A new report which examines the inner workings of 36 “pioneer cities” is intended to provide a benchmark for the ethical and responsible use of smart city technologies.
The Governing Smart Cities report, released by the World Economic Forum (WEF), seeks to help city leaders identify gaps, protect long-term interests, and keep up with the pace of technology.
The report finds cities of all sizes, geographies and levels of development have serious governance gaps, such as the failure to designate a person accountable for cybersecurity or to assess privacy risks when procuring new technology systems. But urges leaders to close these gaps and protect their cities’ long-term interests by acting now.
Written in partnership with professional services firm Deloitte, the report follows the call to action from G20 ministers in 2019 that resulted in the creation of the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance.
“Our findings validate our fears that most cities are falling behind when it comes to ensuring effective oversight and governance of these technologies”
The alliance and its partners represent more than 200,000 cities, local governments, leading companies, start-ups, research institutions and civil society communities. It bids to act as a platform to help cities strengthen their knowledge, expertise and governance of smart city technologies. WEF is its secretariat.
- Nearly all the cities surveyed – including those that are generally regarded as leading global cities – have critical policy gaps related to their governance of smart city technologies
- Despite an unprecedented increase in global cybersecurity attacks, most cities have not designated a specific government official as ultimately accountable for cybersecurity
- While the majority of cities recognise the importance of protecting the privacy of their citizens, only 17 per cent of cities surveyed carry out privacy impact assessments before deploying new technologies
- Less than half of the cities surveyed have processes in place to ensure that technologies they procure are accessible to elderly residents or individuals with limited physical abilities
- Open data policy is perhaps the only area in which most cities in the sample have achieved a level of basic implementation. Even here, the authors caution only 15 per cent of the pioneer cities have integrated their open data portals with their wider city data infrastructure, which is a necessary step towards making a city “open by default”.
“Cities are continuing to invest heavily in new technologies to automate and improve city services and urban life. Yet our findings validate our fears that most cities are falling behind when it comes to ensuring effective oversight and governance of these technologies,” said Jeff Merritt, head of internet of things and urban transformation, World Economic Forum.
“The G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance is working with cities across the globe to address this gap, beginning with more than 15 policy workshops with city officials this summer.”
The report concludes that city leaders and officials need to take action before these governance gaps become material risk and affect residents. The report’s authors also call for national policymakers, civil society and the business community to help support local governments in overcoming these challenges.
“Technology is an enabler but, to fulfill its full potential, cities need to revise their governance, operational, and financing models. Here lies the biggest challenge cities face”
Inclusion, data privacy and cybersecurity attacks are leading concerns and the G20 alliance has a mandate to help cities close the governance gaps that this report has uncovered. Cities looking for assistance in identifying and addressing their policy gaps are encouraged to contact the Alliance via its website.
“Cities have an array of opportunities to become more resilient and sustainable. Technology is an enabler but, to fulfill its full potential, cities need to revise their governance, operational, and financing models. Here lies the biggest challenge cities face,” added Miguel Eiras Antunes, global smart cities leader, Deloitte Global.
“Now is the moment for a great urban transformation. Addressing urban challenges through the lenses of sustainability, inclusion, and technology is critical to develop and implement a roadmap to guide cities with their governance of smart technology and make an impact that matters.”
The 36 pioneer cities surveyed span six continents and 22 countries, and have populations ranging from 70,000 to more than 15 million. Policy experts and government officials were interviewed from January to March 2021 to assess the implementation of a set of five essential policies identified by the G20 alliance last year.