Use of citizens’ social media feeds to enhance smart governance

To strengthen contemporary urban governance, decision-making within cities and the two-way communication between citizens, governments and stakeholders was the aspiration when SmartGov was initiated. By combining data from open sources and social media channels, information that previously have been used separately, a new framework has been established. Through combination of these data and usage of Fuzzy Cognitive Maps (FCM), stakeholders can visualise and analyse policy decisions in order to understand which decisions lead to which future, facilitating the decision-making process and ensuring the best result.

Two pilots have been conducted during the project period, one in the municipality Quart de Poblet in Spain and one in the city Limassol in Cyprus. The two pilots were focused on mobility with the aim to engage citizens and learn about their perspectives on the topic. In Quart de Poblet, the focus was on the mobility of school children as the municipality recognized a problem with traffic around schools causing safety and environmental issues. The municipality therefore used SmartGov’s framework to find a solution to minimize the number of cars around schools.  Limassol used the framework on the issue of garbage collection and route suitability. By identifying factors influencing the collection process, such as parked vehicles and manoeuvrability, and have them interacting in a Fuzzy Cognitive Map, the city could decide on best routes for its garbage collection vehicles.

Fuzzy Cognitive Maps strengthen the two-way communication between a city and its residents by involving citizens opinions in the data on which decisions are based

SmartGov’s framework consists of two pieces of software that communicate with each other – one social media tool that collects, filters and categorizes social media posts and one Fuzzy Cognitive Map (FCM) tool which works as a decision-making engine. FCMs are a sustainable tool improving efficiency and allowing custom-made support to each stakeholder’s specific needs. Further, they strengthen the two-way communication between a city and its residents by involving citizens opinions in the data on which decisions are based. To simplify it, an FCM is basically a graph visualising concepts and their relation to each other. The concepts are given a value of -1 to 1 and if two concepts have a relation you connect them, so if the value on one concept increases the related concept will be affected and thus change the outcome.

When setting up an FCM, a main variable is identified on which you want to change the outcome (e.g. route suitability in Limassol or mobility of children in Quart de Poblet). Once settled, you decide on additional concepts to be included and then run scenarios on how these concepts affect each other. Based on the outcome of these scenarios, a city can visualise the impact of policy changes and how different decisions affect the main topic being analysed.

The tool is useful for all types of stakeholders wanting to streamline their decision-making processes

The tool developed is basically a way to represent knowledge. By identifying relevant experts that provide their knowledge, each FCM becomes an internal, mental model of the problem a certain stakeholder wishes to solve. The benefit of it is its ability to be general at first but with input from experts, they become tailored for each actors’ specific needs, making them useful for all types of stakeholders wanting to streamline their decision-making processes. Another benefit of the tool is that as they capture and save input from experts within a city, a stakeholder is not as affected by employee turnover.

From the point of who benefits from this project it’s first and foremost the citizens as the policies that local authorities will decide on and implement will be for their benefit. However, the impact SmartGov has on cities can be seen in two ways. The first is the direct impact such as increase of environmental sustainability by reduction of car usage or safer routes for children coming or going from school. Additionally, it illustrates how smart city governance can be executed and how to increase citizen engagement and two-way communication. SmartGov has already received positive reactions from citizens in the pilot cities. Not only are they feeling more useful and relevant in the development of their city but they also seem optimistic in future use of the tool on other city-wide problems.

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