Want to be a smart cities leader? Don’t do these four things

Wed, 2015-06-24 06:00 -- SCC Staff


Everybody wants to talk when things are going well, but a new report on smart cities successes uncovers some valuable insights by looking deeper at the underachievers. One key lesson: forgetting who your smart cities initiatives are for will put you on a fast track to failure.

The report, Rethinking Smart Cities from the Ground Up, was produced by the UK research organization Nesta and funded by Council Associate Partner Intel. It identifies bad behaviors and suggests more effective courses of action. In short, cities that speak more than they listen are destined to spend more than they should for underwhelming results.

Don’t make these mistakes
Nesta says the first mistake lower-performing cities make is to start with technology and work back from there. While this approach can work to boost the economy -- the investment does put people to work -- it may not be sustainable since it’s not designed specifically to address and solve pressing community needs.

It also finds that people responsible for the initiatives often become isolated when they should be outgoing. It says when city project leaders do seek wisdom from the outside, they frequently fall into the trap of only talking to other technologists. They gain technical wisdom, but fail to see how to convert that into practice.

While many smart cities projects are about collecting and using data to drive improvements, Nesta finds the underachievers make use of very little data in scoping and designing their projects. Part of that is because these cities may not look very hard for it, but the report also says it would also help if more cities shared the results -- good or bad -- of their pilot projects.

Finally, it says citizens are often left out. While the initiatives are intended to benefit them, they are rarely asked about what they want. By depriving the citizens of an opportunity to contribute, any results -- even successes -- are less likely to be noticed.

So what should cities do?
Nesta’s report isn’t all doom and gloom; it outlines steps cities can take to increase their chances for success. A key one: Report co-author Tom Saunders writes that cities have to give people as much consideration as they do technology.

The report also advocates that cities open civic innovation labs. These labs create opportunities to collaborate with the public. It says they should also be used to generate data -- data the city should analyze to determine if the project will deliver the promised benefits or whether it should be redesigned. In particular, Nesta says cities should look to Seoul’s Innovation Bureau and New Urban Mechanics, which is working in Boston, Philadelphia and the Utah Valley, for inspiration.

Open data is also key. Nesta says smart cities projects themselves should be open. Project results should be available and citizens should be allowed to help solve problems.

Get the Smart Cities Open Guide
The Smart Cities Open Data Guide provides lessons learned and best practices from cities that blazed the open data trail. The Guide is available at no cost to registered members of the Smart Cities Council. Download your free copy now.