Smart Cities Council: 5 Key Messages

The Smart Cities Council reveals the five keys leaders need to keep in mind when creating visions for smart governments that deliver what citizens want.

CHICAGO, ILL. -- In April, The Smart Cities Council was in the windy city for Real World Implementation Planning, an event to help the state of Illinois craft a vision and roadmap for becoming America's first "smart state."


According to the Council's Kevin Ebi, "effective governance drives it all." He outlined the following key messages from the event to help government leaders plan roadmaps for smart cities and governments:

1. Make your blueprint your own

One of the attendees asked hot button issues cities should focus on to get people engaged and provide fuel for smart cities initiatives. It’s an interesting question, but the answer is probably not something that should drive your efforts.

Graham Colclough, partner at UrbanDNA, said that while Americans by and large are fixated on security and safety, that really isn’t the answer city leaders should be looking for.

“If that’s all you focused on, that wouldn’t make your city exciting and better,” Colclough said. “That is the conversation you must have.”

Don’t assume. Don’t just steal some other city’s blueprint. Have that discussion about what’s best for your city.

2. Give citizens your full attention

Don’t ever forget that cities exist to serve people. Anything you do — from how your transit system works to how let people pay parking tickets — needs to be done with people in mind.

“Make sure you are improving those actions that your customers and citizens are going to see every day,” said Alex Frank, manager at West Monroe Partners, a Council Associate Partner. “And make sure your approach to becoming a smart city brings your citizens along with you.”

3. Let everyone make sense of the data

Smart cities are data-driven, but you cannot let your IT department be the only one with the keys. Seshadri Subbanna, director of Innovation and Technology Evaluation at IBM, a Council Lead Partner, said that means data needs to be easy to use and preferably visual.

Do realize, however, that how data is presented can dramatically affect how it is perceived. The same data presented in different formats can cause viewers to reach wildly different conclusions. Work to make those visualizations objective.

4. Focus on results — not effort

In a data-driven world, it’s easy to focus on raw numbers. But raw numbers are only part of the story. For instance, people want to feel safe. Reporting the number of people arrested last week doesn’t tell you whether or not you succeeded in that goal.

John Baldwin, director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, has led a shift to help convicts adapt better to a life in society after they’ve finished their sentences. The program is driven by data. Each offender gets a specially tailored re-entry program that’s based on the facts and their situation.

The number of offenders who go through the program isn’t the part that matters. What matters is how many of them become productive members of society.

“We need to report outcomes,” Baldwin said, “not outputs.”

5. Build a team that works for all

Chicago has worked to make a difference for its citizens by forging partnerships. Allstate Insurance, a business that’s driven by data analytics, has lent its expertise to help the city build data models — some that it could also use, but many that are only for the benefit of the city. Universities can also be a valuable resource.

But Chicago Chief Information Officer Brenna Berman said while these partnerships have allowed the city to build offerings that it could not have done by itself, you can’t lose sight of the fact even more important than partners are people.

“We want to use technology to support our residents and businesses in whatever we are trying to achieve,” she said. “We want to use technology as an enabler and not for its own good.”

Read the original story on the Smart Cities Council's website.

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