Social smarts guiding international tech take-up

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On paper, smart technology would appear capable of supporting and enhancing virtually every aspect of urban life. But in real world applications, of course, technological capability is no guarantee of success.

In every aspiring Smart City across the globe, numerous and infinitely variable socio-cultural and politico-economic factors can exert enormous influence over the resident population’s ability and/or willingness to access any introduced technology’s benefits.

The answer lies in developing a deep understanding of these human factors to inform site-appropriate planning and implementation of smart technology initiatives; and in many parts of the world, the University of Adelaide is helping local authorities make it happen.

The University’s Hugo Centre for Migration and Population Research, part of the School of Social Science, is excited about the potential in this space. For example, in recent years the centre has pioneered the use of geographical information systems (GIS) in social research, and particularly their integration with other diverse location-based datasets, enabling valuable spatial analysis for better Smart City decision-making.

According to Georgina Drew, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology and Development Studies, there are also applications for the centre’s work in India and Nepal where she is leading research into the effectiveness of urban water harvesting—a method of catching rainwater where it falls for storage in tanks, catchment ponds or underground reservoirs.

“We decided to focus our efforts on the South Asian region because while there is a high rainfall in countries like India and Nepal, fresh and clean water is in short supply,” says Dr Drew.

“We want to better understand how the locals currently utilise rainwater and test the effectiveness of their urban water harvesting technology, in the local communities.”

“This technology is often presented as a ‘silver bullet’ for a sustainable water supply. But in practice it’s mired by various socio-cultural, gendered and politico-economic complexities, which must be understood.”

Dr Drew’s team will produce a detailed analysis of the present beneficiaries of the cities’ rainwater harvesting, and assess the potential for expanding the technique’s equitable use across urban South Asia.

“We’ll also be creating policy guidelines for tailoring urban rainwater harvesting to the socio-cultural and politico-economic conditions in which it’s implemented,” she says.

“The research is ongoing, but our preliminary findings indicate urban rainwater harvesting in these cities is not adequately addressing the water equity equation—even in places where it’s improving the efficiency of urban water management.

“This is of grave concern, because urban South Asia already suffers extreme levels of water access inequity. It’s a huge challenge for Smart City planning.”

The project is expected to lead to follow-on studies of collaborative and sharing water economies, and contribute to culturally and politically appropriate water policies throughout the region.

Related links:
Smart cities
Hugo Centre for Migration and Population Research
Dr Georgina Drew profile