This last week, we had the great pleasure of being invited to the Smarter Tomorrow conference in Liverpool to chair a panel on delivering for citizens. It is not often that you have a panel at a smart cities conference that looks at this explicitly, especially at a conference that really focusses a lot on the transport side of things.
But what made this panel brilliant was that there was not one presentation on transport. Not one.
We have often felt that transport can learn a lot about community engagement from other sectors. And from the panelists we were with, it seems that the hunch is right.
The first speaker was Rosemary May, who spoke how a 5G mesh network being delivered in Liverpool was revolutionising adult social care in the city. With a focus on low, cost, accessible solutions being delivered to vulnerable people, new personalised services have been delivered on the back of this network. Services that are actually changing people's lives.
We then heard from Ana Paolo Lopez, about the leading work being done by i-Lab Barcelona to revolutionise the city's services. They have worked through a process of challenge definition, design thinking, and trialling to deliver a wide variety of project with close engagement with local citizens. They are even turning their hands to procurement. We admire their ambition.
Next, Georgina Maratheftis from techUK introduced what they are doing to encourage local authorities to engage more with tech startups. This makes sense not only from an accessing the market point of view, but also from local authorities benefitting from the insights generated on key issues by startup companies. As opposed to it being just confined to each party.
Following quickly, we had Stefan Webb from the Connected Places Catapult. They have been progressing a huge programme of Digitising Planning. An ambitious project that is hoping to make planning more responsive, more engaging, and leveraging new technologies to do this. We cannot do it justice in a few sentences, but it really is quite something.
Last, but by no means least, we heard from Therese Karger-Lerchl of Vivid Economics on their research into the value of green spaces and green infrastructure. We have certainly made a note to try out Greenkeeper, which actually makes the business case for investing in green infrastructure and its maintenance. Something that has never been done before.
So what did we learn from all this? Firstly, there is a lot that transport can learn from other sectors. And this is not just doing the basics of community engagement right. This is about using the right tools at the right time. What was often covered during the presentations was not doing technology for technology's sake. An app will not overcome an unwillingness to learn, and it never will.
Another message that came across strongly was that other sectors were by no means perfect. They are all learning lessons on how to engage effectively with communities, and adapting what they do to their circumstances. For example, the legal framework for adult social care is significantly different to taking care of a park. The speakers were keen to emphasise that this difference means that it is hard for some solutions to scale.
Finally, there was a message to just get on with it. Don't think about it. Plan it and do it. That is the only way you will ever learn. We can do that!