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From Research to Results: The Substance Behind Smart Cities

A recent study concluded that the more participants used smart city services, the higher quality of life they achieved.

This story was originally published by Data-Smart City Solutions.

Many have theorized that tools like broadband networks and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors —  technologies that provide access to information through telecommunications — can improve the lives of residents. However, few have gone directly to residents to understand how these tools, commonly referred to in academic literature as smart city information and communication technologies (ICTs), truly affect city dwellers. The authors of “The effects of successful ICT-based smart city services: From citizens' perspectives” attempt to do just that, surveying residents to make an empirical case that smart city ICT applications do indeed improve quality of life. However, the article concludes that integrating residents’ needs and preferences into application development processes is critical to creating an effective smart city infrastructure.

In order to test their hypotheses about the effects of smart city initiatives, the authors randomly distributed a questionnaire to Taiwanese citizens over the age of 18. Many cities in Taiwan have pursued smart city initiatives, making it a particularly fruitful subject for insights on the effects of such projects. To ensure that participants had prior exposure to ICTs, the study focused on residents in cities that had previously applied for the Intelligent Community Forum’s (ICF) global competition, which awards communities that have used information and communications technology (ICT) to create inclusive prosperity, tackle social and governance challenges and enrich their quality of life.

The questionnaire asked participants about their level of city engagement, familiarity with ICTs, innovativeness, comfort with privacy around smart city initiatives, and satisfaction with their lives, as well as perceived quality of service and concept offered by ICTs. The study then compared these responses with participants’ frequency of engagement with ICTs, whether that be use of a city 311 app, analysis of open data, or some other activity involving smart city technologies.

The study concluded that the more participants used smart city services, the higher quality of life they achieved. This finding justifies the implementation of smart city technologies as initiatives with real effects on human lives. Cities should look to such initiatives as means of providing better services to vulnerable populations, as well as attractions that can draw entrepreneurial residents and with them economic growth. 

However, the study also stresses that because smart city technologies are practical tools that can improve lives, the focus during development must be on function over form. When developing a smart city initiative, municipalities must first ask whether or not the proposed project effectively addresses a compelling civic problem. Cities should reach out to residents in order to understand what priorities citizens feel that ICT could address.

Next, cities must ensure that they tackle the problem in the most effective way possible. The authors suggest that governments develop a “smartness blueprint” that outlines scopes, goals, and stages of development in order to ensure that the diverse set of ICT providers work harmoniously. And, for projects involving data collection, the authors propose that governments deploy ubiquitous sensors in order to collect unprecedented amounts of data, and then make this data openly available to ensure that service providers are able to easily access the information when designing interventions.

In order to further ensure the functionality of their smart city projects, governments should put a premium on usability. In addition to user-testing ICT in order to develop human-centered designs, cities should actively educate residents on using smart city technologies via workshops, guides, and even social media posts.

A final and often overlooked aspect of functionality is respect for residents’ privacy concerns. No matter how revolutionary a technology may be, residents will not want to use it if they think the tool puts them at risk. The article suggests that cities develop a robust privacy infrastructure, especially in data mining efforts that leverage IoT sensors. Moreover, engaging the public in developing privacy policies can help ensure that residents are comfortable with initiatives.

Perhaps fortunately, the study also found that resident use of smart city technologies is not significantly linked to past city engagement. This opens opportunities for governments to use channels like social media to encourage residents to engage in smart city projects, reaching citizens who have never before participated in local government.