Innovation and technology are often presented as inextricably linked ideas. Yet, when it comes to solving today’s urban problems, technology does not always represent the best way forward.
Innovation instead should come from a thorough understanding of the city’s functions and processes, including its municipal government and other local organizations. Technology can help, yes, but cannot be used as a panacea.
New technologies can certainly be invaluable as tools for collecting and analyzing data, but to avoid an overwhelming amount of decontextualized information, first, you need to ask the right questions. Determining those questions is a task better performed by humans with a practical understanding of the city, urban policy, and program evaluation. Technology can generate grand expectations and make big promises that the reality of municipal governments can’t live up to without more personalized interventions.
Research is a vital piece of the puzzle when working within city governments. Information gaps and discrepancies are common and departments may not readily recognize which of their daily processes are most important. Taking the time to research and understand the root causes of a city’s problems helps ensure that solutions are based on evidence and demonstrated need. Once you’re sure that you’re asking the right questions, then you can determine whether technology is part of the answer.