Tapping into the pulse of the citizen

Matteo Mezzanotte, our PR and content lead of Citibeats, and Michael Lake, CEO and president of Leading Cities, explain how technology can make all data count and give citizens a stronger voice.

The technology exists to ensure citizens are heard and can feed into initiatives

We live in a hyperconnected world of some eight billion people. Almost all of them produce and share data on a daily basis, spontaneously creating an unprecedented minefield of information.

We know that data is one of the biggest challenges, and at the same time, one of the most precious resources for governments and private companies. A few numbers can easily confirm that: 

And when we talk about 2021, the yearly data consumption will reach a staggering amount of 74 zettabytes (a trillion gigabytes), according to projections from Statista.

Data tsunami 

Around four years ago, Swedish researcher Anders Andrae forged the term “tsunami of data”, describing and anticipating the imminent perfect storm hitting our world as a consequence of an all-embracing digitalisation process. 

Given these premises, and acknowledging the quantity and magnitude of data produced at a rapidly increasing rate and pace, the question we should ask ourselves is: is there a way to use all of this information in a smarter and socially responsible way?

A number of projects around the world show how we might be moving towards a future when we can make all data count and give voice to citizens and create better, smarter societies. 


Technology company Citibeats develops artificial intelligence (AI) solutions which aim to detect changes in society earlier than traditional survey methods or the media. 


Its platform analyses large amounts of unstructured data (photos, video and audio files, text files, social media content, satellite imagery, presentations, PDFs, open-ended survey responses, websites, and call centre transcripts/recordings) to identify social trends and interpret people’s opinions, and concerns and transform them into actionable insights useful for governments, multilateral organisations, and private companies.

Understanding people’s needs

What governments, multilaterals, and private companies should be aware of is that there is literally a mountain of data out there. That data is too often neglected or used just for marketing purposes (the so-called “brand watching”) and it is essential to take it into consideration the different narratives developed and constantly evolving around topics directly affecting citizens (health, education, migration, climate change, gender equality and much more). 

This minefield of information has an utmost relevance to understanding people’s needs and given the rate at which information is exchanged, it is necessary to rely on a technology that allows one to be continually updated about citizens’ opinions and necessities.

Thanks to its algorithms combining natural language processing (NPL) and machine learning (ML), Citibeats’ platform can filter relevant content, classify user opinions and information into categories, and extract insights and patterns automatically, in real-time, in changing environments, at scale and reducing bias associated with gender. 

What we offer organisations and private companies is a technology that helps them upgrade from simple social listening to social understanding,”

Harry Wilson, Chief Product Officer at Citibeats.

Given the velocity of events that affect people on a local and global scale, governments simply cannot afford to lose time detecting social risks and reacting consequently. Our platform gives any institution or organisation a qualitative and temporal edge that traditional survey methods or the media cannot compete with. The time factor is of essential importance as it hugely helps improve citizens’ living conditions.”

Harry Wilson, Chief Product Officer at Citibeats.

Citibeats is a company built around ethical principles such as the protection of the users and their personal rights; the detection and removal of bias, to offer a representation of the whole population and calibrate the results of the research; and the use case application with a positive social impact. 

Being language-agnostic and culturally adaptable, the AI platform allows easily setting up projects across geographies and uncovering different, complex narratives involving main topics, subtopics, and multiple opinions by users, thanks to its ability to evolve over time.

Putting data to good use

The company works with international organisations like the Worldwide Health Organisation (WHO), and the IDB Group, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and its projects span more than 50 countries.  

In Spain, for example, Fundacion ONCE, Spain’s leading NGO for representing people with disabilities, has implemented Citibeats to develop a real-time accessibility map of Spain. This map identifies and synthesises relevant complaints made by people with disabilities, and others around them, who become “sensors” of accessibility barriers.

With this approach, Fundacion ONCE has been able to capture temporally relevant needs (such as the request to make national elections more understandable for people with cognitive disabilities) and geographically specific needs (such as areas where e-scooters parked on sidewalks are limiting access for people with reduced mobility). These human stories, as well as quantified evidence of issues, support advocacy with companies, local and regional government.  

In Dublin, Citibeats helped Smart Dublin, a part of the Dublin City Council, collect citizens’ opinions and concerns about different topics related to their quality of life. This gave Smart Dublin a series of quantitative indicators (a 250x increase feedback volume 90 days earlier than the traditional survey methods) of people’s top priorities that were later used to properly address those specific needs thus avoiding wrong investments or interventions. 

In Japan, Citibeats teamed up with NTT DATA to help identify flood risk areas needing infrastructure improvements and urban re-planning to face the consequences of flooding. In Japan, this led to the collection of 5,000 reports of damaged structures giving the government the possibility to prioritise all the necessary improvements

One of the necessary preconditions for a city to be ‘smart’ (or for a smart city to be ‘smarter’) is to be aware of what really matters to people,”

Ivan Caballero, CEO at Citibeats

We cannot think about smart cities just in terms of new technological advancement, hyperconnectivity, 5G, and so. It is time to bring the human factor back at the centre of the political, business, and social decision-making process”

Ivan Caballero, CEO at Citibeats

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