ENGAGING PEOPLE FOR INCLUSIVE CITIES

  • Project Involve
Context

  How do citizens participate in today’s most ambitious urban planning exercise? How do people see their futures in India’s rapidly urbanising landscape? How do we ensure that the urban development processes unite the futuristic India and Bharat at the same time? The India Smart Cities Mission is a unique urban renewal and retrofitting mission which incorporated the aspirations of citizens through participatory planning in its challenge stage. It is equally important to ensure that citizens’ inputs are carefully recorded and appropriately reflected in the choice of projects selected for cities, and that such projects can be used by citizens across social and economic strata.  Citizen engagement and inputs have only been sought in the preliminary phase of the project cycle, without confirming whether such projects are useful or relevant to the citizens themselves. Thus, there may be a risk that the efforts put into creating Smart Cities may not even reach their ultimate users and consumers - the citizens.  Project Involve is an initiative of four India Smart Cities Fellows (2019 cohort) to help city officials stay grounded with the needs of their citizens, and propose dynamic solutions to  improve the usability of citizen-friendly projects across cities in India. It seeks to mainstream citizen engagement at all stages of the project cycle.  

Problem Statement

Citizen usage of smart cities projects; as well as engagement processes employed so far in planning, an implementation need to be critically analyzed in order to institutionalize participatory practices for creating inclusive smart cities. Despite the existence of multiple channels of communication between citizens and civic officials, sustained and meaningful engagement beyond grievance redressal is low. How can we promote meaningful and sustainable channels of engagement between citizens and their local governments?

Objective

To review citizen participation in the stages of planning, implementation, and usage of projects under  Smart City Mission (SCM), thereby proposing inclusive frameworks for cities.Within this umbrella, the specific objectives have been identified as: 1. Assess the extent, quality and modes of citizen engagement in the SCM2. Promote sustainable and inclusive citizen engagement processes in cities3. Analyse and visualise usage patterns of functional projects to feed inputs into a framework for inclusive city projects

Project Developement

 The project followed a four-stage methodology, comprising of the following stages:

  1. Problem Identification,
  2. City-level Diagnostics in the Pilot City,
  3. Pilot Intervention Design and Implementation, and
  4. Monitoring and Evaluation.

 In stage one, the issue of interest was identified as the unique component of ‘citizen engagement’, accorded a 15% score weight in the Smart City Proposal Stage. Stage 1 was primarily aimed at critically analysing the citizen engagement processes employed in planning, implementation, and utilization of urban infrastructure projects and services in the Smart Cities Mission in order to identify a well-defined problem. This was done through a review of all the Smart City Proposals, consultation with experts involved with the mission as well as with urban planning, as well as a review of existing literature on citizen engagement. Once the problem had been identified through a secondary review, stage two of the project was all about immersing in the primary study in the nitty-gritty of the field in the Project/Pilot City. After extensive consultations, Chandigarh was selected as the Pilot City for the Project.  Stage two primarily involved identification of relevant stakeholders among citizens and local government, and multi-stakeholder consultation at the city level in order to take stock of the presently existing engagement channels between the two sets of stakeholders. Once these channels were identified, a thorough SWOT analysis was carried out on them in order to map the strengths and weaknesses in the present citizen engagement scenario, as well as opportunities for improvement and innovation and ways of mitigating any threats that may arise in innovating on citizen engagement at the city level.After SWOT analysis at the city level, the third stage involved designing pilot strategies as viable interventions in citizen engagement in the pilot city. The following factors were kept in mind while designing the pilot interventions:

  1. The pilot interventions on citizen engagement must address real problems of citizens and government officials as identified in the previous stage.
  2. They must be contextually appropriate and viable for the city to fund and implement given its priorities, budget, and manpower.
  3. They must be scalable to other cities.

 Finally, the fourth stage involved monitoring the evaluation. Each pilot strategy carried out in the previous stage had an in-built feedback component for the participants from among both sets of stakeholders (local government and citizens). The feedback gathered from the stakeholders as part of the monitoring process and was evaluated in order to assess the successes and challenges of the project and opportunities for scaling up to other cities through the Advisory Toolkit. The following infographic summarizes the Project Methodology in four stages:Team Involve has visited Chandigarh (pilot city) six times in total for developing and executing the project. As mentioned earlier, in the methodology section, the use cases or modules have been built through reviewing on ground existing best practices in India and other literature. A citizen engagement ladder has been built by the team, showing seven categories of strategies.  

Expected Outcomes

Build inclusive cities by fostering meaningful and sustainable local government and citizen partnerships

Actual Result

 Engaging People for Inclusive Cities (EPIC) is an initiative to help city officials stay grounded with respect to their citizens’ needs and aspirations; and propose dynamic solutions to improve the usability of citizen-friendly projects across cities in India. It seeks to mainstream citizen engagement at all stages of the project cycle and provides a thoroughly tested implementation plan, budget and operation, organisational fit, human capacity map, and best practices that are relevant to city context. EPIC can be used by stakeholders such as government officials, regional development authorities, elected officials and other agencies. The Advisory component of the toolkit allows a user to filter the content by city, or by project life cycle stage, or engagement activity as required. Next, there is an exhaustive Resource repository where tools (survey, stakeholder identification, M&E forms among others) can be found. The Datahub section houses simple demographic data for 100 Smart Cities. It incorporates data from the Census of India, NSSO, District Census Handbooks, World Bank, OECD and other sources to make a ready-to-use dynamic resource while meeting global benchmarks for citizen consultations. EPIC also houses an audit which public officials may use to gauge their preparedness for participatory activities called the City Index.   EPIC was created through an intense effort of data integration from various sources, and consultations with Smart City officials, as well as over 30 start-ups, civil society organisations, think tanks and citizens groups. The tools suggested in this kit were implemented during a pilot conducted in Chandigarh through 14 different activities and public engagement exercises. EPIC is a dynamic tool that demonstrates the potential that citizen engagement presents in building inclusive cities by fostering meaningful and sustainable local government and citizen partnerships.

Conclusion

 The India Smart Cities Mission is a unique urban renewal and retrofitting mission which tapped into citizens’ aspirations of participatory planning in its challenge stage. It is equally important to ensure that citizens’ inputs are carefully recorded and appropriately reflected in the choice of projects selected for cities, and that such projects can be used by citizens across social and economic strata. Citizen engagement and inputs have only been sought in the preliminary phase of the project cycle, without confirming whether such projects are useful or relevant to the citizens themselves. Thus, there may be a risk that the efforts put into creating Smart Cities may not even reach their ultimate users and consumers - the citizens. In order to mitigate such risks, it is important to institutionalize citizen engagement processes that close the feedback loop.Combining the inputs, demands and grievances from local civic associations with secondary and primary data collected during this project, use cases, as well as national and global benchmarks, the platform will generate targeted advisory for city officials on contextually relevant, appropriate, and feasible strategies for engaging citizens on both an ad hoc basis as well as in a sustainable manner.Project Involve began as an initiative from the team (Mayank, Sreenandini, Nandini, and Gulshan) as an inquiry into how citizen's participation can be mainstreamed into the development process in a Smart City. Through this process, the team has had an opportunity to closely examine the working of Smart Cities, both at the Mission, as well as city levels. Along with a scrutiny of the Smart Cities Challenge Phase, the team has been able to enhance their understanding of processes at the city level – such as the process of project design, request for proposals, tenders, allotment, to project implementation. As part of the process, the team has been able to contribute to the citizen engagement platforms, ideas and processes at Chandigarh Smart City – an initiative that has greatly enriched the team’s experience of the Fellowship. Working at Chandigarh during the pilot phase, along with the rigorous data collection throughout the year made it possible for the team to compile a toolkit of data sources, best practices for citizen engagement as well as over two hundred individual strategies for 16 Indian Smart Cities. While this process has been truly engaging, what stands out is the participatory nature of cities, and the willingness of citizens to contribute to their communities and shared spaces. Smart Cities must take advantage of the fact that citizens are experts as residents of their cities, who can accurately contextualize their concerns and construct a hierarchy of needs that must be met for progressive urban development. Engaging People for Inclusive-Cities, the toolkit that arises from this year-long project is an effort to reflect this learning.   

Mentor
N/A
Reports
Project Report submitted at the end of initial project development period - Jan 2020

City
Chandigarh