Top10 traits of successful smart communities

I often get asked how the most successful smart cities and communities have achieved what they have. Having worked in the field internationally for a decade it is clear to me that there are certain common characteristics that successful smart cities share. In fact, I would go further and say that if these conditions are not met cities will struggle to compete
• Focused Maverick; I was going to write leadership but on reflection realised that it was much more than leadership and that the best smart cities have a maverick leading their work. This person is unorthodox, nonconformist and charismatic. They get people to take risks and do things they would not normally do. He or she could be an elected official or an officer, but the perfect storm is when you get the two working together. It is also important that the person is not distracted by having other responsibilities. So many times I meet someone tasked with the ‘smart’ agenda who also has a fulltime day job like Director of Transport or Economy and who struggles to do both.
• Dedicated team; The above needs a dedicated team. Much too frequently I meet some poor lone soul who has been given the responsibility for ‘smart’ without the authority or budget to make it happen. To make this work the Maverick needs an eclectic and specialized group dedicated to the task
• Follow the Money; It goes without saying that cities have to do more with less and funds are tight. Therefore, part of the job of the dedicated team above is to find new sources of funding and change themselves from a cost centre to a revenue centre. There are many sources of national funding and nothing gives you more influence over strategy than being able to put money on the table.
• Benchmark; Know what you have to work with; assets, broadband coverage, skills base, business community, academic excellence, IT infrastructure and data. One of the realizations that I have come to regarding the antipathy many agencies have to sharing their data is not that they want to keep their data secret but that they are embarrassed at its inaccuracy. They really do not want people to know that they have been making important decisions based on data they know to be poor.
• Create the underlying infrastructure; There is always a certain tension between citizen activists and technology specialists. The former always feel that tech dominates the smart city discussion at the expense of citizen engagement and the later see smart cities as the ubiquitous connectivity inherent in IoT. It is not a binary argument and if you are going to have a smart city you need the IT infrastructure as the basic plumbing that will allow the citizen engagement to happen effectively. I am involved in one such potential community platform called Streetpin that is separately responding to the consultation exercise
• Community; A sense of community, of ‘us’ against the world. The most successful cities always have a sense of identity and community and the ability to get the right stakeholders together to work collaboratively in an atmosphere of trust. Cities are in competition for resources, business and citizens so the best harness the feeling of being in a competition.
• Find a reason to be part of the future; I was going to write USP but frankly it is overused and by definition it is hard to have a USP. Building on the above the smartest cities build around on the strengths they have. All cities grew for a particular reason, usually trade, commerce and learning and the smartest cities, while not ignoring where they come from, plan how they will fit into the future. Croydon resurgence as a retail centre and affordable software cluster are examples
• Leverage the private sector; The strongest cities in this field work hand in hand with the private sector. There are a number of benefits to this. Firstly, many corporates and their employees have a vested interest in the success of the cities where they often live and work. The employees use the public services and want a strong economy. Corporates have massive R+D budgets and through enlightened self-interest they need to be developing solutions that the public sector may end up buying. Therefore, they will invest in the solutions required at a scale that the public sector cannot match. Alongside the corporates cities need to engage and develop their local SMEs. What they lack in resources they often make up for in creativity.
• Do something; The smartest cities do not entomb themselves in a strategy. Many cities try to create an overarching strategy where any number of moving parts must act in a predefined way before they start. As a consequence, they never start. Far better to agree a set of limited but open outcomes and then start doing tactical things that will join up to achieve the strategic outcomes. One result of doing things is that it is far easier to attract funding if they are working. I see many examples of agencies with funds but no ideas piggyback on successful city projects
• Measure the difference; If you are ever going to convince anyone that what you are doing is useful you need to be able to show how what you are doing will allow things to be done differently and how you can measure the change. Before you start you need to know what success will look like and how you can measure the ROI.

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