Over the past year, I’ve had a chance to talk with a few dozen Chief Innovation Officers and other city managers implementing software projects. There is almost universal agreement that three things are important:
- Developing a shared vision
- Fostering citizen engagement
- Addressing ethical issues
These three things are important priorities. What kinds of resources are available to help achieve them?
In developing projects to support spaces for citizen participation in Greater Lansing, Michigan, I’ve identified five resources that help to understand the broader context of software development, helping to identify a pathway for an innovative and responsive organizational culture. They share a focus on design thinking, but provide a very broad set of experiences in implementing urban information systems.
Making Cities Smarter by Martin Tomitisch is one of the few books at the intersection of design thinking and software development for Smart Cities. Design thinking techniques are helpful for moving beyond the perspective of a team of software developers to understand the world of the user. This book provides a strong understanding of what makes the urban context distinctive. The design framework and the chapter on “Understanding the Urban Experience” provide a solid grounding, and one of the strengths of the book is that it focuses on the complete cycle of software development through deployment.
Experimental Model of Civic Engagement in Civic Tech by Laurenellen McCann puts public life as the focus of the civic software development process, tag line, “meeting people where they are. ” McCann identifies 5 criteria to determine. The strength of this is a deep understanding of social networks and power.
Designing for Cities: Technology and the Urban Experience by Michael Clare and Paul McConnell demonstrates how “design methods can be applied to some of the most critical challenges among three major groups: citizens, civic stakeholders, and commercial interests.” The book is centered on case studies of the MTA Subway System and LinkNYC, a municipal WiFi system. Clare and McConnell identify the challenges of designing for citizens and provide a clear road map for each step of the design thinking process.
The Citizen’s Right to the Digital City: Urban Interfaces, Activism, and Placemaking is an opportunity to strengthen bridges connecting academic perspectives whose strength is a deep understating of citizenship, representation, equity, agency, and other ethical principles with participatory design projects across South America, Africa, and Asia.
Studio Gang’s Reimagining the City Commons examines what happens when we reimagine publicly owned assets as a connected network. The book focuses on strategies for a single neighborhood in Philadelphia, offering tangible recommendations and techniques aimed at making networks of public places more relevant, useful and potent. This perspective is an important example of an integration of place, information, and community voice. Too many resources like this are either highly technical or too simplistic. This resource is pitched at an appropriate technical level–it is engaging enough too inspire community participation, but identifies strategies that can be implanted in ways that genuinely transform urban life.