A new study of smart cities successes has uncovered 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.
“Rethinking Smart Cities from the Ground Up” was produced by the UK research organization Nesta and funded by Council Associate Partner Intel. The study identifies smart cities’ bad behaviors and suggests more effective courses of action, reports the Smart Cities Council.
The Four Flaws
- Start With Technology
The first mistake lower-performing cities make is to start with technology and work backwards, according to Nesta. This approach can work to boost the economy because the investment puts people to work, but it may not be sustainable since it’s not designed specifically to address and solve pressing community needs.
- Talk Only To Technologists
People responsible for initiatives often become isolated when they should be outgoing, finds Nesta. When city project leaders 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.
- Neglect To Use Available Data
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 of their pilot projects.
- Leave Out Citizens
Citizens are often left out, according to Nesta. While initiatives are intended to benefit them, they are rarely asked about what they want. By depriving citizens of an opportunity to contribute, any results — even successes — are less likely to be noticed.
What Should Cities Do?
Nesta’s report outlines steps cities can take to increase their chances for success. Cities have to give people as much consideration as they do technology, writes co-author Tom Saunders.
The report also suggests that cities open civic innovation labs. These labs create opportunities to collaborate with the public and should 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.