New Report: Smart Cities will thrive with National Policy Support 1

WASHINGTON—New technologies have created the opportunity to build smart cities capable of collecting and analyzing vast quantities of data to automate processes, improve service quality, and make better decisions. With most of the world’s population now living in urban areas, these transformations stand to significantly improve many people’s quality of life. But local officials cannot achieve this on their own. National governments have an important role to play in coordinating the development of smart cities and ensuring their long-term success, according to a new analysis by the Center for Data Innovation.
Smart cities
The Center, a think tank focused on data and public policy, identifies key barriers standing in the way of smart cities and offers a series of recommendations for national governments to accelerate their transformation and help them succeed in harnessing information technology and data analytics to improve urban life.

“Acting alone, individual cities are not equipped to quickly and effectively become smart cities. National governments should step in to enact policies that enable this transition,” said Daniel Castro, the Center’s director and a co-author of the report. The success of smart cities will depend on the extent to which there are broad policy frameworks in place to kickstart investment in technology and infrastructure, develop and share best practices, and establish interconnected networks to take advantage of economies of scale.”

The report identifies five key challenges limiting smart city development: high levels of risk when it comes to making necessary investments, a lack of focus on smart infrastructure, the need for interconnected systems and scale, lagging communities of practice that share information about what works best, and the need to ensure equitable distribution and application of smart city technologies.

To overcome these challenges, the report offers a series of recommendations for national governments to support smart cities.

To mitigate risk:

  • Invest in research and development for underlying smart city technologies.
  • Leverage public-private, industry, and academic partnerships to carry out R&D projects.
  • Reduce the perceived risk of smart city investments, primarily by creating a comprehensive, large-scale smart city pilot program.
  • Require nationally funded smart city initiatives to focus on high-impact problems with easily replicable solutions.
  • Require nationally funded smart city initiatives to share data about their successes and failures so others can learn from them.

To spur smart infrastructure:

  • Shift the focus of infrastructure investment from “concrete” to “chips” by devoting portions of infrastructure spending specifically to digital infrastructure.
  • Seek opportunities to invest in smart infrastructure where it can generate high returns on investment for taxpayers.

To enable interconnected systems and leverage scale:

  • Develop common tools, technologies, policies, and standards for collecting, storing, and analyzing smart city data.
  • Implement incentive programs that reward cities for adopting these common standards and for sharing data and nonproprietary software tools.
  • Encourage the adoption of common technical standards that enable a “plug-and-play” approach to smart city development.
  • Establish clear regulatory guidelines that maximize the utility of smart city data.

To foster communities of practice:

  • Encourage the development and adoption of smart city performance metrics to allow national governments to compare cities’ performance using common criteria.
  • Foster collaboration and coordination in the smart city ecosystem to facilitate inter-city learning and reduce knowledge-sharing barriers.
  • Use a variety of methods to build robust communities of practice for smart cities that integrate industry, government, and academia.

To ensure equity:

  • Ensure smart city funding prioritizes the needs of undeserved communities.
  • Ensure that no population is excluded from smart city data collection and use.
  • Ensure funding for programs that address the needs of underserved communities, such as accessibility programs, emphasize the use of smart technology.

“Technologies will continue to develop that can bring economic and social benefits to communities they support around the world,” said Joshua New, a policy analyst with the Center and co-author of the report. “Any country that fails to support the development of smart cities will be limited in its ability to take advantage of the economic and social benefits cities can offer.”

Read the report.

The Center for Data Innovation is the leading global think tank studying the intersection of data, technology, and public policy. With staff in Washington, DC, and Brussels, the Center formulates and promotes pragmatic public policies designed to maximize the benefits of data-driven innovation in the public and private sectors. It educates policymakers and the public about the opportunities and challenges associated with data, as well as technology trends such as predictive analytics, open data, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things. The Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute proudly affiliated with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. For more about the Center, visit


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