What drives Adelaide’s ‘designed for life’ goal? Innovation.
The innovative City of Adelaide remains open to new ideas and opportunities to help drive city initiatives when it comes to engaging their residents and improving service delivery. A true innovative city ‘designed for life.’
Adelaide is the capital city of South Australia and boasts a population of around 1.3 million and growing. With attractions from sporting events to fine foods and wine, coupled with the moderate mediterranean climate and the city’s attention to lush green spaces throughout, Adelaide has remained committed to the vision of being the world’s most livable city.
In recent years, attention has been placed on Adelaides ‘Smart City’ journey and the city has taken a unique and ambitious approach to market themselves as such. Through their interactive and modern website, you can search a directory of smart city initiatives across the city - everything from city-wide fiber to road-cooling methods in summer.
Clayton Wehner, Manager, Marketing Strategy and Innovation for the City of Adelaide oversees all digital customer interfaces, including the city’s websites, social media and other online systems, which represent their most popular customer interfaces with usage growing rapidly thanks to Adelaide’s focus on digital and accessible tools. Wehner shares the importance of digital transformation efforts and more technology forward ways of engaging the community. He says:
“Digital technology has improved phenomenally in the past 10 years, and customer’s expectations have grown with it. Customers expect to be able to transact online at the time of their choosing and on whatever device they desire, they expect all of their online experiences to be tailored to their unique requirements, and they expect all interactions to be entirely seamless and frictionless.”
To that end, Adelaide has been working on various projects to creatively leverage resources at relatively low cost to engage the public.
Low cost chatbot deployment to engage citizens on-demand
Underway is their work with local startup, Hopstay, to develop a municipal chatbot to automate much of the customer experience when reaching out to the city for help. With the shift toward automated services thanks to machine learning and artificial intelligence, more and more innovative local governments are experimenting with chat-based technology to improve on-demand service delivery.
But even the most innovative, citizen-centric local authorities aren't coming up with these ideas on their own. Wehner says:
“We were rebuilding our website, and we were looking for a number of ‘bells and whistles’ to give it a wow factor. Around about that time, we were approached by a small Adelaide startup firm called Hopstay who were in the business of building chatbots for tourism organisations.[...]
We thought that the chatbot was a worthy experiment, and we basically worked together with Hopstay to co-design a citizen-services chatbot for the council from the ground up.”
Adelaide’s story is not unique - smart emerging govtechs are approaching their local governments regularly to engage in pilots, with offers to custom build a solution based on feedback. This can be an effective approach for businesses without in-house local government expertise, can help establish proof of concept, and build meaningful functionality to strengthen their product or service.
For Adelaide, this was a win win. An eager startup (often much more nimble than established vendors and governments) has gone all-in on developing this product to Adelaide’s specifications. As a result, it has become more enticing for other councils and enabled Hopstay to grow their business by leveraging their work preliminary with Adelaide.
While there are risks associated with deployment of especially citizen facing tools developed by less established companies, the initial outlay for Adelaide was minimal - just a few hours of feedback with the product team here and there. Now that Adelaide is realizing the efficiency gains and cost savings associated with this new service, and after having successfully rolled out to their community, convincing stakeholders to pony up to maintain this digital tool should be a non-issue.
Non-government tools to engage the public on their terms
Once again, Adelaide found themselves in a fortuitous situation when hosting a work experience student for four weeks by the name of Jonathon. It turned out Jonathon was a very passionate Minecraft gamer which presented an opportunity.
The city partnered Jonathan with their internal GIS specialist to experiment with the concept of building an Adelaide ‘world’ in Minecraft. Turns out, their GIS guy was also a bit of a Minecraft geek and after four weeks of collaboration, together they produced a replica of the city in Minecraft.
Adelaide released ‘Adelaide 2021’ world in early March 2020 and marketed it as something for kids to do during COVID lockdown. The technology presents some interesting possibilities around engagement, city planning and visualization tools that have not before been widely leveraged in a local government context. But with 126 million monthly active users, and as governments grapple with how to engage their communities, perhaps it’s time to look toward a proven tool as a way to diversity engagement efforts.
The importance of culture in innovation
While not all innovative projects in Adelaide were this happenstance, it goes to show the importance of remaining open minded to new opportunities and to remain flexible as an organization to adapt to changing technologies and to focus on leveraging available skill sets to promote innovation in creative ways.
This ‘spontaneous innovation’ is something that needs to be embraced by local governments as we forge ahead in a very tech-centric and fast paced world with evolving citizen needs and desires. A culture of innovation which fosters new ideas, allows for acceptable risk and enables local government to take advantage of opportunities presented is critical -- and a core component of the City of Adelaide’s work toward their vision to be the world’s most liveable city.