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How to rebuild trust in the Smart Cities: the concept of “Question Storming” by Sandra Baer

Let’s talk about trust in the smart city context and the contribution of Ubiwhere to build a reliable future.

What makes a smart city? How is it possible to build Sustainable Communities? How can cities pave the way for a more sustainable and resilient future? Sandra Baer, CEO of Personal Cities, can answer these questions.

For Sandra Baer, a smart city is characterized by inclusivity, technology-enabled efficiency, economic vibrancy, and a strong community identity. Through her innovative vision and on the eve of Smart City Expo World Congress 2023 in Barcelona, Ubiwhere talked to Sandra about some topics and challenges to create a digital future full of trust for all citizens.

"We believe that cities, especially smart cities, are at the leading edge of thinking differently."

Ubiwhere: You have been focusing on trust, specifically rebuilding trust. Why is it so relevant to talk about trust, especially in the smart city context?

Sandra Baer: We live in an increasingly multipolar world of many crises that, if left unaddressed, will force us to live in a world lacking compassion, cooperation and understanding. Indeed, a convergence of problems — from the global pandemic, political gridlock, vexing income inequality, social injustice, global migration, the climate crisis, the war in Ukraine, and other global conflicts, have all contributed to overwhelming uncertainty and a lack of trust.

Witnessing this “trust deficit” has set in motion a new realization that reimagining our future urban life will require a different approach to solving complex problems. Can we learn to see the world through the lens of others? Can we seize this auspicious time to rebuild trust in cities and across the globe?

Urban leaders must take more extensive, bolder actions to deal with these urgent challenges as they work to reshape and reimagine their cities in a very uncertain world.


UW: You introduced the concept of "Question Storming". Please briefly explain how it works and why this is an effective way to get insights.

SB: "Question Storming" is a simple and direct way to provoke new thinking and fuel further actions. We set the stage by defining the issue and formulating the challenge. We start with a difficult question: "How can we rebuild trust in a broken world?" There are only two rules:

First, we ask that each participant be receptive and willing to LISTEN - listening is critical to delving deeper into the problem. We are quick. We want each participant to take time to think and allow each question to inform their next question.

Second, we ask that each participant is committed to problem-solving and willing ONLY to ask questions during the session. No commentary, no explanation is needed, just thoughtful questions.

To truly reimagine how to rebuild trust, we believe that we must give space and time to ask questions by asking tough questions—the ones that expose our biases, our fears, the ones that bring our beliefs to the surface—only then will we hear and formulate the right questions that ultimately unlock solutions no one else has discovered. Ultimately, Question Storming creates the launch pad for "Solution Storming." Because the issue is complex and challenging, we acknowledge that enduring solutions require more time, conversations, and analysis. Yet we also recognize that the Question Storming process can invoke some immediate insights, new ideas, new approaches, and new outside-the-box solutions that have never come to mind.

We are not in the business of predicting what will happen. Rather, we remain stubborn optimists as we search for solutions and work to shape our world in new ways. Questions Storming can be life-changing. It can unlock new thinking and keep us from saying, "This is how we’ve always done it."


Moving from the traditional way of solving problems is a part of our new digital, physical, and human future.


UW: Do you already have some conclusions you can share about the research on the Rebuilding Trust?

SB: Yes, we will offer actionable insights in our forthcoming book. We will show how everyone can become a Trust Ambassador.

Here are a few of our initial insights… We need to consider who should take ownership to rebuild trust. There is an expectation that leaders - government, political, business, civic, and academic - are all responsible for modeling trusting behavior and actions. They must use the power of their voices and choices to expand and reshape an unsuspecting society. In all cases, at the core of this ownership is individual responsibility and accountability.


Our actions, mainly to engage in conversations with those who think differently and to truly listen, will be the vehicle to create civility and foster respect for different opinions and ideas.


We must seize the time to question our beliefs. As our brains and hearts form and solidify, right here, right now, is the critical time to reimagine our actions. Trust is an indispensable currency of human interactions; without it, societies will not thrive. The empirical research that Dr Lawrence Jones and I conducted over the past two years, in Question Storming over 300 people from 30 countries around the globe, gave us a mandate to share our insights and encourage new ways to solve “wicked problems.”


UW: How do you see the contributions that technological SMEs, such as Ubiwhere, can bring to help achieve a more reliable future?

?SB: Ubiwhere is a model company for strengthening our understanding of rebuilding trust. Their technology expertise, skilled and energetic team, and smart and compassionate leadership demonstrate what is possible as we seek new and better approaches to the challenges ahead. We believe that every organisation can make a difference; Ubiwhere’s integrity and honesty make them Trust Ambassadors for enterprises worldwide.


UW: Thank you so much, Sandra Baer, for this amazing opportunity to talk and learn with you. It’s been a privilege to collaborate and to work with you! We hope to see you soon at Smart City Expo World Congress 2023 in Barcelona!