The concentrated critical mass of citizens moving to and residing in cities has triggered a major societal change: the era when the citizen expects co-creation with its local government….

Most of us have heard about the steady growth of the world’s population. Sure, it’s real. But what we have failed to realize is how that population growth has been steadily affecting us.

Possibly, most of us have read or heard those news, and after being entertained by the statistic, we have dismissed it without much thought. The fault is the thought that the thing we’re reading about is happening out there, not right here.

Surely, the time has come when we must do more than just being entertained or glance over these statistics. We must think about how this growth is changing our world, our cities, and in turn, our futures.

Let’s revisit some of those numbers for a moment. The number of world inhabitants in 1970, as reported by the United Nations, was 3.7 billion. In the next 30 years, that number was 6.1 billion, a 66% increase in world population.

The forecast for the next 30 years was another 39% increase in population, estimating a population of 8.6 billion by the year 2030. (From the year 2000 to 2015, the population growth was 20%.) In short, in the span of 60 years, the world would see an increase of over 131% in population growth. [1] (See also Table 1 below.)

Table 1. Growth of World Population & Projection to Year 2030

If you live in a city, take a moment to think back at a moment in time, let’s say, five to ten years ago. Think about what you were doing; think of yourself in the city. Are you ready? Good! Now, I want you to come back to the present. Take note of the things you were doing then and now. Has something changed?

Two years ago, I remember going through this same mental exercise—I was house hunting. I remember calling my wife, and stuck in the city traffic (shocked by the congestion), I told her, “I don’t remember the traffic being so hectic; this is incredible!” That world population statistic became real to me. In the United States, for example, the reported population increase has been over 47% from 1970 to 2018. [2]

As you and I have guessed, this growth in population has come with a migration pattern: more people are moving to urban areas, to cities. In fact, it is estimated that 55% of the world’s population is urban right now and that number will increase to 68% by the year 2050. The mass concentration of people in the city has created unique challenges. One of those challenges is how to manage resources and govern effectively, so the citizens can best be served.

The concentrated critical mass of citizens moving to and residing in cities has triggered a major societal change: the era when the citizen expects co-creation with its local government, for the local government to be transparent, collaborative, and problem solver. We call this era, the age of the empowered citizen. The citizen has discovered connective power like never before. The citizenry can use its power to create the change they want to see.

Local governments have responded to this expectation with the adoption of Smart City frameworks. In short, the promise of smart cities is to be an innovative hub, where the use of information and communications technology (ICT) makes cities more livable, boosts the quality of public services, and connects citizens to collaboration forums where government and citizens can jointly solve issues. The citizen is the center of the effort, not the government.

But what explains this shift in society, going from government-centric mindset to the age of the empowered citizen? One theoretical explanation is that technology is driving societal change. Others see this rise of the empowered citizen as the product of emergence, and therefore, believe that not technology theory but emergence theory explains the phenomena.

In the Smart City, Technology Theory vs. Emergence Theory

So which one of these theories better explains the empowered citizen in a smart city ecosystem? Let’s briefly highlight some key differences between the theories in explaining the rise of the empowered citizen.

Technology theory tells us that humanity makes progress or develops in society because technology is a driver of that change. Technology becomes the solution to dealing with complexity in the modern world.

Matter of fact, proponents of technology as an explanation for societal change highlight that technology has restructured society’s roles and have brought society to an unprecedented level of prosperity. Technology has now connected the citizen to the city and has given the citizen access. With more access, information is no longer hidden, and the citizen explores this freedom of information to enhance his quality of life or spark change.

Given this access and the complexity of city living, cities have discovered that collaboration with citizens improves the rate of adoption of public initiatives and the delivery of public services. No longer can knowledge be confined to a few, and now the city and the citizen can tap on each other’s intellectual domains (given access to connectivity and the nature of citizen mobility) to jointly improve quality of life in the city.

Emergence theory tells us that all change in society is based on the patterns of local interactions. No one person is totally responsible for the change that happens in society. Nevertheless, the interactions of individual actors can trigger change.

In emergence, change is not a top-down process (as it could be with technology), but it is change that occurs from the bottom up (from the individual actor). Given the nature of the smart city ecosystem, researchers point out that networks and relationships within that ecosystem exhibit emergence characteristics. They cannot be managed; instead, organizations and other actors in the same environment must learn how to manage themselves in this complex ecosystem.

No one can deny that the empowered citizen lives in a smart city ecosystem that is powered by technology, but the difference in this emergence theory is that the citizen is driving the change because he finds new uses for technology, and in that process, he transforms life in the city.

It is the transformation of human life, driven by the citizens desire to improve his condition, the core driver in the explosion of technologies and not necessarily the other way around. [3]

Some not-so-final thoughts

We see in the fringes of those smart cities that are doing well that citizens drive the adoption of technologies, and they have the intellectual capital to solve future problems. We have come to the age of the empowered citizen, one who has increased control and will use it to drive societal change.

In either lens (technology or emergence theory…both which we will cover in relation to what they tell us about the future in subsequent posts), we can see that any future, positive change will have to be a joint effort between citizen and government.

But leaders are not yet ready. To meet citizens in the future, leaders will need to develop civilizational competencies, critical thinking skills, and foresight. [4] Technology alone is unlikely to solve complexity in the future.


References and Notes:

[1] United Nations. (2018). World Urbanized Prospects 2018: Key Facts. United Nations DESA Population Division. Retrieved from

[2] World population prospects. (2017). United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. Custom Data. United Nations. Retrieved from; United States Census Bureau. Population projections datasets. Retrieved from

[3] LugoSantiago, J. (2018, March 1). The transformation of human life. LugoSantiago Enterprise Group (LS|EG). Retrieved from

[4] LugoSantiago, J. A. (2018, September 14). Smart leadership for smart city success. Smart CitiesWorld. Retrieved from