Citizens As Stakeholders: Engaging Residents With Smart Rewards

April 16, 2018
using blockchain to empower citizens

Smart cities are characterized by data collection sensor networks connected to public services in order to increase quality and efficiency – and, in the process, citizen welfare. Those networks can take many forms, but there is one that is typically overlooked: the inhabitants themselves.

Nudge

While it’s in everyone’s collective interests to participate in maintaining the spaces in which they live, work and play, in practice, there is a limit to the degree to which people take the time and effort to do so. Put simply, it’s easy to consider a minor issue to be "someone else’s problem" and walk on by.

The relatively new field of behavioral economics – perhaps most famously explained in Thaler and Sunstein’s 2008 book, Nudge – shows that it doesn’t take much to incentivize desirable outcomes. It’s possible that rewards of relatively little value could be used to prompt civic-minded behavior, thereby actually saving cities time and money, and making them better places to live. Using a dedicated app, for example, citizens could report issues quickly and easily, logging them for further attention with the appropriate team and receiving a small reward for doing so. But how to deliver those thousands of little rewards efficiently?

Blockchain

It’s here that blockchain – the shared ledger technology that underpins the virtual currency bitcoin – comes into its own. Unlike the traditional financial system, blockchain is excellent at conducting "micropayments" quickly and cheaply, meaning that rewards can be delivered not only in real-time, but transparently and without any intermediaries to take a cut or impose unnecessary conditions or bureaucracy.

After the citizen makes their report – which would be automatically timestamped and geo-tagged – a set of blockchain-based instructions known as a smart contract would be created. Smart contracts are computer code that runs automatically, and again without any intermediary required. Once the issue is addressed by the relevant team and flagged as resolved, the smart contract executes and sends the individual their reward in the form of a blockchain token.

Empowering citizens

The promise of such a model is exactly what has prompted one company, Vizsafe, to integrate blockchain into their existing mobile reporting app. Vizsafe’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform is designed to improve safety and security in sports and entertainment venues, collecting, categorizing, displaying, mapping and distributing data from sensor networks and fixed camera networks, as well as individuals with mobile devices.

"Human beings have extraordinary sensory potential. So it stands to reason that the most powerful sensor network is an enabled, engaged and networked crowd," Co-founder and chairman of Vizsafe Claude Sheer explained.

Key to Vizsafe’s platform is an easy-to-use mobile application that anyone can download and use to flag issues of concern at participating venues – such as sports and entertainment stadiums. As an example, the company has already effectively deployed this platform in partnership with Gillette Stadium, home of the NFL’s New England Patriots and MLS’ New England Revolution, and a number of public safety and law enforcement agencies. The app can be used to send real-time images, videos and text reports to event managers and first responders about anything from a faulty vending machine or broken seat, to information concerning a major security threat. But it’s that concern to leverage the crowd – the ultimate sensor network – that encouraged Vizsafe to explore the promise of blockchain and build in their own native SPOT token as a reward currency that can also be used to pay for upgrades, concessions and other goods and services at the venues – creating a self-contained token economy and incentivizing a "Doing Well by Doing Good" approach among a venue’s visitors, staff and partners.

It’s not hard to see how such an approach could be extended across an entire city and its infrastructure – roads, street lights and almost anything else – encouraging citizens to participate in the maintenance of the environments and amenities they all enjoy.

Mike Lake is a Contributing Editor for Smart & Resilient Cities. He serves as the President and CEO of Leading Cities.

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