Default hero image

Connecting people and places is everyone’s job

There’s a lot of chatter about smart cities – but what makes a smart city, where do you start, and what if you’re not a city?

“Smart cities” has become a byword (byphrase?) for investing in and embedding technology, but it’s much, much more than a future-proof IT system, cloud computing and a strong internet connection (although these are of course essential). The concept of a smart city, campus, precinct or place is about connecting people with the environment around them to improve outcomes. To improve quality of life.

It applies just as much in rural areas as it does in conurbations, albeit that the aforementioned essentials may be in place, easier to install or at least more cost-effectively implemented in a built-up area with lots of potential users (aka humans aka customers). However, you have to ask the ‘why’ question, at which point it all opens up.

So, why make a place smart and connected?

Well, because connecting people and places can do several things:

  • improve services (for people)
  • reduce impacts (on the environment, on society, on people)
  • reduce cost of delivery (for taxpayers, for customers, for society).

It improves the outcome. It improves quality of life. And it pays back in spades.

Taking healthcare as an example, by connecting with a patient recovering from an operation at home (where it is proven that speed of recovering increases and the risk of secondary infections decreases), healthcare support and services can be highly targeted. Getting people back to health quicker has huge benefits across society, so it makes sense to connect with people in their homes.

This means you have to connect homes, buildings, services and ‘things’. Which means investment. And front-loaded investment at that. Which cuts across current delivery, responsibility and accountability silos. Why? To improve services, reduce impacts and reduce the cost of delivery. To improve the outcome.

At the moment, this all looks like ‘cost’ – but if the benefits of connecting people and places can be set out clearly, with £££s spent and saved presented, in many cases the investment is a very small price to pay.

The government’s new Civil Society Strategy is well worth a read, complementing the 2012 Social Value Act and setting out the case for ensuring investments in major projects deliver wider societal benefit.

The strategy states: “The government’s vision is for the principles of the Social Value Act to be applied to the whole of government spending and decision-making. Central government departments will be expected to apply the terms of the Social Value Act to goods and works as well as services. They will also be expected to ‘account for’ the social value of new procurements, rather than just ‘consider’ it as currently. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will lead the way by applying this wider remit of the Social Value Act to major projects. Other departments will follow in due course.”

It goes on to note that the government will also look into the potential for the use of social value in grants as well as contracts, and explore the how it should be applied to other areas of public decision-making such as planning and community asset transfer.

Which all makes for very interesting reading – and worthy of further exploration which is exactly what we will be doing at the BRE Connected Cities Convention on 27 and 28 November 2018. For more information please visit the conference website

We will be exploring how digital technologies can help rural economies, towns and cities deliver services more cost effectively, improving the planning, design and delivery of transport, infrastructure and buildings to create healthier, sustainable, resilient and prosperous places.

About the author – John Twitchen

Many of today’s challenges can be cured by connecting people and places. All of the projects I work on relate back to wider social value – across civil society in rural economies, towns and cities. They cover a wide range of issues from economic development to environmental improvement through the medium of stakeholder engagement, breaking down complex issues into understandable, bite-size chunks.