Engaging the citizenry

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A few weeks back my husband Rey and I went to Yinchuan in China upon the invitation of the city government to showcase the Smart City framework hosted by their Big Data Bureau Management (yes, their LGU has this department). Now on its third year, it is an annual conference wherein city mayors from all over the world, technology providers and players gather together to exchange ideas and perspectives and experience the thought leadership of some of the city mayors that have advanced their city’s infrastructure.

From a technology standpoint, Smart City refers to the concept of effectively utilizing advancements in technology, including Internet of Things (IoT), alongside the city’s assets, in order to serve its citizens more efficiently. The benefit is felt directly by the citizen, the government’s customer. The Yinchuan city government’s execution of such framework resulted in the reduction of processes from hundreds to less than 10, and equally a reduction of the number approvers to a minimum, as strong examples, among other things. As if coming straight out of a dream, a quick scan of the citizen’s National ID allows access to basic government services, such as visa issuance, utility payments and others.

Here in Manila, one would have to spend a considerable amount of time to access basic services, such as applying for a driver’s license renewal and a passport. These activities require us to plan our schedules ahead of time and to have some leeway for circumstantial happenings. The end result is between minimal and zero, to sometimes negative customer experience. While this emphasizes how far behind our cities can be in terms of adopting such technology, in a similar fashion this also presents a great opportunity to work on something that would create a lasting and sustainable societal impact.

In the movie Jerry Maguire, Dicky Fox says: “The key to this business is personal attention.” My years in the technology business taught me to focus on the delivery of optimal customer experience; such that the actions one would take are geared toward the achievement of customer delight, which would then translate to a lasting business relationship. This is the key perspective I took away from that Yinchuan trip, wherein I saw the government focus on delivering services to its citizens seamlessly, thereby enriching the customer experience, and hence becoming a crucial factor in making its citizens at their most engaged state – a clear shift in behavior. It is a win-win ecosystem: because the citizens experience hassle-free services, they are very much actively participating in supplemental programs that the government endeavors to offer them.


One that caught my attention was the smart waste bin management – a program wherein each town has its own smart bins and the citizen is identified through his smart phone that is scanned by the smart bin. He throws and segregates his trash, the system detects it, and thereafter records all the information under his name.

Extending this process further, there are reward points associated with this citizen to provide him incentives for his good behavior, which later on could be converted into reward points. Such points may be used to pay for his parking fee or a movie ticket.

From this we can see a Smart City enabling a citizen engagement platform, which may then be a catalyst to shift and modify behavioral patterns and benefit the citizenry. What is essential here is the effective use of data that is shared and given in the process, and how this is mined to create insights and make informed decisions.

A few cities in our country have done a portion of the Smart City framework and the journey toward citizen engagement is still a work in progress. This could be due to limitations in the LGU’s budget, hence, efforts led by the private sector can be beneficial in this regard. But the intent, without a doubt, remains the same: we must work toward fostering an engaged citizenry while leveraging on technology in order to transform the way we live.

Kay Calpo Lugtu is co-founder of Caucus, Inc. and deputy director of Global Chamber Manila. Her advocacies include data privacy, financial literacy, and nation-building. The author may be reached at kaycalpolugtu@hotmail.com.

KAY CALPO LUGTU

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