Future Cities Catapult has recommended a range of solutions that could help Dubai become the happiest and smartest city in the world, including a digital dashboard to help residents make better use of city data.
Dubai’s His Highness Sheikh Mohammed wants the city to become the happiest and smartest place in the world. Future Cities Catapult is helping the city achieve its goals with the help of a network of companies and academics across the UK and years of experience in supporting urban ecosystems that nourish entrepreneurship and innovation. With the help of Future Cities Catapult, the ‘smart and sustainable city’ goals of its Strategic Plan 2021 have now been moved into the fast lane, aided by a set of practical policy and technology proposals and a human-centric, design-led approach.
One of the first visible outcomes of the involvement by Future Cities Catapult, a UK Government-backed global centre of excellence in urban innovation, is the creation of a new government department Smart Dubai Office. As Dubai implements its strategy, the Catapult’s Smart District Guidelines provide a framework for districts to use to pilot the Smart City initiatives proposed.
The city needed a neutral convener to help them define the important questions and structure an actionable plan. The Catapult responded with over 60 actions that the city authorities could take to help it become smarter, many of which have already been implemented. Future Cities Catapult involved a number of leading UK firms and academics in the process, including Oxford and Imperial Universities, CS Transform, Spacehive and Open Play. The Catapult’s suggestions have been incorporated into the city’s Smart Dubai Roadmap, which outlines more than 500 current and planned smart services and initiatives by strategic partners.
People and technology
The Executive Office of Dubai recognised it had been working from a technology-first perspective, primarily informed by their engagement with leading vendors. They responded to the Catapult’s human-centric, design-led approach. The Catapult’s strategy review enabled them to understand the city as a set of experiences for people.
Launching the initiative, Major-General Rashid Thani Al Matrooshi, Director-General of Dubai Civil Defence, said: “Dubai’s Smart City initiatives are not merely about automation, they are about connecting people to their needs.”
Future Cities Catapult incorporated the perspectives of very different but defined personas – such as business travelers, Emirate start-ups and government director generals – and how they each experience the city. This gave rich human insights into the everyday challenges that these people face. Using Future Cities Catapult’s market and tech-scanning capabilities, the project also produced an innovation roadmap. Together this provided a shared vision, clarity and confidence for a diverse set of city stakeholders, both public and private, to come together to do things that were impossible to do independently from each other.
The Catapult prototyped digital tools – such as a citizen dashboard with new tailored services like registering a business or paying road tax. The intuitive interface, accessible by laptop, phone or tablet, should help residents make better use of city data. This ‘dashboard’ enables them to organise their lives better, and expats planning to move to Dubai can use the interface to find houses, explore health insurance options or secure school places for their children.
Smart people make happy citizens
Because science of happiness is still an emerging field with many methodological challenges including reverse causality – such as whether being married makes you happier or happier people get married, for example – keeping up-to-date with this science will require on-going management and development. Future Cities Catapult recommended that Dubai should raise awareness of the science of happiness amongst government entities and smart districts and set out happiness service design principles.
Dubai should also develop multiple ways of measuring happiness and wellbeing. One approach recommended by Future Cities Catapult would be to recruit a representative sample of Dubai residents to use a smartphone app to document their level of happiness on a daily basis. This can also be linked with geospatial information to understand other factors that may contribute to happiness.
For citizens and government entities to see the value in the happiness approach, there should be a clear rationale for the collection of happiness data and how it can be useful in improving services and life in Dubai, the Catapult says. As such, the happiness index data needs to be processed and used to inform continual improvement in the city and its services.
Ultimately, this project is helping Dubai to realise its long-term vision to “create happiness by embracing technology innovation, making Dubai the most efficient, seamless, safe and impactful experience for residents and visitors.”