In this episode of the Smart City Podcast, I had a fantastic conversation with Merrick Spain, the Smart Cities Lead for Telstra. We discuss the importance of community and civic innovation in the Smart City space, and also the need to develop a data culture before we get too excited about the tech. We also explore some of the projects Merrick is working on, particularly in the realm of Smart Regions, and the emerging trend of genuine collaboration. Merrick’s favourite term is ‘Smart from the Start’ which I really enjoy. As always, I hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as I enjoyed making it.

Listen here:

What we cover in this episode:

  • Merrick’s interest in emerging technologies and his background
  • What a Smart City means to him and why he prefers the term Civic Innovation
  • The rising tide of digital aspirations and why it’s so important
  • The accelerating embrace the Smart City concept in Australia
  • Why we need to be “Smart from the Start” and the importance of developing a data culture
  • Projects Telstra is working on and the areas they’re focusing on going forwards
  • The challenges and opportunities of applying Smart concepts to smaller regional communities
  • Integrating across different disciplines and industries, and the need for genuine collaborations
  • The emerging trends and important areas Merrick believes deserve continuing conversation


The interest for me in emerging spaces is that that’s where there’s a lot of mystery, and there’s this imperative to go out and build your understanding and thought leadership and then help other stakeholders to understand those emerging technologies and what they mean for their businesses, and in the case of Smart Cities, for the way individual citizens live, work, play, learn and innovate.

The word Smart indicates that technology is the primary focus and it also implies that there’s an outcome, and I think neither of those things is true. I think technology is genuinely an enabler to this space and that it’s not an outcome but that it’s a process and more a frame of mind along that journey.

In a country like Australia it’s really important that this isn’t just about the Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbanes of the world, but instead that this is also about the regions where more than a third of our population lives and works.

[A Smart City is] really the technology-enabled global movement to positively impact the human experience as the human experience plays out in functions like living, working and innovating.

Because of the fact that we all have a Smart phone in our hands, and we’ve seen the rising level of utility that we all individually get in our business and personal lives, it means there’s this rising tide of digitally intertwined aspirations. People are wanting better outcomes in how they live and work and spend their time, and they understand technology has an important role to play in that.

Individual pieces of technology need to be deployed to deliver some distinct benefits in the areas that they pertain to, but those technologies also need to link together and integrate into a bigger picture approach that aligns with the unique value proposition and DNA of a community.

[A data culture is] an aggregate understanding across stakeholders in different sectors of how we leverage data. There’s a universe of data out there that really represents the context of cities and communities, and without that context potentially we’re making investments in technology almost for technology’s sake, which I think would be a great issue. If we can build that data culture, we will be able to understand why we’re investing in which technologies, where and how.

Those smaller regional places really struggle with unique problems and I think it’s a great outcome when a small regional community can leverage technology to solve some immediate problems.

What I see holding us back is not the technology. What I see holding us back is not necessarily what each of our organisations can do on its own. But what I think largely holds us back is the fact that making a difference in this space implicitly means that none of us can do it alone, and that we have to collaborate, and collaborate in a new way.

Industry stakeholders and the representatives of them…need to do ourselves a favour and start behaving in different in different ways, because it’s important that we demonstrate that we’re committed to the outcomes of communities. And if we do that in tangible ways and we have a willingness to co-invest our time and thought leadership and our resources into initiatives to help, then I think increasingly cities and regions will start to trust us and be more open to finding public-private partnerships that will really make a difference.


You can connect with Merrick on LinkedIn and via Twitter @MerrickSpain

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The Smart City Podcast is produced by Ellen Ronalds Keene.

My Smart Community

My Smart Community offers consulting and media services with a focus on making our communities more accessible, liveable and sustainable for all. We have a focus on Smart Mobility, Smart project management, Smart technology in regional communities, dealing with disruption and facilitating genuine collaboration. As well as podcast production, communication and media advisory and engagement, keynote speaking, moderating, master of ceremonies and workshop design and facilitation.

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The Smart Community Podcast is a hub where smart and exciting people from all around the world come to discuss all things Smart City, Smart Town, Smart Region - anything that makes a place more liveable. Together we can create our own Smart Communities.


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