Trevor Boehm: Three Simple Questions to Start a Movement Toward Smart Cities

Smart cities are about people, and they take collaboration between a number of diverse groups and individuals in order to get off the ground. As you take on the challenge of transforming your city, here are three simple questions you can use to align stakeholders toward a compelling vision. You can practice these almost anywhere: with a steering committee, at a town-hall meeting, or just around your dinner table. Not everyone needs to be “true believers” in smart cities either; all you need from each person is an openness to utilizing technology to make your city better. 

“Take me back to a moment when you realized technology had the power to make cities better places to live. What happened?”

Storytelling cultivates empathy and an experience of feeling heard, each of which increases the community’s ability to come together and work creatively and collaboratively on challenging issues.

It is usually best to have the group organized in a circle when you ask this question. The process is simple: State the question, give people a minute or two to collect their thoughts, then, move around the circle sharing one person at a time without interrupting or giving commentary.

 “What do all of these stories have in common?”

Your next question guides the group toward a process of synthesis and sense-making. By asking what each story has in common, you emphasize the points of connection between each person’s experience. You also begin the process of deconstructing the elements that went into your own journey of understanding the power of smart cities so you can replicate those elements in the future.

This question can be answered in a circle again, moving person to person, or you may choose to let people share as they feel comfortable. Have each person write down their thoughts on a piece of paper or a sticky note before they share, so you can be sure to capture each person’s individual insight. 

“What would it take make more experiences like this happen in our city?”

The third question shifts the group toward the possibility of action. Rather than asking, “Can we...”, which can bog the group down in unknowns, or “What should we do to…”, which prematurely pushes the group toward a singular direction, we ask the open and disarming question, “What would it take?” Using our individual stories and their commonalities as the material for our learning and ideas, we can be confident that our ideas are worth trying because they have already worked for us.

As with the last question, it’s most helpful to have each person capture their thoughts on paper before everyone shares to make sure you get the diversity of each person’s insights.

Building a Smart City Movement

As more and more people become aware of their own experiences witnessing the power technology to make our cities better places to live, a groundswell of support will start to develop toward initiatives that can make that potential a reality. Armed with the empathy and shared understanding that comes from telling our own stories, we will also grow in our capacity to navigate our differences and the difficulties that arise in the complex and iterative work of implementing technological solutions. 

  Trevor Boehm  is a founding partner of Assemble, a collaboration design firm. Assemble partners with organizations and small teams to uncover the latent wisdom within their people and enable them to do their best work. You can learn more at  howweassemble.com

Trevor Boehm is a founding partner of Assemble, a collaboration design firm. Assemble partners with organizations and small teams to uncover the latent wisdom within their people and enable them to do their best work. You can learn more at howweassemble.com