Helping local councils make their towns and cities smarter

01 July 2020

What if your buildings, benches, points of interest and landmarks could come to life and talk to you? This is exactly what’s happening in local councils around the world.

With the use of their phones, citizens can obtain vital information about a place by communicating with a city’s infrastructure. Residents are engaging with their local area’s spaces and objects in a meaningful, friendly way that encourages real interaction, information sharing, and signposting to other community services and offerings like museums, retail, and areas of cultural interest. At a time when local councils are working hard to reopen high streets and rejuvenate the visitor economy across all sectors, we are helping to make their cities and towns smarter.

Through friendly text chats to a variety of street objects, visitors and residents are interacting with points of interest, learning about their town’s history, providing feedback on local budgets proposals, and even public consultations. Hello Lamp Post is making this possible through a playful text-based SMS, WhatsApp, and messenger platform that empowers people to connect, engage and shape their town or city by talking to street objects. 

In Belfast's award-winning implementation of the system, the Maritime Mile quarter of the city has come to life. Visitors can now ‘chat’ with several historical sites including Titanic Belfast; HMS Caroline; SS Nomadic; The Great Light; and of course ‘The Big Fish’. Visitors can now have a self-propelled, self-curated experience of the area. Citizens and visitors can learn about the area’s stories, ask questions about the area and understand how they can help shape its future. It enables local authorities to connect instantly with citizens, and it empowers people to have a voice in local decision-making. Depending on their chat conversation, citizens have opportunities to provide feedback, inform planning applications, learn about public sentiment, and have a say in the urban planning future. Tourists can be signposted to other historic, cultural and retail areas of interest, which can provide a boost to the local economy. Insights drawn from visitor interactions have now allowed Belfast City Council improve visitor satisfaction, increase visitor engagement and develop attractions more attuned to specific interests and needs of individuals.

Southwark LBC used the system to generate a 40 percent increase in engagement compared to traditional methods for their public consultation on school street closures. By striking up playful conversations with the public, the council increased their engagement and consequently, increased the safety and wellbeing of its residents.

The City of Summerside in Canada is using the system to engage a younger generation to shape the city’s tax budget and found that 40 percent of residents feel that the City’s financial priorities are well intended and they have a strong trust that their taxes are being correctly allocated. The Economic Development Office is able to reach a demographic that usually doesn't respond to engagement surveys. These are the people they are trying to convince to make a life in their city. Instead of paper surveys from the same people and spending a fortune to do it, they are taking the conversation directly to the street.

As local authorities move to open up their visitor and local economies, it will be important to deploy digital tech for good solutions that engage people in a meaningful way. 

Tiernan Mines is CEO of Hello Lamp Post

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