No Mayor is an island – they must listen to the views of their citizens. With the advent of smartphones and social media, this is becoming more important than ever. Citizens are quick to complain when something goes wrong.

These new tools – and the complaints themselves – have great advantages, however. Vivek Puthucode, Microsoft’s General Manager of Public Sector, Asia Pacific, explains to GI how city officials can use new technologies to create more inclusive, innovative governments.

Focus on inclusion

The best city governments are finding ways to include citizens in service delivery. Hackathons, for example, are a great way tap into the talent of a local developer community, Puthucode says. Jakarta’s annual HackJak has produced apps to tackle the city’s traffic congestion problem, he notes.

City complaints apps are also a promising area of development. Singapore’s OneService and Jakarta’s Qlue let citizens snap a photo of a broken light or pothole outside their home and send it directly to the government. They don’t have to worry about which agency to report to – this is hidden in the backend, with reports getting directed to the right agency.

Qlue and One Service

But citizens may not always use the official channel to complain, and are likely to turn to social media. This is valuable data that cities must make use of. “Cities can understand traffic issues just by listening to what people say. They normally complain about running late everyday getting from Point A to Point B. What time does this happen? How many times do we have such instances?,” Puthucode says.

Making budget decisions is another point where officials can involve citizens. “Right now it is done by people in the know and who have financial responsibility for the state or city departments. They sit in a room and get input from various agencies. Where is the voice of citizens in that?,” he says.


“Imagine getting it out to the entire country. You can draw referendums on the run and have inputs from people. There is no limitations on what technology like this can do.”

A simple online poll through a website or smartphone app can help officials find new ideas from citizens. “Imagine getting it out to the entire country. You can draw referendums on the run and have inputs from people. There is no limitations on what technology like this can do,” says Puthucode.

Dashboards are another great way to get people involved. They can be used to show broadly how city governments are performing, allowing citizens to give more accurate feedback on where more money needs to be spent. The City of Boston in the USA, for instance, uses a combination of dashboards and scorecards to show citizens how well the city is doing.

Anticipatory government

This “instant feedback” from citizens, used in the right way, can help officials shorten policy and project implementation cycles, Puthucode says. Machine learning, where computers pull out patterns from huge amounts of data, can help officials anticipate problems from citizens’ complaints, cutting wasteful spending and increasing productivity.

Officials in education can use students’ performance, attendance and participation in school to predict whether a student is likely to drop out or fail. They can then take steps early to ensure the student is able to continue their education.

This same set of data can be used to make other decisions, like: “Where do you open schools? Does it make sense to have more teachers? Should we rationalize classrooms? These are all operational decisions a leader of education would be interested in knowing,” says Puthucode.

Hospitals can use a patient’s history and medical records to predict whether they are at risk of coming back after being discharged. “Using analytics, trends and profiling of patients, now providers can look at patients at risk of readmission,” he says. Doctors and nurses can use this information to tweak the treatment to ensure patients don’t have to return.


“Using analytics, trends and profiling of patients, now providers can look at patients at risk of readmission.”

In policing, machine learning can be used to find hotspots – neighbourhoods or blocks where crime is the highest. It can help police decide whether they need to deploy more officers or if video surveillance should be ramped up.

With machine learning it is also easier to work with data from agencies, he adds. For instance, data from housing and transport agencies could give police officers more accurate predictions of crime.

The common thread running through these examples is that officials can use data to make better policies, targeted at specific problems. “The alternative world would be one that is based on gut feeling, or see what you have done in the past and continue to do the same. When resources and dollars are scarce, [machine learning] helps to make informed decisions that are more impactful,” says Puthucode.

Building trust is key

These tools are already available and easy to access, he adds. Machine learning is used to run virtual assistants like Microsoft’s Cortana. “It is not complex anymore thanks to cloud computing. If you look at Microsoft’s Azure market place, for example, there are many apps bundled into one that consumers and agencies can download and start using,” he explains.

The most important factor for agencies to successfully use technologies like machine learning is trust, Puthucode believes: “As public sector organisations look at technology options, they need to look at how it helps build trust. Trust with people, but also trust in the technology itself because people will not use technology that they do not trust.”


“As public sector organisations look at technology options, they need to look at how it helps build trust.”

He has four tips for agencies to build trust in their tools: keep the data secure at all times, whether it is moving around or static; give people the right to decide who has access to their data and where it is kept; be transparent about what you do as a government agency; and follow local and international standards.

Officials now have tools to listen to millions of different voices and find the best ideas to improve policies and services. Mayors may not be an island, but they must channel different perspectives from a sea of opinions.