Citizen-led urban planning and feedback mechanisms through inclusive technologies

                                                              

Citizen-led urban planning and feedback mechanisms through inclusive technologies

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Solution proposed by: 
Social Impact Lab (SIMLab)
In a Nutshell: 
Using accessible, usable, affordable inclusive technologies appropriate to the place and the people to support citizen engagement in urban planning processes and meaningful participation through feedback and idea generation.
Where and When: 
No previous examples for implementation of this solution which simultaneously incorporates both high and low-end technologies for citizen feedback which could be used for any area of a city. A useful example for reference comes from the public health space is Young Africa Lives!
Challenges: 
Much of the current civic engagement work involves web portals and in some cases, mobile apps which are only accessible to more privileged residents. Traditional in-person meetings disadvantage those without the funds or the flexibility to attend. By meeting people where they are and using low-cost, accessible technologies that people already use - be that radio, WhatsApp or text messaging - cities can set up sustainable engagement and feedback mechanisms that can help people to have a say in what happens in their community.
Innovation: 
Few of these are new technologies, but the innovation lies in effectively assessing how community members, including recent arrivals and the most vulnerable, get their news and interact with those they trust. Based on this information, we’ll identify well-used communications channels, and then knit them together in a cohesive, multichannel engagement strategy. In urban centers, people vary their digital strategies based on fluctuating incomes, access to power and availability of access to internet and cell signal. By utilizing multiple two-way channels, people will be able to give feedback whatever their current situation.
Concept: 
Social Impact Lab (SIMLab) works across all sectors to help organizations to use technology to build systems and services that are more accessible, responsive, and resilient. SIMLab defines inclusive technologies as those that embody values critical to truly scalable, locally-owned impact: accessibility, ease of use, interoperability, and sustainability. Mobile phones are a key example - SMS and voice telephony reach all of the world’s 3.6 billion mobile subscribers - as is radio, a critical technology for broad reach at relatively low cost. We also embrace both ends of the spectrum of inclusive tech: the increasing availability and affordability of cheap web-enabled phones and mobile data make them more accessible for relatively disconnected communities, and more analogue communications technologies, such as public criers, noticeboards and human networks, like religious structures and community leadership, reach into even the most remote and disconnected communities. SIMLab believes that equitable participation of marginalized and ‘last-mile’ populations in public, economic, and social life contributes to a more just world. We believe that Increasing systemic adoption and use of inclusive technologies leads to greater access to services for all populations, accountability and responsiveness of institutions, and resilience of societies.
Description: 
The planning and citizen feedback process differs in each city, based upon the particular urban governance and institutional frameworks. Therefore, a process to understand how inclusive technologies can be linked into existing planning and feedback systems and structures is significant. We propose to conduct an initial context assessment to establish how communities understand, prioritize, use, and fund their communications channels, including both digital and non-digital. We will seek to understand the degree of trust people have in varying communications channels and sources, and how they validate information. We will also examine current channels for feedback and participation, how they are viewed and used, and why. Based on this participatory research we will co-create (with community members, local civil society and government, and other stakeholders) a communications and engagement strategy which brings together old-fashioned community organizing techniques with lowest-common denominator technology with and automated response processing and routing. Our intention will be to build a system which is sustainable and can grow in the context it was created in, and also to leave behind the design thinking that will support the evolution of the system.
Impacts: 
The primary impact of the proposed solution is greater inclusion of marginalized areas and populations within a city. This will allow for municipalities to incorporate greater feedback with inclusive technologies, thereby reaching populations which have not previously been active participants in the urban planning process. A longer term impact will be realized when these low-tech and affordable instruments used by vulnerable populations are incorporated within the urban planning system, greatly emphasizing the sustainability of this approach.