How Does Technology Affect Smart City Governance?

What is a Smart City?

A Smart City (SC) capitalises on technology, proper governance and collaborations between the various stakeholders to comprehensively promote city prosperity and eventually improve the quality of citizens’ lives.

Figure 1. Envisaging the smart city[1]

Cities are agglomerations of economic, social, and cultural benefits[2]. On the other hand, cities are increasingly confronted with issues such as diminishing public management efficiency, backward infrastructure, traffic congestion, environmental pollution, and general security concerns, among others.

The Smart City is a concept that has evolved around the world to solve urban problems and enhance urban development. Several municipalities, such as Cape Town, Ottawa, San Diego, Southampton, Barcelona, Seoul, and Shanghai, have developed SCs to serve citizens better and improve the quality of citizens’ lives.

What is Smart City Governance?

New governance patterns are required to manage SCs. The governance models for SCs could be divided into two categories:

  • Some of the governance models are technology-driven, focusing on the role of big data and technology.
  • Other governance models emphasise the human and institutional factors,  such as the role of governance structures, citizen-centricity, social capital, human resources and stakeholders.

At the intersection of these two, Smart City Governance (SCG) emerges mainly due to the growing roles of technology and human capabilities in the functioning of cities, which gives the government the opportunity to optimise the governance process and outcomes. A typical description of SCG is “crafting new forms of human collaboration through the use of ICTs to obtain better outcomes and more open governance processes” [3].

How does technology affect SCG?

The technology revolution has altered the city governance model. The impact of technology on governance models is roughly in two directions. One is to use technology to strengthen the government-centric bureaucratic model, and the other is to use technology to distribute decision-making power to more stakeholders.

  • Technology contributing to the concentration of power

The case in Shenzhen, China shows how technology can strengthen a top-down governance model. The Shenzhen government propagated a programmatic document for SCG, the Shenzhen Municipal New-Type Smart City Construction Master Plan, in 2018[4]. In this plan, the SC structure of Shenzhen includes three layers and two supports, as outlined in the figure below.

The primary layer is the SC Sensory Network System, which mainly includes sensor networks, communication networks, and computing storage centres; the middle layer provides support for government decision-making, which is composed of the Urban Big Data Centre and SC Operation and Management Centre; the top application layer includes four parts public services, public safety, urban governance and smart industries.

In this scenario, technology is the core element of governance and is used to strengthen the government’s decision-making and implementation capabilities. In this kind of governance model, technology is used to collect public management-related data and information, help make governmental decisions and finally reinforce the rationality and efficiency of government.

Figure 2. Shenzhen’s smart city structure [5]

  • Technology contributing to the decentralisation of power

On the other hand, technology may give impetus to the bottom-up governance model. For example, in the case of Amsterdam Smart City (ASC)[6], the Amsterdam Economic Board governs and funds it using an open web-based platform. This platform allows stakeholders to communicate and disseminate information in a fair and transparent manner. Furthermore, open-house programmes and open gatherings help citizens communicate and empower themselves. This case demonstrates how technological innovation has aided in the distribution of information and power to more stakeholders in ASC.

Figure 3. Amsterdam Smart City

In conclusion, data and information bestow stakeholders’ power and legitimacy in urban governance to a certain extent. From the standpoint of technology, the power distribution of data and information may affect the governance model towards decentralisation or concentration.

References

[1] https://www.arcweb.com/industries/smart-cities

[2] https://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/sources/docgener/studies/pdf/citiesoftomorrow/citiesoftomorrow_final.pdf

[3] Bolívar, M. P. R., & Meijer, A. J. (2016). Smart governance: Using a literature review and empirical analysis to build a research model. Social Science Computer Review, 34(6), 673–692. https://doi.org/10.1177/0894439315611088

[4] http://www.sz.gov.cn/zfgb/2018/gb1062/content/post_4977617.html

[5] Hu, R., (2019). The state of smart cities in China: The case of Shenzhen. Energies, 12(22), p.4375

[6] https://amsterdamsmartcity.com/

Delivering Urban Data Justice for “Smart Cities 2.0”

What new institutions are needed to ensure smart cities are also data-just cities?

Smart City 1.0 “is primarily focused on diffusing smart technologies for corporate and economic interests”.  Smart City 2.0 is “a decentralised, people-centric approach where smart technologies are employed as tools to tackle social problems, address resident needs and foster collaborative participation”.[1]

Given their people-centrism, a foundation for Smart Cities 2.0 must therefore be delivery of urban data justice: fairness in the way people are made visible, represented and treated as a result of the production of urban digital data.[2]

We already know the constituent parts of urban data justice, as shown in the figure below.[3]

But a key argument of this model is that data justice is significantly shaped by urban social structures.  If those structures are unjust then data practices and outcomes will likely be unjust.  How, then, do we create urban social structures more likely to deliver the data justice that is part of Smart City 2.0?

Setting aside more radical restructuring of the urban polity, three more incremental forms can play a role:

1. Living Labs

“Living labs employ a user-focused design environment, a strategy of co-creation, and, increasingly, an institutionalized space wherein citizens, administrators, entrepreneurs and academics come together to develop smartness into concrete applications. They help identify and join localized expertise, real-life testing and prototyping with strategic networking of resources to address challenges that cannot be solved by single cities or departments.”[4]  Located at the upstream end of the innovation cycle, living labs are well-placed to come up with new, just ways of applying urban data.[5]

2. Urban Data Trusts

Data trusts are “a legal structure that provides independent stewardship of data … an approach to looking after and making decisions about data in a similar way that trusts have been used to look after and make decisions about other forms of asset in the past, such as land trusts that steward land on behalf of local communities.”[6]  These can form an institutional superstructure to ensure justice in the ownership, sharing and use of data; particularly data gathered about urban citizens.[7]

3. Community Data Intermediaries

Community data intermediaries are “organizations that gather data relevant for neighborhood-level analysis and make the information available to community groups and local institutions”.  Alongside their key role in gathering data – for example via community mapping – CDIs may also have features of both living labs (innovating application of that data) and data trusts (acting as stewards of the data for communities).[8]

The devil here will be in the detail: how exactly are these entities structured and run?  Simply attaching a label to an organisation does not make it just, with critiques in circulation of living labs[9], urban data trusts[10], and community data intermediaries[11].  Nonetheless, it is these types of urban institutional innovation that will underlie delivery of data justice in Smart Cities 2.0.  I look forward to further examples of these and similar innovations.

 

[1] Trencher, G. (2019) Towards the smart city 2.0: empirical evidence of using smartness as a tool for tackling social challenges, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 142, 117-128

[2] Adapted slightly from Taylor, L. (2017) What is data justice? The case for connecting digital rights and freedoms globally, Big Data & Society, 4(2), 2053951717736335

[3] Heeks, R. & Shekhar, S. (2019) Datafication, development and marginalised urban communities: An applied data justice framework, Information, Communication & Society, 22(7), 992-1011

[4] Baykurt, B. (2020) Are “smart” cities living up to the hype?, University of Massachusetts Amherst News, 1 May

[5] For a data justice perspective on the activities of one Living Lab in Kathmandu plus related organisations, see: Mulder, F. (2020) Humanitarian data justice: A structural data justice lens on civic technologies in post‐earthquake Nepal, Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 28(4), 432-445

[6] Hardinges, J. (2020) Data trusts in 2020, Open Data Institute, 17 Mar

[7] For more on urban civic data trusts, see: Kariotis, T. (2020) Civic Data Trusts, Melbourne School of Government, University of Melbourne, Australia

[8] For a guide on creating community data intermedaries and examples, see: Hendey, L., Cowan, J., Kingsley, G.T. & Pettit, K.L. (2016) NNIP’s Guide to Starting a Local Data Intermediary, NNIP, Washington, DC

[9] Taylor, L. (2020) Exploitation as innovation: research ethics and the governance of experimentation in the urban living lab. Regional Studies, advance online publication.

[10] Artyushina, A. (2020) Is civic data governance the key to democratic smart cities? The role of the urban data trust in Sidewalk Toronto, Telematics and Informatics, 55, 101456

[11] Heeks, R. & Shekhar, S. (2019) Datafication, development and marginalised urban communities: An applied data justice framework, Information, Communication & Society, 22(7), 992-1011