Re-energising citizen engagement


Could smart cities and social media be the perfect match?

Politics is a divisive issue and not simply from a philosophical standpoint. Different sections of society have very different engagement levels. We could postulate many reasons for this, but the real question is, how can government re-energise citizen engagement in public and political life?

We think one answer lies in creating a meaningful dialogue between government and the people. However, such engagement will only come when citizens are fired up by something that they feel deeply passionate about. What better than the place they inhabit? Many central and local governments across Europe and around the world are beginning to develop their smart cities strategies, with many already implementing key components, such as transport and energy systems.

Smart cities spur engagement

Radically altering the physical environment in this way warrants buy-in from all affected parties, including local residents, businesses, social groups, environmental activists, and providers of public amenities and services. A smart cities project creates a dynamic and heated political environment because it’s vital that voices from all walks of life and business are not only heard but also have input.

This simple act of two-way communication will substantially help to foster engagement and trust. On a mass scale, how can so many opinions, needs and wants be gathered and analysed? How can these views be used to develop policy and decisions, forecast demand for infrastructure, predict costs and evaluate project risks?

Social media analytics for the public sector

We’re seeing multiple uses of social media analytics in the private sector. For example, organizations are gathering input for product development cycles from ardent brand fans and collecting social media sentiment from customers about customer service.

This is not an entirely new concept in the public sector either. In 2012, the Icelandic government used social media analytics in its policy development life cycle, using Facebook to crowdsource certain specifications for its new constitution. Around the same time, Ghana and Tanzania also used social media platforms to gather feedback on their constitutions.

Reaching out to the public with the promise of being heard requires considerable planning. Should it not be successful, you risk alienating an already apathetic audience. You must consider a great many factors, and we at SAS are happy to walk you through them. But in the meantime, consider our top three.

1. Capacity

Carefully plan capacity. Ensure you have enough for the volume of digital engagement that will come from opening up social media channels to mass two-way dialogue. While this is an infrastructure consideration, it is also a human resource challenge. You must have skilled people managing communications. Delays in responses and distribution of draft policies will rapidly dent engagement levels.

2. Accessibility for all

Not all social media platforms are equal – or rather, they are not all used by the same cohort of the population. Clearly, different tools are favoured by different demographics. And your outreach plan must adequately represent all of them. In addition, there will always be citizens and organisations who prefer traditional channels, such as paper or email. You must consider how you are going to combine analyses of these individuals’ sentiments with the output from social media channels.

3. Fit-for-purpose analytics

You must assess the scalability, security and statistical robustness of your analytical platform. Can it run analytics at the edge, in real time? Does it easily enable the creation of scenario modelling – something that will be essential when deploying social media sentiment analysis in a smart city programme? Can it manage and prepare multiple sources and types of data for the analytical process with minimum time, effort and cost?

Can your analytics platform run analytics at the edge, in real time? Does it easily enable the creation of scenario modelling that will be essential when deploying social media sentiment analysis in a smart city programme? Click To Tweet

Finally, running complex citizen engagement programmes such as these requires advanced analytical capabilities and expertise, at least in your first forays. SAS has 40 years of experience in the field of artificial intelligence – more specifically, machine learning – that this kind of social media analysis inhabits. And we have a great deal of practical experience that we are happy to share.

Not ready for smart cities?

Of course, there is no reason why your citizen engagement strategy should begin with a smart city consultation. We simply recognise that most citizens are profoundly attached to and energised by the subject of place. You could just as powerfully deploy your first programme to consult on any material changes to policy or the development of new public services. If you would like to explore the uses for this kind of advanced analytics, or any another, please do get in touch with us for an exploratory discussion.

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This blog was written by SAS UK&I and it was first published on Public Sector Executive. For further information please contact


About Author

Mayra Pedraza

Associate Briefing Program Specialist, Marketing Executive

Mayra is a Marketing Specialist for the Academic Programme at SAS UK, she develops the brand awareness across the whole UK & Ireland student community. She joined SAS in January 2016 as an intern. Mayra manages the UK Academic social media platforms to share ideas and support other SAS users, she also creates events and sessions which contribute to engage more students into the analytics world.

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