SOCIETY | Sep 13, 2019

From Smart City to Smart Polis

Project Polis2020: when the numbers are accompanied by comments, images, reactions they become the mirror of reality

In recent years there has been an evolutionary transformation process of our cities which has led to a paradigm shift in the offer of services to citizens and businesses.

The technological aspect has certainly generated deep changes and has represented an important element for the birth of those that today are defined as “smart cities” and “smart-territories”. However, new technologies alone are not able to generate the sense of social responsibility, collectivity and belonging which are essential to create an “intelligent community”.

The Polis2020 project, funded by the Puglia Region through the “Planning Agreements” call for proposals, takes care of this by suggesting solutions and systemic models capable of enabling the creation of Smart Polis. The project envisions the Smart Polis as physical and geographical places enriched by cutting-edge technologies, but also as relational spaces full of cultural, social, political and economic connections which, if properly exploited, allow to generate innovative services and concrete answers to the needs of the individual and of the community.

An integrated proposal for territorial change

The transformation of society brought about by globalization and the pervasive diffusion of new digital technologies has redesigned the dynamics of product supply and demand. These changes have impacted not only the private but also the public sector, which is increasingly required to provide an intelligent public demand capable of relating to the state of the art of technology.

Today the new social challenges represent not only priorities for action but also opportunities for business and territorial development. However, the answers to these challenges require a coordinated and systemic intervention which envisages the joint involvement of public institutions, private companies, universities and citizens. In this new process of innovation, as highlighted in the strategic document Smart Specialization Strategy Regione Puglia-Smart Puglia 2020, “the institutions, from subjects with the function of mere control, become subjects capable of determining it, influencing it, and accompanying it, replacing and/or endorsing the commitment to support the possession of knowledge and resources with the promotion of the ability to use widespread knowledge in order to innovate”.

It is in this context that the Polis2020 project slots in, aimed at supporting all the players of the territorial change by providing them with tools capable of implementing innovative, inclusive, participatory, democratic and customizable processes and services.

Polis2020 puts in place models, tools and technologies able to enable participation at the level of:

  • Civil society, by favoring the dynamics of involvement, cooperation, engagement and co-creation which allow the creation of a citizen-centric ecosystem of services
  • Governance, by enabling collaborative decision-making processes that allow the public decision-maker to analyze and visualize data and information in order to make informed and evidence-based decisions
  • Internal processes, by supporting transparency, collaboration between different offices and institutions, performance measurement and the generation of open data.

Polis2020 is a complex project, full of expectations and of challenging and innovative themes, a project which triggers much thought, not only centered on technology, but also on the human and social factor. For this reason, it provides the Public Administrations with a socio-technical platform which offers a pervasive social layer that not only enables participation and collaboration, but is able to relate people, processes, data and territory.

A path of contextualization and humanization of Big Data

Big Data are extremely useful for collecting quantitative information and for identifying present and future patterns and it is for this reason that Polis2020 has investigated this research topic. Great progress has been made in recent years in relation to the management and exploitation of Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. However, there is still a long way to go, particularly in relation to the Public Administration. The social and emotional context of citizens appears to be an essential piece of information that can determine the success or failure of any strategy or process. It is therefore not possible to rely on Big Data alone, but we must support and enrich these with data and information which describe the human and social complexity of a territory.

In this context, Polis2020 therefore sets itself the challenge of contextualizing and “humanizing” Big Data, of giving them meaning so that they can be transformed from simple numbers into actual intuitions and thus into new ideas and solutions.

Data deriving from participatory processes, from gamification events, from debates, surveys, blogs and online forums not only allow finding out the needs of citizens, their expectations, but represent an important resource able to contextualize and reinterpret the data from sensors and in general from IoT devices. It seems trivial, but collecting data without understanding the context from which they originate makes the same data ineffective for solving more or less complex daily problems. Polis2020 creates this alchemy by combining two sides of the same coin, allowing a systemic view of the territory.

Immagine adattata da Tricia Wang

Data originating from participatory processes combined with the disruptive force of Big Data not only allow us to fully understand the present and to foresee possible future scenarios, but provide something even more important: inspiration and intuition. They enable Public Administrations to plan and imagine the future not only based on numbers, but to embrace the complexity and peculiarities of a territory and its inhabitants.

Data from sensors can, for example, highlight criticalities in urban transport and report inefficiencies, but they are not able to capture the reactions of citizens which differ according to the time and place where they occur and the reason why they occur. When the numbers are accompanied by comments, images, reactions, they are no longer just numbers, but become the mirror of reality.

Valentina Chetta