Inclusion as an Enabler to Sustainable Innovations in Smart Cities: A Multi-Level Framework
Smart cities aim to offer an improved quality of life to citizens, promote economic growth, establish a sustainable approach to development, and ensure efficient service delivery. The main focus in smart cities' research is on the technological aspects of those cities. However, without aligning the design of smart cities with the socio-cultural elements of the communities involved, and without bringing the voices of all stakeholders into the design and implementation of smart cities, sustainable urban development cannot be achieved. Indeed, a holistic approach that emphasis social inclusion of all categories of citizens through a participatory innovation process is needed to achieve sustainable smart cities. Focusing on the social aspects of smart cities, in this work, we examine the impact of gender inclusivity on sustainable engineering, innovation, and the design of future smart cities. Adopting a holistic and synergistic approach, we study how gender inclusivity and innovation intersect with the sustainability agenda in the engineering profession, at three complementary levels: 1) the Micro level, representing individual skills; 2) the Meso level, representing organizations and innovation at the groups' level; and 3) the Macro level representing governments and sustainability at the city level. Using a qualitative research approach with targeted sampling, we conducted semi-structured interviews with male and female directors working at an international engineering and consultancy firm in Dubai, and conduced a focus group discussion with a group of university students who won the innovation category in the Solar Decathlon Middle East 2018 competition for their net-zero energy, dementia friendly home design. Thematic analysis of the data collected was conducted, and a multi-level inclusion framework was proposed based on our findings. The results obtained provide interesting insights on the impact of inclusion on sustainability and innovation, and can have practical applications in the design of future smart cities.