 years’ time compared to now.

Because the population of NSW has different age profiles across the state, with proportionately fewer working age people in regional centres and rural areas and a higher reliance on in-migration (from overseas and elsewhere in Australia) to maintain service delivery, we could expect to see disproportionate negative impacts in some areas if migration is halved. In Sydney, where a large number of migrants live on arrival to Australia, we would see a change in the age and cultural mix of our suburbs, particularly in those places with students.

Population policy for all population issues

Having an informed discussion about population is critical for NSW. But population is more than international migration – there is a constant flow of people between states, regions and within our towns and cities. Even with no migration, NSW would grow to 8.5 million people over the next 20 years. What we must consider is the mix of generations seen in each part of NSW and the different impact they have on how that community will grow into the future, including the types of jobs, housing and infrastructure it will want and need. Importantly, a population policy must reflect the fact that our planning needs to respond to the 7.9 million people who already call NSW home.

City Deals for Integrated Cities

Shifting government mindset, from a regulator to customer-centric approach.

Back in August 2018, Michael went on the Smart City Podcast.

The episode can be heard here.

Michael explains his background in mathematics and growth infrastructure planning, so how cities grow.

“There’s a lot of metrics from a commercial perspective that show that we are highly digitally literate (in Australia). But then there are other elements where we’re very far behind…and the opportunity there is we can be a fast follower.”

He also talks about the Smart City being about people and place, and also the importance of governance reform and leadership.

Michael also talked about some of the things he’s been working on, including City Deals, and how it’s important for the government to shift their thinking from being a regulator to moving to a customer-centric approach.

They also discussed some emerging trends and the fact that everyone is still learning.

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