Smart community platforms – powered by location technologies and data - can help us build back better.
As we look beyond COVID-19, communities are asking how they can build back better, and put priorities like sustainability, health and resilience against future shocks at the centre of the recovery.
Public sector budgets are likely to be tight in the aftermath of the pandemic so these aspirations may seem like pipe dreams. But they don’t have to be. Today, location data-enabled technologies, underpinned by Open Standards, are powering applications that bring communities together around shared social goals. Active Travel, a solution built and supported by CGI, is a good example of such a smart community platform.
Active Travel, Wales
Active Travel promotes healthy and sustainable travel in Wales, with the aim of making walking and cycling become the preferred ways of getting around over shorter distances. It is funded by the Welsh Government via grants to 22 local authorities that pay for the development and upkeep of route infrastructure such as footpaths, cycle ways, signage and public toilets.
At the heart of Active Travel is a database fed from multiple sources, including location data sources such as Ordnance Survey and Sustrans. Citizens are another vital source of information: members of the public will be encouraged to update Active Travel on the status of route infrastructure. If someone encounters a cycle way that has been rendered unusable or dangerous, they can submit a report to notify the authorities and other Active Travel users.
As well as facilitating community engagement, the solution supports Active Travel’s funding model, enabling the Welsh Government to monitor the condition and usage of the assets it has paid for.
Open is the enabler
Active Travel demonstrates how technology can bring a community together – with location technologies and data enabling a rich, dynamic platform that serves the needs of lots of different users and helps the Welsh Government, and local authorities, promote their health and sustainability goals.
None of this could happen without Open Architecture, built on Open Standards, to securely share data across the Active Travel platform. The security aspect is critical: users have to have complete confidence in the integrity of the data if they are going to deploy it across multiple domains.
And a smart community platform like Active Travel would not be useful if citizens could not access it – seamlessly – across different interfaces. To provide this level of flexibility, the solution’s architecture has to be interoperable and cross-platform so the format of the data is not a barrier to sharing and using it – whether that’s on a web browser, a mobile or technologies like smart kiosks.
Let’s think bigger
With Open Standards in play, the sky is the limit when it comes to use cases for smart community platforms.
Smart community platforms could inform Covid-safe public health initiatives. If local authorities know the condition of footpaths (how wide are they? have they been properly maintained?) they can provide citizens with socially-distanced routes through busy town centres. And insights from these rich, dynamic resources could drive all kinds of public services and amenities – from law enforcement to notifying you when the outdoor gym in your local park is out of order.
Active Travel has already caught the attention of the Department for Transport, which has a large investment plan to roll out the concept across England. And it’s easy to see why: smart community platforms – enabled by location technologies and data, based on Open Standards – provide a powerful model for how we can build back better.
As with the Wiki based map, OpenStreetMap, it is time for the local central UK government to empower the local citizen and use their local knowledge a lot more efficiently.