How to leverage civic innovation to build better cities

With a population of 2.5 million people and an annual growth rate of four percent, the World Bank identified Kathmandu Valley as one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in South Asia and the first region in Nepal to face unprecedented challenges brought about by its rapid urban transformation.

“With increased population growth comes issues such as traffic congestion, pollution and insufficient waste management. The pressure is mounting as city administrators look for ways to provide sustainable, more cost-effective infrastructure and services,’ said Stefan Sjöström, Vice President of Asia Public Sector at Microsoft.

Since the government does not have a monopoly on good ideas, city administrators are working together with industry stakeholders like Microsoft, to promote civic innovation in apps prototyping weekends, also known as appathons.

Appathons have been incredibly successful in bringing together the technology and local knowledge to solve problems in the community. Most recently, Microsoft has partnered with CITYNET network to conduct CityApp Kathmandu 2014, an appathon that aims to tap on the creativity and ingenuity of Nepal’s civic-minded, tech savvy community to create mobile applications that address pressing challenges in areas such as public safety, transportation, cultural heritage preservation, public health and many others.

“This groundswell of ideas from the appathon is a hallmark of Microsoft CityNext, which broadens the city innovation conversation beyond infrastructure alone, centering on helping cities unlock their most important resource – the potential of their people,” said Sjöström.

Here are the winners of CityApp Kathmandu 2014:

Team Conscientious
Team Conscientious, which includes Gopal Kandoi, a student at the National Infotech College, and Microsoft Student Partners Anish Ansari, Rumi Shakya and Yashasvi Raj Pan, won first place for their public safety app called ‘Safety Whistle’. The app leverages the global positioning system innate in many smartphones to send a location-enabled distress signal to the emergency contacts keyed in by the user. This allows the local police force to efficiently respond to crimes and other emergencies in the community.

Team WhiteSpace
Team WhiteSpace, a group made up of recent Engineering graduates from Pulchowk Campus, placed second in the competition with their patient-centric application called ‘LifeZine’. The app is designed to manage patient data by storing multiple interactions between a healthcare provider and a patient in a single electronic chart. LifeZine has a built-in intelligent decision support system that carries out the general diagnosis process for a patient under the direct supervision of a trained medical professional. Furthermore, it contains the basic health problems and the diagnostic methodologies that can be monitored by a health worker. The overall diagnostic procedures can be monitored by the doctors and the specialists to assure effective and coordinated health practices.

Yorbit Technologies
Winning third place is a transport app called ‘Your Yatra’, that provides users with real time information on when a bus is due to arrive at a designated bus stop. According to members of Yorbit Technologies, the app was inspired by a recent mishap when they missed a presentation due to long delays in the bus arrival time. Because of this incident, the members of the group resolved to create an app, based on a vehicle tracking system, which would allow them to make quick decisions about alternative options by tracking the location of local transportation, such as buses.

XMonks Technologies
Coming in fourth place is XMonks Technologies’ ‘OneCity App’ built on the Windows platform. The app serves as a one-stop information portal on socio-cultural improvement events, project progressive news, helpful tips and guidelines on how citizens can help in preserving the city’s rich cultural heritage.

Following closely behind and winning fifth place is EasySoft’s citizen engagement platform called ‘MyCity’. According to the developers, “The city has all the available resources to solve problems in the community. However, in order to realise the full potential of these options, a communication platform is needed so that citizens can work together to effectively match the supply of resources to the needs of the community.”

The location-based app allows users to share and learn how residents tackle community-based problems. A user can, for example, share his problem about environmental degradation and wait for other users to give their feedback on how he can effectively solve the problem either by maximizing the use of his existing resources or by improving current environmental protection programs.

“Solving the existing issues through the use of a mobile app will take some time, but this can definitely prove to be a stepping stone for innovative solutions for city problems,” members of EasySoft said in an official statement.

“CityApp Kathmandu 2014 has been an amazing event and I want to thank CITYNET and Microsoft for organizing it. The apps that our citizens have created will go a long way in ensuring the socio-economic sustainability of our city,” said Kathmandu CEO Laxman Aryal.

“Through CityApp, I hope that Kathmandu will be a shining beacon for other cities to follow,” he added.

Winners of CityApp Kathmandu 2014 will work with the Microsoft Innovation Centre in Nepal to incubate and further develop their ideas. One of the teams will win an opportunity to showcase their apps to city government officials at the World Cities Summit in Singapore on June 1-4, 2014.

Report: Clarice Africa

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