The field will shift from having lone 'technologists' at organizations to everyone having a base level of knowledge and awareness of technology, so that all staff members can be on the lookout for opportunities."
What is it?
Tech Savvy Planning is an approach to technology in cities that involves three aspects. First, as the newest type of urban infrastructure with a large amount of complexity, it is deserving of its own focused work and strategy. Technology is not an afterthought or something used to solve problems intermittently. Second, there are a variety of technology types in cities that need to be considered in their own right and integrated for a holistic approach. More details are provided in How to Focus, Categorize, and Integrate Your Urban Technology. These days, many technology products generate their own data that is not only useful for one purpose, but many. In addition, some technology products have features and functions that are useful for both primary and secondary purposes. One example in the transit space is leveraging automatic vehicle location (AVL) data for fleet management (i.e., real time data on the location of vehicles to estimate on time arrivals) for public-facing real time transit data apps, such as One Bus Away. Agencies need the AVL data for operational purposes, but they can plug that data into public-facing apps to provide public information as well.
Third, technology in cities should actually improve the quality of life and basic city services. It can be easy to get distracted with the latest and greatest, but particularly where technology is concerned, it is critical to have clarity on the “why.” Some level of piloting and experimentation is always useful to test assumptions about what technology might be able to help vs. what it is actually able to help. You don’t need to know all the details right at the beginning, and it can be an iterative learning process. Nonetheless, the bottom line is that with cities, taxpayer funds tend to be involved, and that raises the stakes for ensuring effectiveness. With so many challenges in our cities, there needs to be clear documentation as to why the technology in place is worth the cost vs. using the funds for other pressing needs. There is a level of financial accountability that is front and center when working on urban improvements of any type. More details are provided in How to Evaluate Technology According to Potential Impact.
After working in transportation technology with Atlanta Regional Commission 2012-2016 and after serving as the Smart Cities Program Manager with the City of Atlanta 2016-2017, I’ve been in a position to observe how challenging this space can be and thinking of ways to make it better. More about my smart cities, transportation, and data-driven decision making work is here.
For whom is it?
Tech Savvy Planning presents technology in a way that can be understood by most any urban planning and management professional. In fact, that is key these days. The field will shift from having lone “technologists” at organizations to everyone having a base level of knowledge and awareness of technology, so that all staff members can be on the lookout for opportunities. Particularly since the field has so many specialists in niche areas of planning, they are the ones who know their sub-area or niche the best, and thus, are best positioned to apply effective technology to it. Expecting a technologist to understand every in and out of an organization is not feasible, but coupled with a broader staff understanding, can be a great strategy.
How is it useful?
Tech Savvy Planning communicates technology in plain terms, which means a special vocabulary is not required. There should be no translation aspect. Urban planning and management professionals know their field and work, so understanding how to apply technology is simply the next step for many.
Technology for cities currently can be, frankly, overwhelming and confusing. First, there is the issue of everything changing so quickly. It can feel like there is no solid object around when trying to make decisions about technology. Second, there is the issue of ambiguity and future unknowns. Sure, you can procure something today for this and next year well enough, but what about the year after that? Anything can happen by then, and yet, the hope is that the technology will last for four years. These are tough situations everyone in the field is navigating now. There are rarely clear answers, but there are strategic planning techniques that can be applied. More details are provided in How to Apply Strategic Planning Techniques to Manage Future Technology Unknowns. Third, there are few models and guides for how to navigate this process as an urban planning and management professional. Often such professionals are faced with a multitude of vendors presenting various products. Without a driving logic and vision of what the technology should do to focus these conversations, they can become a free for all. The mind may take in all the opportunities, but it does not have a framework for evaluating them or placing them in context with the greater “why” – why is this important and not that? Why are we focused on solving this problem and not that one?
Urban planning and management is a field where decision-making is core to most activities. There are so many challenges facing our cities, it is a constant battle in the mind and in reality to pick the best one. The truth is, we can’t improve everything, at least not at the same time. There are staff and budget limitations as well as bandwidth limitations. Tech Savvy Planning will help you and your organization have clarity that the decisions you are making are the best given current information and circumstances.
What are the articles in the series?