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Social Aspects of Technological Innovation: How Digital Tools can Facilitate Citizen Engagement

To succeed in their ambitious goals for the Climate Transition, such as achieving more sustainable infrastructure and just environments, projects such as PROBONO apply many strategies that involve technological innovation within a smart-city approach. These efforts attempt to promote the needed transformation whilst increasing the quality of life of end-users and their communities, but there’s a key element for their success that must be considered at all times: THE SOCIAL ONE! In this short article, Miriam Lins, a PhD Student from UCD working with collaborative engagement tools for the PROBONO project, shares some of the reasons why this is so important.


Citizen engagement is critical


Citizen engagement is critical for involving a diverse range of stakeholders that are interested in or might be affected by any sort of change. Individuals, community groups, local authorities, researchers and developers should have sufficient opportunities to get to know each other’s needs, expectations and any other consideration that relates to a place, to a city or to a household. Literature has shown different examples of failures when engagement is insufficient in smart-city initiatives; for instance, contributing to a perception that technology is being used to discipline and control citizens. If citizens feel locked out of the decision-making process and disconnected from systems that are present in their everyday lives, even the best innovation will be far from the expected results.


Citizens as Innovation Experts


On the other hand, when citizens are meaningfully engaged in the discussions, during the whole process of decision-making and implementation, the final result tends to be positive not only for the success of a specific innovation but also for a broader perspective. This means that citizens are not merely consulted, but offer their inputs, and have them included in the outcomes. After all, they might not be experts in a specific novel technology, but they certainly are experts in their own community and everyday lives, aspects that must be taken into account in any innovation that will be implemented in the real world.


In other words, meaningful participation, involving citizens in co-designing solutions, can increase democratic governance, productivity, trust in the climate transition process and in government, transparency and citizen satisfaction.


Harnessing Digital Tools for Inclusive Participation


Interestingly, innovative approaches and technologies also play a significant role in this. Collaborative tools, including digital ones, offer great opportunities to make citizen engagement much easier and more representative. The challenges often related to citizen participation such as underrepresentation from particular groups, besides the demand for time, effort and financial costs can be considerably minimised when digital tools are properly integrated into the process. These tools can make activities and events accessible, easy and engaging by using features such as e-voting, gamification and crowdsourcing.

Martina Signorini, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Innovative PROBONO Living Labs


Within the PROBONO Living Labs, a range of tools is being considered for meaningful engagement with users and communities. The opportunities provided by digital and non-digital tools should be put to serve citizens, offering innovative approaches and technologies for collaboration to co-create solutions and transformations for an inclusive and just climate transition.






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