Elucd Joins Zencity: A New Era for Civic Engagement is Here

Eyal Feder-Levy

Eyal Feder-Levy

CEO & Co-Founder

Announcing the most inclusive and comprehensive community insights & analytics platform for local government and law enforcement agencies

Get a first look at a first-of-its-kind civic engagement tool combining organic and proactive community input.
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I’m excited to announce that Zencity has acquired Elucd

Michael and his team at Elucd have built an incredible, cutting-edge product and company, allowing some of the most innovative local government and law enforcement agencies across the country to run community surveys easily and effectively. We’re proud to welcome them to our team! 

Since setting out to build Zencity, we’ve been laser-focused on serving local governments, organizations that are at the heart of delivering so many of our society’s most critical services – from public safety to infrastructure and transportation. The last year has amplified this tenfold, putting local government leaders at the front lines of managing the COVID-19 pandemic – creating public health measures, supporting local businesses, and looking out for the most vulnerable members of their communities.

In the face of all of these challenges, local leaders have a dire need for a quick and reliable community feedback loop in order to understand what’s working and what needs improvement, so that they can shape policy and action accordingly. Understanding resident sentiment effortlessly and on a community-wide scale has long been a key pain for local government and law enforcement leaders. 

That’s why all of us at Zencity have worked tirelessly at making wide-scale sentiment data available and actionable to all local governments. Today, I’m proud to say that Zencity has grown to be a leading civic engagement partner. Local government leaders in over 200 agencies around the world use Zencity on a daily-basis to leverage community feedback in real-time and make better, more data-driven decisions; align policies with their residents’ needs and priorities; and manage resources more effectively and efficiently. 

Creating more impact, together

A main theme throughout our journey has been to truly partner with the agencies we serve, and constantly listen to them and work to improve our offering. One thing we repeatedly heard from our community of partners over the last year, is that they would love to be able to extend our ability to analyze organic discourse, and in certain cases, proactively engage with all community members. This is where our new joint work with Elucd comes into play.

First and foremost, Elucd and Zencity share the deep belief that in order for community  feedback to become a core part of the paramount day-to-day decisions local government leaders need to make, it must :

  • Be available on a “community-at-large” scale, and include the voices of those beyond just the most vocal “same ten people” who always show up. 
  • Be data-driven in nature – quantifiable, measurable, and comparable to easily guide insight.
  • And finally, it must be effortless to obtain – easily available, and not requiring mountains of staff time or resources to execute.

Elucd’s cutting-edge technology leverages the unique nature of online tools and media to allow for recurring, statistically valid, and representative surveys with super-quick turnover. Particularly over the past year, Elucd’s ability to provide representative input has been instrumental in supporting local government agencies and community policing efforts, by maintaining the flow of information between community members and their leaders.

Today, Elucd is a category leader in using polls and surveys to ensure that local governments and law enforcement agencies can easily hear from their community members in a representative way. The invaluable nature of Elucd’s contribution is evident from their success as they serve agencies across America from Washington DC, Chicago, and Seattle, to Redondo Beach, CA.

Zencity and Elucd take distinctly different but wholly complementary approaches to collecting key sentiment data.  Zencity already automatically gathers and analyzes organic resident input, enabling leaders to understand where their community is excelling in delivering services, and where residents may want to chart a new course. Now, with the integration of Elucd’s continuous, statistically valid survey capabilities – which enable government leaders to proactively draw feedback from representative groups in their community – there will be no question or challenge that Zencity cannot inform with data and help local government leaders tackle.  

By infusing the Zencity platform with Elucd’s survey solution, we are rising to the occasion and facilitating a new level of civic engagement. Together, we offer a perfect synergy between Zencity’s ability to automatically collect and analyze the masses of organic, civic-related resident feedback already out there, and elevate it with Elucd’s statistically valid and representative surveys that deliver a continuous snapshot into how residents perceive key policy issues.  

What’s next?

Looking at the year ahead, local governments have a bigger challenge than ever before. Agencies that devise recovery plans that effectively leverage inclusive community insight data will return to normalcy more quickly and more equitably. This is true when it comes to successfully overcoming misinformation in vaccination efforts, in recovering local economies, and in rebuilding relationships between law enforcement agencies and their residents. Communities and the leaders that serve them can build back together with greater confidence, higher trust, and better overall satisfaction when local governments can easily understand and act on the feedback of their community members.  

For Zencity, the coming months will be dedicated to helping our partners do just this. We’ll be working hard on integrating the Zencity and Elucd solutions to create a whole that is larger than the sum of its parts, uncovering more value by combining the two approaches – organic and proactive input. We’ll also be expanding our U.S. based team and will be hiring for many roles in our new stateside office.

This is an exciting next step on our journey to provide the best tools to our incredible, hard-working, and inspiring partners in local government, ultimately allowing us to support their mission of serving their communities. We’re thrilled to have Michael and the Elucd team alongside us for the ride.

This mission is super important, to our partners and the communities that they serve. 

And we’re only just getting started. 

Be the first to check out the most comprehensive and inclusive community insights and analytics platform on the market

Announcing New Funding to Help Local Government Leaders Make Data-Driven Decisions

Eyal Feder-Levy

Eyal Feder-Levy

CEO & Co-Founder

Earlier this month I was thrilled to announce that Zencity has raised $13.5M in new funding. This round is a huge, meaningful milestone for us and I want to take this opportunity to share why it is especially exciting right now and how we’re planning to use the funding to continue working tirelessly for our local government customers.

First, I want to welcome Eitan and TLV partners, as well as Alex, Julie and Salesforce Ventures to our journey, and say a huge thank you to them and to all of our existing partners, Canaan Partners Israel, Vertex Ventures, M12 and i3equity Partners, all of which took part in this round to the fullest extent possible. Thank you for taking this journey with us. 

Ever since Ido and I founded Zencity, we had one clear mission in front of us – out of a huge belief in the importance of great local government, we wanted to help these organizations understand the voice, needs and priorities of the communities they serve in order to help them make better decisions.

This mission has never been more important than today. With local governments on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, working tirelessly to serve their communities in this impossible reality, resident feedback becomes a critical necessity. In this crisis, local governments face a host of unique challenges – creating and enforcing social distancing policies, supporting local businesses and people facing unemployment, managing health services, and above all – providing their citizens with accurate and timely information. All of these challenges require an understanding of their residents’ needs, concerns and priorities in real time and on a wide-scale, to get a quick feedback loop as they shape their policies, actions and messaging.

We feel it with our customers. Not only have we seen a huge increase in the usage of our platform among our existing local government customers since the start of the pandemic, but also growth. In fact, over the past few months we were thrilled to add dozens of government agencies to our network of over 150 cities and counties, from big cities like Austin, TX and Los Angeles, CA to smaller communities like Oak Ridge, TN. Thanks to our AI-based out-of-the-box setup we have been able to onboard these new cities and counties incredibly quickly. Additionally, in order to meet this high demand, we’ve uploaded a dedicated COVID-19 toolkit full of new features and resources for our cities and counties, and we have even released a few case studies detailing how some of these agencies used our platform.

With this new round of funding, we plan to continue to expand our product’s ability to serve this crucial need. We are building exciting new AI capabilities, as well as new ways to intake data into our analysis. The funding will also aid in building out new strategic partnerships and further expand the reach of our impact. 

One of the most exciting things about this funding round for me personally, is how this money will go directly into serving local governments. The incredibly powerful thing about the SaaS model within government  is it allows agencies of all different sizes to access cutting-edge technologies that millions of dollars were invested in building, and the scalability makes it sustainable. I hope this urges more government agencies to adopt SaaS solutions and more entrepreneurs to look at this space as a meaningful one. If you’re thinking about it, I invite you to read Eitan’s great blog post on why he chose to lead this round

As a final note, I want to say how grateful I am to our 150+ cities and counties of all sizes, across four countries and 29 U.S. states, for choosing our services and teaching us what hard work and devotion really is. It is a privilege to work alongside you and continue to support your literally life-saving work. 

And last but not least, I owe a huge thank you to the 70 amazing team members who make up Zencity, that work tirelessly to turn our vision into a reality and to serve our 150+ cities and counties and their 35 million residents around the world.

Now onwards to the next milestone!

Coronavirus Data from US Cities: Residents’ key concerns in numbers

Eyal Feder-Levy

Eyal Feder-Levy

CEO & Co-Founder

As the coronavirus starts to spread across the US, so too has online discourse about the new pandemic, including questions, concerns and misinformation. 

Subsequently, local government agencies across the country find themselves on the frontlines of tackling this crisis – shaping social distancing policies, supporting local businesses and more than all providing relevant information to their communities by handling public inquiries, taking service requests and providing responsible, accurate, information to their residents. 

One of the key questions these organizations face, as they  handle this crisis, make policy decisions, and shape their messaging to their communities – is what are their residents’ main concerns? What are the things they should take into account when taking action and sharing messages?

To support this acute need, we took a deep dive into millions of online public conversations from over 100 US cities to highlight key discourse trends on the coronavirus pandemic.

Residents are talking about COVID19 - here’s what they’re saying. In numbers.

At Zencity, we help local governments understand their communities needs and priorities by analyzing millions of aggregated, anonymized public online conversations in their communities. We can recognize the topics, clusters and sentiment being discussed and recognize key trends and needs. (Learn more about our AI-powered platform here).

 Since March 1st,  we analyzed over more than 1.5 million online interactions about the coronavirus from over 100 cities and counties across the US. Here is what we found.

((In the context of our reporting, the term ‘interactions’ encompasses all engagements made on social media (posts, tweets, likes, comments, shares, retweets, etc.). The number of interactions, therefore, reflects the volume of discourse and as such – the level of interest.))

Takeaway #1 - Coronavirus dominated the conversations on the resident side.

While it might feel like the conversation on COVID19 is only happening in the media, our analysis found that city residents are very actively engaged in this conversation. While on average public health related conversations only make up for less than 5% of resident comments, since March 1st we see more than 21% of the comments being about Public Health.

health related discourse

We can also see that the main topics being discussed across communities change significantly as the outbreak started. While normally public safety related topics control community concerns (with 18% of the discussion), since the outbreak we can see that public health, schools and festivals/events are the main topics, all in relation to coronavirus.

january discourse
March coronavirus discourse

Moreover, an analysis of popular terms used shows us that keywords that have to do with coronavirus were much more commonly used than any other terms (the larger the word is the more repetitive it was).

Takeaway #2 - What are residents' key concerns surrounding coronavirus?

But what were all of these comments about? What are the main things concerning communities across the US? What questions do people have? Using topic modeling and clustering, we were able to identify what people are specifically talking about, and by extension, most interested in or concerned with. This information can help local government officials shape both policy and messaging, focusing on the issues that people care about the most. From our analysis, we were able to conclude that residents primarily express concern about the following issues:

coronavirus topics

Below we’ve provided an analysis of the above graph and essential takeaways on what residents are saying. 

  1. School closures – The most prominent cause of uncertainty and concern within communities across cities was the topic of schools and whether they are expected to close. Other than concern over whether schools will be open or closed, we also saw ongoing criticism of decisions to cancel classes in schools and universities, and residents supporting taking preparedness measures in schools (cleanliness and sanitizing). This makes sense, as we see that many school districts have begun to mandate closures and that universities are also canceling classes and moving online amid coronavirus fears. This online community discourse is in line with UNESCO’s most recent report on March 11th noting that, “Twenty-two countries have shut schools nationwide, impacting almost 372.3 million children and youth.”
  2. Public events – Residents focused significantly on the status of public events in the city such as major political rallies or St. Patrick’s Day parade and whether these events should be held as normal or canceled. Other than calls to cancel public events, we also saw criticism from residents about failure to make a decision and to notify about cancellation, and a concern about the influx of visitors coming to the city. Major publications such as Business Insider and the New York Times have begun to assemble lists of major, national events that have been canceled due to coronavirus. Accordingly, we are seeing that subsequent impact on the local level in terms of increased public support of official cancellations. 
  3. Transit – Public transportation was discussed in the context of cleanliness and precautions being taken in airports and in buses, and cancellation of transit and flights. Studies in recent years show that there is a link between public transit use and the spread of disease and many residents are privy to this correlation. Accordingly, many local governments have implemented deep cleaning initiatives and released messaging to quell public anxiety yet also avoid usage of public transportation when possible
  4. Impact on Business/Employment – a little over 8% of the conversations we analyzed touched on the topic of business activity, including residents sharing general concerns about  the economy slowing down due to the crisis and jobs being affected. Moreover, we also saw concern over industries reliant on imported goods and how they will be affected, as well as debates over closing shopping malls and businesses after suspected cases of coronavirus.
  5. Impact on Restaurants, Bars and Tourism – In conjunction with discussions surrounding economic and employment consequences, residents were also preoccupied with the impact on local businesses (specifically leisure and dining establishments) and the decrease in tourism. One of the key areas of discussion was Asian-owned businesses being abandoned by patrons, because of misinformation spreading in different communities. Other than that, we also saw people sharing their concerns about going out, and local restaurants and entertainment centers that have been adversely affected sharing their perspective. Small businesses are undoubtedly feeling the brunt of the coronavirus. Correspondingly, local governments and major companies (like Amazon) have set up noteworthy relief funds and services.  
  6. Panic Buying – In times of crisis, panic buying and stockpiling are inherent, human reactions and this can also be seen during the coronavirus outbreak. Stores across the USA are being stripped bare and bombarded by demands from residents. Residents have also taken to social media to report shortages of basic necessities such as toilet paper and sanitizer.
  7. City Services and Operation – Lastly, a very small share of the discourse that we analyzed highlighted community concerns over the ongoing operations of regular city services, such as waste collection and public works. We attest this to the trust people have in their local government, and that they rely on these services to stay operational. Therefore, if any changes are planned in these services, we believe messaging will play a critical role. 
What are residents’ key concerns today? How have these issues changed during the past month? Check out our latest Key Concerns report. Updated as of April 8, 2020.

Takeaway #3 - State Discourse Trends on Coronavirus Over Time

As coronavirus impacts specific regions in the USA in different ways, we wanted to examine how the online community discourse varied across multiple states and how it evolved over time. By analyzing the discourse starting on February 1st, 2020 in three of the U.S. states with confirmed cases of coronavirus (California, Florida and Texas), it is possible to detect a clear trend:

The volume of discourse about coronavirus was relatively low throughout February, but picked up in intensely at the end of February-early March, as residents of these states first tested positive for coronavirus and events began to be cancelled.

While the crisis is the same crisis along with  the issues that residents are concerned with, we do see differences in priorities and conversations drivers across regions, which might require different action from local governments. While in California school closures were a major driver of discourse, conversation in Florida was centered on the possible impact on the local economy.  In Texas, the discourse was driven by proactive measures and preparedness efforts across the state. In addition, mishandling of patients by the official authorities was another central driver of conversation. Later on, a large share of the discourse focused on events being canceled.

Below we’ve zoomed in on key online conversations in California, Florida, and Texas, to examine how conversations vary state by state.

Coronavirus in California

california coronavirus
  • In California, discourse in February was centered around unconfirmed cases, the testing of people for coronavirus, and updates about the monitoring of the situation.
  • The first major peak in discourse volume about the coronavirus, on February 27th, came about following an announcement that schools are preparing for an outbreak. School closures was also the cause for a second sharp peak in discourse, on March 7th.
  • The state’s first death from coronavirus caused another peak in discourse. Additionally, reports about residents quarantined in various cities in California drove further online discourse.
  • Overall, aside from discourse surrounding confirmed and suspected cases in the state, discourse mostly revolved around school closures and city preparedness.

Coronavirus in Florida

coronavirus florida
  • In the middle of February, discourse around coronavirus saw a small peak as residents began to discuss the potential negative economic impact, particularly concerning local businesses
  • Towards the end of February and beginning of March there was another spike in online discourse in coordination Mike Pence’s arrival to the state to discuss a tactical coronavirus response
  • Subsequently, online discourse showed a significant peak after two cases of the coronavirus were confirmed in Florida and following Trump’s visit for a private fundraiser

Coronavirus in Texas

coronavirus texas
  • From February 24-26th, discourse about a potential vaccine for coronavirus created a small peak in discourse.
  • Early March saw a peak in discourse around proactive measures being taken in communities across the state (especially in Southeast TX), such as declarations of public health emergencies and large-scale cleaning operations in malls and public areas. 
  • A major peak in the discourse on coronavirus occurred in the beginning of March when the first case was confirmed in Southeast TX
  • Starting on March 5th, online discourse began to focus on confirmed cases in the state, containment fears, and subsequent event cancellations.

In all three states, discourse peaked around reports of suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state. 

Considering this, despite the fact that local governments are all facing a similar challenge, they will be required to respond in a way that is tailored to the specific concerns of their residents – providing certainty about essential and non-essential city services, assuaging economic anxiety, instructing residents about the status of services not necessarily provided by the city, and, as the crisis progresses, additional concerns will likely surface.

To help communications teams produce effective COVID-19 messaging for social media, the Zencity team created a list of best practices, based on the analysis of over 92K tweets and posts from 100+ US cities and counties.

How can this be useful?

The men and women of local governments, Public Safety, and Public Health organizations are at the frontlines of tackling this crisis. One of their key responsibilities at this time is to share effective and reliable information with their communities, and to take immediate action around the issues that concern their residents. This report, aggregated from real discourse of multiple communities, provides an understanding of what are some of the key issues every city/county needs to be tackling to directly address their communities needs.

We salute these professionals for carrying out their vital tasks at this crucial time. Learn more on how Zencity can support local governments in managing their response to Covid-19 in our Coronavirus Action Plan

$6 Million In Series A Funding Will Help Bring Artificial Intelligence To Smart Cities

Eyal Feder-Levy

Eyal Feder-Levy

CEO & Co-Founder

I’m thrilled to announce that we have finalized our Series A investment of $6 million, led by Vertex Ventures with participation by M12, Microsoft’s venture fund, and our existing investor, Canaan Partners Israel (CPI). This round comes exactly one year after our seed round, and brings our total investment to $7.7 million. I’m super excited to welcome our amazing new partners, Vertex and M12, to join us on our journey in improving life in cities.

I’m also incredibly proud of our extraordinary team, whose hard work and dedication paved the way to this great milestone, and grateful to our city partners across the world, who, more than anyone, have shaped our product.

Our Mission To Create Change in Smart Cities

Raising a Series A is a significant milestone, but for us – this is just the beginning.

We are on a journey to revolutionize the way cities are managed, and the relationship between cities and citizens. The potential impact that Zencity can have is huge and there’s a lot of good work to be done.

This is a mission that we should all care about – today, while cities spend hundreds of millions of dollars in public funding annually providing services and executing projects, they struggle to connect with residents and to assess the impact and quality of the services they provide.

Traditional tools available for gathering resident feedback, such as surveys and town hall meetings, don’t provide cities with wide-scale, granular, real-time data. This stops cities from being data driven, and makes it harder for them to improve and be more efficient.

And that is what we are here to change. Zencity’s solution helps close the gap between the city and its citizens, enabling local governments to collect and incorporate real, citizen-backed data into decision making. Zencity does this by continuously aggregating and analyzing resident-generated data points from sources such as social media and city hotlines. We then use advanced AI algorithms to transform this mass of unstructured data into real-time and ongoing insights through sentiment analysis, automated topic categorization, geolocation, and more.

We Have Come so Far

In doing so, we help local governments better understand wide-scale community feedback, and making data-smart decisions. We also ensure that cities can really hear the multitude of their residents’ voices.

I’m proud to say that our inspiring local government partners have already reaped exciting benefits using the platform, including fiscal savings, better communication with city residents, and more data-driven planning. If you want to learn more, hop on to the use-cases section of our website.

One of our biggest achievements over the last year has been our rapid growth in the US. In less than a year, we’ve added 15 cities to our platform – from towns of 10K residents to a city of 1.5M. I see this as a testament to how dedicated cities areto connecting with and understanding their citizens’ needs, and to the commitment that the incredible public servants in local government have to being more data-driven.

Artificial Intelligence Solutions Tailored for Cities 

As I said, while this has been an exciting year, this is all just the start. As more and more cities get on board with our solution, the exciting potential of AI in local government becomes even more evident. With our new funding, we will be spending the months ahead building out exciting new capabilities that will allow us to collect more accurate and in depth feedback, analyze more types of data, and most exciting – share information back out to the communities living in cities.

I’m sure these capabilities will set a new standard for the way cities are managed, and for what relationship between cities and their residents could look like.

If you’re excited by what we’re doing – we are looking for great partners in this journey. If you’re a city, request your demo today: 

Looking for a job? Check out our career page


3 Main Takeaways From The US Conference Of Mayors

Eyal Feder-Levy

Eyal Feder-Levy

CEO & Co-Founder

The Zencity team and I recently had the honor and privilege of participating in the 86th US Conference of Mayors in Washington DC. Alongside over 200 mayors, we were able to discuss the challenges American cities are facing today, and highlight the role data analytics can play in city-making.

Meeting Representatives of 1,408 Cities in America

The United States Conference of Mayors itself is the official non-partisan organization of US cities above 30,000. Twice a year, they hold an in-person meeting, and throughout the year, they work together on initiatives, policy papers and more, shaping local and national urban policy. We were inspired by dozens and dozens of Mayors that we met and learned from all over the country – Flint, Oakland, Miami, Tacoma, Baton Rouge – the list goes on.

The conference was a unique opportunity for us to be part of the discussion about the challenges cities in the country are facing.

Struggles Lie Not Just on the City Level

Here are our main takeaways:

  1. It’s really about the local. Throughout our conversations, the overarching truth that stood out to us was that local is what matters most. When we built Zencity as a group of urban enthusiasts, we focused on the city because this is where our personal and professional passions lie, but the Conference reaffirmed to us that this is also where the future lies. Today, at a time of growing challenges on the national and international level, the buck stops at the local government,and regardless of partisan affiliation, cities must deal with (and are dealing with) the real and metaphorical “potholes” thrown their way. 
  2. The struggle is real. The challenges US Mayors and their city managers face are present and growing. Mayors are dealing with the classic pains of urban governance like providing services and maintaining infrastructure, confounded by broader, national challenges like immigration. But, the Conference also affirmed that these challenges can and are being overcome. 
  3. Now is the time for good data. At Zencity, we strongly believe the first step to dealing with the challenges cities are facing is to understand them. Cities need good data, and they need to know how to analyze, work with and extrapolate meaningful information from good data. It’s from this lens that we see great initiatives, like What Works Cities, which announced it’s first certified cohort at the conference, and of course our own technology — helping cities understand citizen needs.

Looking forward to this summer at the next Mayor’s Conference in Boston!

Welcome To The Urban Revolution

Eyal Feder-Levy

Eyal Feder-Levy

CEO & Co-Founder

Last week I gave a short talk about current and future trends in Smart Cities in the Forbes under 30 Summit in Jerusalem. Here is what I had to say:

The reason I became so interested in Smart Cities in the past few years is simple — basically, we, as a society are going through two great revolutions. The first, which most of the speakers today will mention, is the information revolution. I’m guessing you’re all pretty much aware of that, and if not — google it and experience it first hand. But the second, less known one — is the urban revolution.

Today, more than 50% of the people live in cities. This is an interesting fact for two reasons — first, it’s a relatively new one. It happened for the first time in history around four years ago. Second, it’s part of an exponential trend — meaning that by 2030 more than 70% of the people will live in cities. Combine it with projected population growth and you’ve got more than 6 billion city dwellers in less than 20 years.

This means that cities are fast becoming the human habitat of the 21st century. It also means that almost every human challenge (and opportunity) can essentially be reduced down to an urban one — cities are the source for most of the pollution, wealth gaps, economic value and political turmoil. In order to understand society and address its challenges — we need to look at cities.

Are Smart Cities “Smart” Enough

This also means that cities are becoming larger and more and more complex, and that’s where smart cities have come in in the last few years. Smart cities are basically cities that use the amazing tools of digital technology, data collection and connectivity, to address their challenges and create value. The abstract model is fairly simple — let’s collect a lot of real time data about our city, analyze it, and run it “better” using the insights we get. This approach has created some cool innovations over the past few years, mostly in the city’s infrastructure. Some great examples include smart trash bins, that tell the trucks what bins are full and use advances routing algorithms to create an optimized route, smart traffic control systems that change the lights according to traffic and so on.

But this first generation of “smart” technologies suffers from a few major problems. Apart from the fact that these hardware based solutions are very expensive, and therefore are out of reach for most cities around the world, most of these technologies only create incremental changes in different areas of city management, but they do not disrupt the core urban issuesThe reason, in my opinion, is that they are not touching on the most complex element of the city — the people themselves.

Smart Cities Put Citizens First

My Master’s thesis advisor, Prof. Juval Portugali, used to always say that when you take the people out of a city, you turn it from a complex system to a simple one. and that is exactly what smart city technologies today are lacking. With all of the smart data collection capabilities, cities and people remain disconnected. The citizens are out of the Smart City loop — they do not have access to the the incredible amounts of data collected and lack the real ability to contribute data and voice their opinions. Cities, on the other hand, while collecting data on almost everything else, remain blind about their citizens actual and desired use of the city.

There is a reason why this has not been addressed by the first wave of Smart City technology — no doubt that tackling these challenges is difficult. But for a city to truly become “Smart”, the citizens have to be a part — whether we look at people and their smartphones as the largest network of sensors in any city, consider the amazing contextual data we can collect from people who are willing to share it, or see the amazing opportunity in people getting the data and services they need where and wen they need them to make cities much more livable.

That is exactly what we are doing at Zencity — we create digital platforms that provide people with real-time contextual data and services about their city. For example, one of our add-ons sends you a push notification with real time bus data when you reach the station along with some personalized information and services while you wait.

Data That Humanizes the City

But that’s no enough — we use people’s interaction with the data to provide local governments with meaningful insights about the human aspects of their city — allowing it to be planned and managed by considering human factors.

This is a great win-win situation:

  • People get personalized, contextual data and services that revolutionize their urban experience
  • Cities get meaningful insights about people’s actual and desired use of the city
  • And a new form of interaction, channel of communication is opened between all different agents to create a more open and collaborative city

So far we’ve done two pilot programs with Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, and next month we intend to roll out our main beta in a few cities around Israel.

Digital technology is an amazing and powerful tool, and we need to decide — do we want to use it to make cities more centralized and big brother-y or more open and citizen-oriented.

We have the choice, and this is the time to steer the ship in the right direction. We believe our platform can play a part in this important change.

Why Nobody’s Using Your City App, And Why This Should Matter

Eyal Feder-Levy

Eyal Feder-Levy

CEO & Co-Founder

Recently I had the pleasure of lecturing about data, technology and cities to top tier executives of a major municipality in Israel. Towards the end of the talk, I showed a few examples of Israeli city apps, and argued that they are very poorly designed, and therefore underused. This sparked a very interesting conversation with this municipality’s CIO, who invited me to provide a critical view of their app. I decided to get right on it – after all, how often do you get a public official’s open invitation for criticism?

Rather than getting back to her in writing or conversation, I decided I’m going to publish all my findings and thoughts in a blog post. After all, we in Zencity love cities and data, and we think our findings and thoughts might be useful to other cities as well.  

First, some interesting data: 

About 50 of Israel’s 247 municipalities offer a city app on the iTunes Appstore and/or Google Play. An impressive number, considering the fact that municipalities can usually spend IT budgets only on necessities. I find this figure encouraging: it seems that local government officials do want to engage their citizens, and seek solutions to enable their municipalities to be better connected to citizens. 

However, if you ask around your friends if they’re aware of their municipal app, they’d probably say no, and even if they’ve downloaded it and used it, it was probably only once. 

To corroborate this, here are some statistics of apps of a few Israeli municipalities, and their estimated downloads (mind you, these are not actual uses):

The above figures serve as an indication that something’s clearly not working. Even in the case of outliers such as Tel Aviv, and, arguably, Ra’anana and Givatayim, you’d think that more than a fraction of the population actually cares about what’s going on in their neighborhood or would want to fix something that’s not right. If that wasn’t the case, municipalities would not deploy public services or the city hotline (“moked 106” in Israel – 311 in the States).

Why are there such low download / usage rates of city apps?

Here is my analysis: 

A) Cramming:

Take a look at the average Israeli municipal app. It has everything, and I do mean everything put into it, and for to best intentions. So, we have the Mayor’s blessing and the city’s YouTube channel, next to the bill pay service and the 106 city hotline. If we assign priorities to every screen from a citizen’s perspective, we could easily leave in only important ones. 

B) In-cohesiveness:

The Israeli apps do contain many interfaces to the municipality. Some, as mentioned before, are more critical. Therefore, it’s beyond my comprehension why for some of these, like payments, users are then shoved back to the non-mobile-friendly website of the municipality, where they have to struggle with very small fonts that don’t fit their 10-20 cm screens. If you want people using your website, why build an app, and if you want them to keep using your app, why throw them back to the website? 

C) Cloning (city-side):

Take a look at the 4 different screenshots around the post. Notice they all look the same? Now, as software professionals, we do believe in copying and reusing what’s working. But why copy models that clearly don’t work? We, the citizens, are not clones. Cities are not clones – they each have different priorities and different goals for the app (some may want to have it to reduce the calls to their city hotline, others may want to promote events and offer easy payments). Cities are different, so should be their apps. 

D) Cloning (citizens-side):

Now, assuming all your users or citizens, are clones, is even worse. True, they might all have some functions that are common, but as a city government, you do realize that bachelors living in your city, young families, the elderly and even local businesses, all have different needs. An ideal app should reflect at least some change according to the user’s group.  

What to do in order to increase your City App’s usage and realize your municipality’s goals?

The advice is simple, and may actually be applicable also to non-municipal apps: 

  • Know your goals: Why are you deploying a municipal app? What do you consider a success? What functionality gets the top priority in your view?
  • Design by your goals: Only the main functionality should be on the main screen
  • Keep it cohesive: What starts in the app, should stay in the app, including payments and information search
  • Keep it simple: The main user scenarios (“report something to the hotline / search for a department’s phone number / get updated on the news”) should not be more than a few taps/swipes and one screen away, at all times.
  • Update users with relevant information: Use user notification sparingly, and if possible, in relevance to the user, and get rewarded by people actually coming back to use the app.
  • Always leave room for user feedback: Review your app’s Google Play / iTunes page, and leave a “contact us” form in the app, to know what your users care about. More advanced users should monitor analytics to see what got tapped on most often.
  • Consider about the user’s point of view: What should be her main association thinking about using the app? Try and have your app do mostly that. If different users have different associations (one is thinking about hotline reporting and another about bill payments or kindergarten registration) consider having different layouts or even different apps altogether for different services.

 We honestly believe in scaling things that work – why scale things that clearly don’t? We hope to start seeing awesome city apps out there. In fact, we just might have one in the works. If your city is interested in building a better city app – contact us

Lastly – a thank you to my friends and colleagues – Yogev Sharvit and Dr. Tehilla-Schwartz Altschuer, who helped with opinions and data, and Eyal Feder, my cofounder who incentivized my writing and provided his wise perspectives.