New study looks at cities’ use of IT to engage, empower citizens

According to a new study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, cities around the world are beginning to treat high-speed Internet access and related information technologies as an essential component of their economic development and citizen engagement strategies.

The 2,800 person survey was sponsored by Siemens and EIU findings were unveiled in Singapore during the World Cities Summit Tuesday. According to Klaus Heidinger, Head of Global Center of Competence for City Management at Siemans IT Solutions and Services, more cities are treating their IT and broadband networks as basic utilities and an essential component of their governance strategies.

“One of the most striking findings is the fact that ICT has become a basic utility, like water and electricity, for all cities,” Mr. Heidinger said in a statement. The EIU study also found, Mr. Heidinger suggested, that ICT initiatives like smart grid will allow greater citizen participation with government and private sector electricity providers to reduce energy and encourage use of renewable energy sources.

According to the survey, 77 percent of businesses believe improved broadband networks in their cities would have a significant impact on city competitiveness, making it the most important ICT technology for attracting private-sector investments. It also found that emerging cities are turning to IT to manage infrastructure in ways that are as important as building the infrastructure itself.

The study also cited several US cities’ use of IT tools to empower citizens to help government. Portland’s CivicApps and New York City’s recent BigApps competition were heralded as proof of “an increasing trend where citizens, armed with data from official sources, video and other information, are coming up with smart phone and other mobile applications to make city living easier and more enjoyable,” the study said.

In March, Portland developed the Open Data Initiative and started a contest called CivicApps. According to an interview with Rick Nixon, program manager with the City of Portalnd Bureau of Technology Services, Portland noticed that other cities, like Washington, DC were proving the benefit of opening government data and releasing it to the public.

Mr. Nixon said the city wanted to “push innovation to the citizenry and empower them to deal with their own issues.”

And with the release of the EIU study, it seems other cities around the world are doing the same.

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