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After attending the recent Global Entrepreneurship Conference (GEC) + Taipei 2018 themed “Enabling Social Impact with Artificial Intelligence & Internet of Things”, I was excited to hear interesting insights on policy innovation for creating smart cities. In this context, ‘cities’ can be thought of as smaller groups of people within a country that live as one cohesive unit in a distinct location and are availing or sharing common services under one government instrumentality.
One of the GEC’s highlights was a panel focusing on “Entrepreneurship Nurturing: Interaction between Thriving Cities and Startup Growth”. The discussion was highly relevant as the Taipei city government had established its Taipei Smart City Project Management Office (TPMO) in 2016 to introduce innovative solutions and become a matchmaking platform for public-private partnerships. The goal is to transform the whole city into a living lab and integrate creativity into Taipei’s DNA (more details can be found on the Smart City Taipei website).
Reflections from Global Entrepreneurship Conference + Taipei 2018
By adopting a holistic approach towards becoming a “smart city”, Taiwan leverages innovative projects that not only cut across different sectors of the government but also various cities. Secondly, Taiwan opens up channels of communication that enable residents to communicate directly with authorities. Thirdly, it invests in industry innovation by promoting innovative solutions through successful proof of concept (POC) models.
To date, Taipei has over a hundred POC projects that have been initiated, and hundreds more ICT vendors that have been engaged to work with these models. These vibrant collaborations had been catalysed by “Digital Minister” Audrey Tang, who joined the government in 2016 to work closely with policymakers and implementers by initiating tech-driven solutions that bridge the digital divide between generations. By adopting this trailblazing “open governance” approach that embraces innovation, new solutions to difficult urban challenges can emerge more readily.
Inter-city Insights: Technology and Cities in Philippines and Taiwan
My country, the Philippines, has been making targeted initiatives to drive innovative solutions in cities for the past seven years. In 2012, the National ICT Confederation of the Philippines (NICP) in partnership with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Cyber City Teleservices Philippines Inc. (CCTP) launched the Awards for Excellence in Governance through ICT for Local Government Units (eGov Awards). The eGov Awards recognizes local government units (LGUs) including cities, provinces and municipalities for their best practices in utilizing ICT to effectively and efficiently deliver its public services to its constituents and other stakeholders. It aims to improve the business development, social services and the general ecosystem of the LGUs, and simultaneously motivate the private and business sector to actively participate and/or invest in the growth of the LGUs. This year, the eGov Awards was adopted by the Digital Cities PH framework of the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT) under its Digital Governance component.
Now adapting learnings from Taipei’s model, I see that there are useful recommendations for the Philippines experience in integrating the use of ICT in local city government:
- An idea that is confined by the resources that are available, without proper needs assessment and user engagement, can stifle innovation. The focus should be to create significant positive change for city residents by directly identifying a problem, then to design the solution. For example, I was excited to see a POC in the form of the Taipei Main Station app, which aims to help Taipei city residents navigate the Taipei Main Station, the underground which has been nicknamed “the biggest maze in Taiwan” and an “urban labyrinth” where even local residents would get lost very often. Identifying the need for a structured navigation system for the station, the app provides real-time guidance to the public not only about information on train schedules and routes but also where to shop, dine and find immediate services. The system comes with indoor navigation barrier-free functionality with maps, locations and directions. It can even point our nearest ticket counters, ATM, rest rooms and other points of interest and facilities. The technologies are designed to be user-friendly, inclusive and responsive.
- Harnessing citizens participation in governance can go a long way in generating solutions to issues. Taipei’s systems allow urban residents to propose solutions for real problems they experience, which eventually leads to experimenting, prototyping and institutionalizing solutions that are found to be effective. City governments must be open to suggestions from their citizens as much or even more than external vendors since end-user feedback directly addresses major pain-points, thus allowing solutions to evolve and become more effective. By focusing on the solutions, technology will be treated as an investment that will eventually yield social returns, as opposed to simply an expense incurred.
- Develop and implement strategies that encourage startup entrepreneurs who have the passion and technical knowledge to affect social impact through innovation. Programs and avenues that develop the entrepreneurial mindset of young people are also important. Startups are mostly composed of millennials, many of whom are out to make a difference in society. By creating an ecosystem that nurtures emerging startups and provides them with support in areas such as funding, mentorship, incubator or accelerator facilities, legal services and business development, start-ups can become viable propellers of social impact. Furthermore, the government must pay attention to a few key issues affecting the viability of startup companies to compete with large and well-established companies in bidding for smart city contracts. Two areas cited during the GEC + Taiwan conference were intellectual property and compliance. For countries like the Philippines, a more robust promotion of intellectual property rights is needed, especially for tech startups.
The overarching need is for policy to support start-up innovation to create greater social impact. As the cradle for startup and entrepreneurial activity, city governments are critical to build a thriving environment that contributes to social impact. The three key points discussed can not only effectively drive policies that are more responsive but also bring about constructive disruption, thereby further encouraging startups to become formal sources of innovative solutions towards building smart cities.