Citizens will give up some privacy if government clearly communicates why this is necessary, Jacqueline Poh, Managing Director of Singapore’s IDA has said.

“Citizens will have a different approach to privacy if the way in which data is used is more transparent to them,” she said in a conversation with Google’s Sidewalk Labs. “Citizens are actually quite willing to give up quite a bit of privacy”.

Her agency has researched this in detail, Poh added, noting that citizens will trade some privacy for utility and predictability of service delivery.

“One of the things we are working on is to make quite clear to citizens what the benefits would be to them for Smart Nation applications so they can make that trade off,” she said.

Poh also called on technology companies to better engage with Singapore’s citizens. “There needs to be a lot more dialogue between the tech companies and not just the city administrators but also with citizens.”

“Very often I find that tech companies don’t talk enough to the beneficiaries of the technology, in order to really understand what their pain points are,” Poh said.

The government researched citizens’ tech priorities, and found that “households’ willingness to pay for home energy management was quite low, but their willingness to pay for something like tele-health, or something like smart elderly monitoring, was slightly higher.”

“We won’t go great guns blazing on some of these technologies,” she added.

Poh also believes that Smart Cities work best when pushed by city mayors, rather than by academia or technology vendors.

“An energetic mayor may be able to execute a large range of quick wins. It also requires the city to go beyond what could be a very nice design or marketing plan,” she said.

Singapore is currently trying to work out metrics to measure the success of its Smart Nation programme, she said. “We need to know that our digital government experiences are satisfactory. Increasingly, we’re seeking that feedback within the app itself.”