As a technology category Smart Villages can be classified as ‘GovTech’, a sector for startups specializing in innovative new solutions for the needs of Government.
Public specializes in this field as an analyst and venture accelerator, describing in this report how it represents a £20 billion market in the UK alone.
It also comes under a banner of ‘CivTech’, meaning a focus on direct citizen-empowerment, and in Scotland the CivTech initiative is pioneering an innovation-centric procurement model that encourages public sector bodies to act as the sponsor of new ventures in this space.
Hyper-Local Digital Government
The challenge for this approach that Smart Villages is addressing is that Government focus and IT investment only goes as far as Local Government – It’s mainly concentrated around the ‘big IT’ needs, ie. Healthcare and national level programs and then the big cities and regional local authorities.
There is no significant tech program for small towns and villages and this is the market gap that Smart Villages addresses.
It can be described as “Hyper-Local Digital Government”, because it’s providing a CivTech service at the most local level of citizen interface – Most people don’t identify even with their local authority but instead with the small community they live in.
Government does recognize the need for it, this tweet from Richard Smith capturing the key design goal:
Can the Council help residents to work together to improve our neighbourhoods.
Smart Villages provides a platform purposely designed for exactly that goal.
— Richard Smith (@RichSmiths) June 10, 2019
Digital Neighbourhoods and Improvement Districts
Smart Villages provides the same core functionality, social networking communities at the level of local neighbourhoods, but where it is different is the depth of capability and engagement for each. Nextdoor wants to be massively wide but ‘shallow’, a Facebook for local communities that has little actual involvement in them.
In contrast Smart Villages are intended as a holistic digital enablement platform for them – Social networking is only the simple building block, atop this we’ll be adding a range of additional capabilities, from e-commerce through Destination Management digital tourism marketing modules.
It will also be rolled out with an intimate, hands on support program – No one from Nextdoor will ever turn up at any of the communities, whereas we will dedicate resources to each, ideally recruited from them, to help with needs such as digital skills training and small business e-commerce planning and marketing.
At a Scottish Government policy level, Smart Villages are an ideal catalyst and accelerator of ‘Digital Improvement Districts‘.