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Smart Dubai – What Does it Take to be the Happiest City on Earth?

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I am sure you have all seen the then and now photo of Dubai comparing what it was like in 1991 and 2017. The transformation has been like no other and all of this has happened in just 27 years. Pretty impressive.

The city has grown from what was essentially a dessert in 1990 into one of the most architecturally stunning cities on the planet. In 2014 Smart Dubai was launched with the aim of putting Dubai on the smart city map, in 2014 the city was sitting in #28 place on the city innovation index, the aim of the project is for “Dubai to become the innovation benchmark for smart cities seeking global sustainability and competitiveness.”

They have taken a very different approach to many other cities and it is this strategy that is of real interest to us here at Cities Digest. Smart Dubai will not be focussing only on technology, but are aiming to make Dubai the happiest city in the world. It is the happiness of citizens that will be used to judge the success of the Smart Dubai project.

Ahead of her keynote presentation at Smart Cities Live in London on 12th September I was lucky enough to catch a few minutes with the Director General of Smart Dubai, Dr. Aisha Bin Bishr.

What made Smart Dubai put happiness at the core of your strategy?

“Following the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, Smart Dubai’s aim is to make Dubai the happiest city on Earth – contrary to a typical smart city development strategy of being the most technologically advanced city in the world. Using technology as an enabler, we are providing the city with the right tools and policies that will help make life better and happier for all of the city’s residents and visitors. We are working diligently with our partners across the city to prepare the foundation for a sustainable smart city transformation that prioritises people’s happiness in everything we do, and will become a benchmark to smart city transformation for the emerging world.”

I’m interested to know more about how you feel blockchain will impact the services delivered by cities?

“Smart Dubai and the Dubai Future Foundation are leading the Dubai Blockchain Strategy to unlock the power of blockchain to help our city achieve its goals.

The Dubai Blockchain Strategy is formed on three pillars:

Paperless Government – We aim to make Dubai a paperless government. By 2020, we aim to achieve 100% government participation on the blockchain — saving the city 25 million productive hours each year, and over 115 Metric Tons of carbon emissions, just on paper processing alone.

Industry Creation – In the near future, we hope to create a whole new blockchain powered industry, where 1000’s of new businesses are formed operating on the blockchain network.

International Leadership – In the next 3 years, just in time for the Expo 2020, we will also be creating an international blockchain platform through which tourists from partner nations can enjoy seamless entry and experiences within Dubai.

Dubai will be the first city to lead an implementation of Blockchain technology that will go beyond financial transactions, increasing government efficiency; driving industry creation; and sharing blockchain with the world.”

Have you implemented any of these in Smart Dubai? If yes, then some examples would be great.

“We have not implemented any blockchain services in Dubai yet, however our team has been successful at several pilot projects across various industries and we are working on implementing these projects citywide.”

Which project has been the most successful in creating happiness in citizens?

“In May 2016, we announced the Happiness Agenda to guide our city to prioritise happiness in its smart transformation, through a globally unique, science-based and methodical approach to enabling leadership and individuals to achieve maximum happiness impact in everything they do. Through the Happiness Agenda, the Smart Dubai Office is leading the effort to discover, change, educate and measure people’s happiness in the city.

In order to become the happiest city, we knew that we would need a way to listen to everyone in the city, and understand their current levels of happiness with city services. Only with this data, would we then be able to introduce new programs to increase happiness across the city and achieve our vision.

With this in mind, we developed a prototype in October 2014, to capture customer satisfaction levels at every city interaction touchpoint and we called it the Happiness Meter. The Happiness Meter is now available for both public and private sector entities and on all digital customer interaction channels: with web-based widgets, mobile application plug-ins, and tablets installed at customer services centres and other interaction touchpoints. Data collected from Happiness Meters power an analytics dashboard to track happiness levels across the city in real-time. We call this the Happiness Index.

Already, the Smart Dubai Happiness Meter has been adopted at over 1,000 customer touchpoints in the public and private sector; has recorded more than 6 million votes and is reporting a real-time happiness index of 90% for city services. We are now working on initiatives that will analyse the residents’ emotions and sentiments as well. Our goal is to increase Dubai’s happiness index level to 95% by 2021.”

Every city fails in projects as much as it succeeds, how do you deal with failure in your organisation?

“I would not say we have faced failure, but yes there have been several challenges to getting where we are currently.

People do not easily embrace change. When the internet was launched, it revolutionised the way the world interacted with each other and conducted business. Blockchain, for instance, will do the same for transactions, but getting people to get used to the new way of life and adapting blockchain and other new technologies in their everyday life will take some time.

Additionally, another challenge we had initially faced was getting entities to work together on the same platform, when they have been used to working independently. But thanks to Smart Dubai’s efforts over the past 3 years this mindset is changing, and we are seeing increased interest in collaboration across all sectors in the city.”

Some really interesting ideas here from Dr. Aisha Bin Bishr, this writer has never been lucky enough to visit Dubai, but based on this interview I think I will need to make plans to go in the near future – maybe in time for Expo 2020 when a lot of the Smart Dubai projects will be a few years into their implementation.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank Dr. Bin Bishr for her time and say that I am looking forward to hearing more about the project at Smart Cities Live in London on 12th September.