Recap: Citizen Engagement for Smart City Innovation in Kansas City, MO during Techweek KC

Citizen engagement in the smart city conversation has never been more important

Today, the conversation about smart cities has developed a new mindset for individuals within urban areas. More than ever, citizens are concerned about technology advances, yet optimistic for opportunity, and cautious with data privacy, yet demand personalization and convenience. In some cities, citizens have mistakenly been significantly left out of the smart city conversation, causing exponential concerns and questions which only backfires on the city leaders.

Incorporating a bottoms-up design thinking approach to smart cities has never been more important. Allowing citizens to be the innovators for their own community has a multitude of benefits. When citizens get involved early (and everyone is a citizen, by the way), they can be the explorers and ideators for designing problem-focused solutions to help create efficient smart city innovation-driven initiatives.

Smart City Citizen Innovation Workshop in Kansas City

On October 8, 2018, Think Big partnered with Techweek KC to host a Smart City Citizen Innovation Workshop. This interactive, design thinking workshop was an opportunity for attendees to learn about the basics of design thinking and how we can apply it to Kansas City. Throughout the day, Think Big took attendees through a series of exercises that allowed them to understand the design thinking process, some smart city possibilities, then join in on a well-rounded explorer and ideator conversation in small groups.

smart city workshop Techweek KC

Herb Sih and the moderators kickoff the smart city workshop.

smart city citizen innovation workshop

The smart city citizen innovation workshop was held at Union Station.

The half-day workshop went something like this:

    • Welcome
    • State of the Smart City Industry
    • Education on Design Thinking and Smart Cities
    • Topics Presented by Herb Sih for Attendees to Vote on
        • Communities for all Ages
        • Digital Divide
        • Education
        • Energy
        • Environment
        • Government
        • Jobs
        • Public Safety
        • Parking
        • Privacy
        • Traffic
        • Transportation and Mobility
        • Water
    • Voted Selections made by Attendees
      • Education
      • Digital divide
    • Smart City Design Thinking – Module 1 (Citizen Explorer)
    • Smart City Design Thinking – Module 2 (Citizen Ideator)
  • Keynote: Scott Ingvoldstad, Executive Director, Panasonic CityNOW – Catalyst for Smart City Innovation
    Scott Ingvoldstad, Panasonic CityNOW

    Scott Ingvoldstad of Panasonic CityNOW addresses the audience.

  • Smart City Panel Discussion: Critical Considerations for Smart City Innovation:
      • Herb Sih, Think Big Partners
      • Adam Tank, Director of Smart Cities – North America, SUEZ
      • Bob Bowman, Attorney, Husch Blackwell
        SUEZ Husch Blackwell smart cities

        Adam Tank of SUEZ and Bob Bowman of Husch Blackwell talk smart cities.

    • Smart City Design Thinking – Module 3 (Industry Designer)
  • Presentation of Ideas, Insights and Opportunities
smart city KC techweek citizen engagement

A group of citizens meet in small groups to discuss smart city in KC.

Inclusion is challenging

Prior to the event, Think Big reached out to 85+ different organizations and groups throughout the Kansas City area such as citizens/citizen groups, regional entrepreneurs, innovators, technology and infrastructure companies, city officials, homeless shelters, social service organizations, Chambers of Commerce, minority groups, local entrepreneur support organizations, local media outlets, colleges and many more. Prior to the event we had 100+ sign ups and as many public events go, we had 55-60 individuals attend throughout the day. While it wasn’t as diverse as one might hope, the group that came, discussed their greatest challenges and thought of new ways that the city might help face those challenges through smart city-centric design thinking exercises, adding value to the existing smart city discussion.

design thinking smart city

Design Thinking Moderators: Eze Redwood, Lauren Conaway, Sarah Fustine and Hai Chen

The basics of design thinking  (citizen explorers & ideators)

During our Smart City Citizen Innovation Workshop, we opened up a conversation about how design thinking is a way to implement a more efficient, responsive, and sustainable city. The Explorer design thinking process is to identify/discover and define emerging and existing problems, such as communities for all ages, digital divide, education, energy, environment, government, jobs, public safety, etc. While the Ideator design thinking process is the ability to conceptualize novel solutions to well-defined problems.

small groups design thinking

Three small groups of citizens met to discuss education and digital divide.

Using design thinking to explore smart cities

After the presentation about design thinking and smart cities, attendees voted on subject matters that they viewed as important to discuss as a component of smart city in KC. The top two subjects selected were “education” and “digital divide”. The attendees broke into three groups and each went through the Explorer and Ideator design thinking process for both subjects.

smart city citizen engagement notes

A sample of the raw notes from the citizen group discussions.

Citizen innovators contribute to smart city problem identification  

Each group discussed challenges and solutions for improving education and decreasing digital divide.

Some highlights of the educational points mentioned among the three groups were:

    • Providing underserved populations access to technology (explorer) to create more online/mobile accessible learning (ideator) by exploring “MiFi” (take-home hotspot) device programs through schools (designer)
    • Education is becoming outdated (explorer) so we must make the learning more relevant to the students through project based-learning, problem based-learning, experiential learning, creative time/imaginative play and design thinking (ideator)
    • Teacher turnover is increasing due to lack of discipline where trauma is taking place and not being addressed (explorer), so providing counselling services in person and online might help decrease the turnover incidents (ideator)

Some examples of the digital divide points mentioned among the three groups were:

    • Connectivity is difficult for most individuals outside of urban areas (explorer), expanding the a city-offered wifi network to rural areas can increase an individual’s experience and opportunity (ideator)
    • Costs of internet access in the home are prohibitive (explorer) but by providing wifi as a city service (in residential areas or in public city facilities) it would lower costs (ideator)
    • The lack of technological skills can create a gap (explorer), so we should provide access to an educational platform for inclusion to help those who struggle with technology (ideator)

Since the raw notes from the breakout sessions can be valuable to understanding how each group’s design thinking process went and provide additional insight, we’ve posted them publicly. Thank you to all attendees and speakers who contributed to our Smart City Citizen Innovation Workshop at Techweek KC. Your impact is valuable to creating efficient smart city innovation-driven initiatives.


Smart city citizen engagement beyond Kansas City

Think Big has done numerous citizen engagement activities in a variety of ways in the last decade. More specifically, in the smart city space, we find that city leaders are asking for this more and more as the citizen voice becomes more prominent. It’s no secret that quality citizen engagement is not easy and there are ways to not do it. Think Big can help your city host a citizen engagement workshop to meet your goals. This Techweek KC model is just an example of what we can do. If you’re interested in learning more about what Think Big can do, please contact us on our website, by emailing or calling +1 (816) 842-5244. We look forward to hearing from you!

About Sarah Fustine

Sarah Fustine is a Partner at Think Big Partners and specializes in workspace advisory, smart city consulting, economic development and innovation districts.

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