What is Smart Societies?

It is about using technology to build better society where people can lead improved lives. How should we use technology to improve people’s lives and build better society? How can we harness digital technology, artificial intelligence, virtual realities, citizen science, and ultra connectivity to improve health and well-being, to promote social mobility, to be inclusive and caring, and to reduce poverty and environmental harms? What data, methods, values, ethics, rules, and institutions are fit for purpose? 

Our world is being rapidly and irrevocably transformed by digital technologies, connected devices, big data, and artificial intelligence and so on.  In the past decade the application of technology has had noticeable impacts on cities (e.g. Uber, driverless cars, ride sharing), our ways of communicating and governing (e.g. fake news, crowdsourcing, elections and referendums), and our health and well-being (e.g. eSport), and how we lead the next generation.   The concept and imaginary of Smart Societies is widely discussed across the planet; and the public recognise the profound significance of Smart Societies.

The Faculty of Social Sciences sparks research on the possibilities for, and actions necessary for creating smarter and better societies. We exploit the Faculty’s comparative advantage and build a distinctive and trans-disciplinary approach to study Smart Societies through four Research Themes:

1. Environmental and Urban Systems

    Theme Convenor:  Prof. Bernhart R. OWEN, Professor, Department of Geography

Smart Society is an urban society. We have considerable expertise in analysing environmental and urban systems. Through these studies we have uncovered various social issues, such as energy problems, resource and ecosystem management, human- environment interactions, and climate change in China, Asia and Europe. Our commitment in the “Urban Innovations” series of activities organised by the European Union Academic Programme (2013- 2017) have already connected our research team with different stakeholders from the HK SAR Government, local policy makers, administrators, politicians, NGOs, businesses and academics to carry out research for building the “smart urban system”.

2. Well-being

     Theme Convenor: Prof. CHUNG Pak-Kwong, Professor, Department of Sport and Physical Education

Life in a Smart Society means experiencing improvements in mental and physical health and coming to expect an overall enhancement in social well-being. The Faculty counts much expertise on well-being. For example, we are studying the health practices of urban dwellers to propose an index that can inform strategies for the management lifestyle of different cohorts across Hong Kong and Mainland China. Colleagues in PE research eSport and how on-line gaming impacts leisure strategies and health. The project on “Promoting Positive Youth Development through School-University-Elderly Learning Community” demonstrates a new approach to enhance students’ knowledge and skills and cultivate their sense of belonging and positive social values through collaborative inter-generational engagement in issues of healthy living and well-being.

3. Populations

     Theme Convenor:  Dr. Shirley HUNG, Associate Professor and Associate Head, Department of Social Work

Smart Society is a place where all population groups can share the benefits of technology. However, extensive scholarship on the so-called “digital divide” suggests otherwise (Warschauer, 2004. It is therefore important to consider how technology works for specific population groups. Those particularly likely to be affected (positively and negatively) include young people, the elderly, the mobile (migrants), and members of minority ethnic population. We have a strong track record in this research theme. Social Work has co-developed a territory-wide project for Career Life Adventure Planning for Youth (CLAP) with Jockey Club support. David C Lam Institute for East-West Studies (LEWI) and Advanced Institute for Contemporary China Studies (ACCS) both have inter-disciplinary research groups dealing with migration. Colleagues in Sociology and Education Studies have studied ethnic minority dynamics. Centre for Child Development (CCD) has a strong local reputation for its work with young people on creativity while Centre for Youth Research and Practice (CYRP) promulgates cutting-edge narrative therapies in their engagements with youth.

4. Learning and Praxis

     Theme Convenor: Prof. Vicky TAM, Professor and Associate Head, Department of Education Studies

Smart Societies revolutionise knowledge: how it is made, and shared, and how it is used. The application of big data creates endless possibilities for truths and false positives and, combined with the social and political mediation of supposedly objective scientific knowledge, places the public in an ambiguous position with regard to its understanding of the world around. The so-called “debate” on climate change is one ongoing example. At the same time, citizen science, enabled by connected society and digital technology, opens new possibilities for understanding and engagement in Smart Societies.

The Faculty of Social Science has promoted a trans-disciplinary approach to praxis since 2011 (Faculty Strategy, 2011). Trans-disciplinary praxis is distinct from multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary scholarship because of its orientation to engaged social science. It is suited to studying global relations and working with partners cross-culturally because of its emphasis on the ethics of research partnership.