The city’s voice: Smart cities and social media

Tuning into citizens’ concerns

How can you know what someone thinks, wants and feels? The answer is simple: listen to them.

But what happens when it’s a whole city full of people? Listening becomes harder. And it’s clear that city leaders are not hearing what their communities have to say. Recent research  shows that in the U.S., two-thirds of citizens do not feel their voices are listened to by the governments who make decisions about their local and national societies. When citizens don’t feel heard, they disengage – and cities lose an important resource for positive social impact. We must find a way to tune into the thoughts and feelings of city residents. The only way to build engaged communities from frustrated citizens is by listening to them.

Insider knowledge

While a single voice may not have much impact, collectively, citizens can enact meaningful change. Individual voices can be transformed into feasible solutions. At Social Coin, we’ve spoken before about how cities should view their citizens as “ground agents”. This is because urban residents hold valuable insights from the front lines. They live and actively participate in their communities, and truly understand their inner workings. Citizens perceive key issues in their neighborhoods, and have ideas about how to solve them. Citizens’ insights are a goldmine of data, that organizations can use to make their cities smarter.

A real sense of the city

So how can we listen? At Smart City World Expo 2016, Hugo Zaragoza claimed that “social media is the best sensor network of your city”. citibeats agrees.

As part of daily life, people share their social preoccupations on public platforms, from Facebook and Twitter to personal blogs, local news pages and big news websites. And studies from New York University and the University of Vermont now show that people may be more honest online than in person. That means looking at unfiltered social media can tell us what citizens really think.

In the words of Stephen Goldsmith, “cities can produce great value from social media, but only if they start talking a little bit less about themselves and start listening more to their residents”.

Intelligent platforms

Turning huge amounts of social media “natural language” into relevant, easily understandable insights is a big challenge. It requires tools intelligent enough to filter,  categorize and analyze this data – and make sure that the correct data is processed to begin with. Algorithms must be able to tell the difference between a Tweet about Cambridge, England and Cambridge, Massachussetts. They need to interpret whether a Facebook user who posts about their local recycling plant is complaining or praising the service.

At Citibeats, we have been working to create the smart social dashboard that smart cities need. The Citibeats dashboard uses sophisticated artificial intelligence -AI- to create an intelligent, dynamic visual map of citizens’ concerns, which changes as issues get resolved and new ones emerge. The technology is able to create comprehensive reports, and generate comparisons across different areas, time periods, user types and sentiments.

With Citibeats, leaders can easily listen to their communities and identify the most urgent social issues in their area.  

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