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Start with people, not technology

Interview:
Usman Haque | Founder of Umbrellium
27 September 2017

Usman Haque is Founder of Umbrellium - collective of architects, designers, tactical urbanists and creative technologists based in London. Besides the Umbrellium collective (formerly Haque Design + Research), Usman is also Founder of Internet of Things data infrastructure and community platform Pachube.com, (acquired by LogMeIn Inc in 2011, where he launched the Urban Projects Division). Trained as an architect, he has created responsive environments, interactive installations, digital interfaces and dozens of mass-participation initiatives in cities throughout the world. He has taught in the Interactive Architecture Workshop at the Bartlett School of Architecture, London and in 2008 received the Design of the Year Award (interactive) from the Design Museum.

Usman is the keynote speaker at the Empowering smart solutions for better cities conference, organised by the Smart Cities Information System and the European Commission on 2 &3 October 2017 in Budapest, Hungary. He will address the topic Engaging cities: designs for citizen participation.

 

How to empower the creation of smart solutions to make our cities better?

For me the most important thing is to start with people rather than technology, and in particular think about impact and how that's going to be evaluated, because otherwise you often find that the solution solves the wrong problems (or deals with symptoms rather than causes).

You have done a lot of work with Internet of Things (IoT), what do you see as its main benefit for cities and citizens?

The concept of IoT essentially includes a lot of different technologies and approaches so in itself doesn't offer any specific main benefit. But when systems are designed carefully they can enable people to be better connected to each other, and their environments/neighbourhoods/cities, and more able to make decisions together about how to act upon their environments/neighbourhoods/cities.

You have worked on numerous interactive and mass-participation projects, what is the most effective way to increase citizen engagement in urban initiatives?

In my experience, when people are involved directly in making decisions, when they have the capacity to act, and to take responsibility for decisions that they make, they are more invested in the outcomes, and so the best way to enhance engagement in urban initiatives is to get them actively involved in the core process of defining project goals (not just being part of an event at the end).