Don’t forget the humans

At yesterday’s VentureFest in Bristol there was much to learn about how digital technology is improving peoples’ lives and how it will help in the future.

The event was the culmination of a series of workshops, seminars and projects held over the year to look at how smart cities can develop. Smart cities being those that use technology to enable connections with people, places and experiences, creating a vibrant, inclusive, resilient and inclusive economy.

Technological development is moving at a fast pace and it’s difficult to predict where we will be in two years time, let alone in five. While it was interesting and useful to find out about how different technologies are being used today in cities around the world I did find there was a lack of conversation about the people. As a thought leadership conference there were a lot of high-level discussions and plenty of examples of actual doing, rather than just talking about it which is often prevalent at this types of events. But where was all the detail about working with the people who need to use the technology to make the process work effectively?

As a professional involved in behaviour change and engagement it is important not to forget the human element in all of this. There are two arguments here. One, just get on with it provide a solution and people will use it anyhow if it is useful enough. A ‘build it and they will come’ scenario. It worked with Apple – none of us knew we needed a tablet, after all. Or secondly, talk to the people, gather information to identify the real problems they are facing and work with them to provide a suitable solution.

cartoon group of stick figures

Isn’t it better to engage with people to find out what the real problems are?

Photo credit: Chachas – Free Stock Images

I can see the benefits of both arguments. In some cases you are not going to persuade everyone to change the way they behave. Better to provide a solution that works, is easy to use and provides economic, environmental and social benefits. But working with people can create better engagement and inclusion.

A prime example is the current debate over recycling and how to encourage people to recycle properly. There’s no denying the progress that has been made in the UK since the turn of the century but surveys are still being published detailing the sense of confusion of what to put into the recycling bin and what not to. The latest report, by Viridor, highlights peoples’ desire for more guidance on how to segregate their materials and understanding about what happens to the resources once they have been collected from the doorstep.

It’s interesting to see within this survey the public is willing to change their habits, to use refillable packaging, if only they could find somewhere to do so, and would be happy to pay to use a Deposit Return Scheme, a concept that has finally caught the imagination within Whitehall.

This report yet again demonstrates the need for creative engagement to get the message across. Let’s take advantage of this willingness to learn, this eagerness to adopt new ways of purchasing products. As an industry there is still a way to go, particularly as we’re facing a future of limited resources with an ever-growing population. On limited budgets this could be difficult but investing money into this now will be less costly than the alternative.

All this technological development is great but will be meaningless if you can’t get the humans to use it.



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