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What is a Smart City?

Within the past 18 months the concept of smart (and intelligent) cities has been become popular in the media. For instance, Scientific American ran a special issue on smart cities. Industry players (e.g. IBM, Siemens, etc) have specific programs and practices dedicated to advancing the cause of building smart cities. Government agencies are dedicating resources and making investments in designing smarter cities (for e.g., see - EU invests $450 million in smart cities). Despite its intuitive appeal, we have limited empirical knowledge within the design, planning, and policy fields about the dimensions of smart cities—its characteristics, the barriers, and the potential opportunities. One reason is the term smart city is still new and it appears to means different things within different fields. In some ways the term is complex and vague. Some experts use the term smart city to highlight advances in sustainability and greening of the city, while others use the term to portray infusion of information via technologies to better the lives of citizens that reside in these spaces. Even others, consider the presence of high-level of citizen engagement in the design and governance of the space as a key attribute of smarter cities.  Therefore, no consensus existing within the academy on the characteristics of smart cities and how they fit within existing conceptual frameworks, such as sustainability and policy informatics.

In a working paper, I propose the following definition: A smart city is livable, resilient, sustainable, and designed through open and collaborative governance.

  • A smart city is resilient in that it possesses the capacity, desire, and opportunity for sensing, responding to, recovering, and learning from natural and man-made disasters.
  • A smart city takes a sustainable approach to the management of its economic, social, and ecological resources to ensure that they have vitality going into the future.
  • A smart city infuses information for automated and human, individual and collective, decision-making on optimal allocation of resources, design of systems and processes, and citizen engagement.
  • A smart city enables intelligent decision-making through leveraging information via technology, platforms, processes, and policies across its environments, infrastructures, systems, resources, and citizens.
  • A smart city operates as a seamlessly integrated platform where information links the various infrastructures, systems, organizations, and citizens’ goals and values.
  • A smart cities engage citizens in planning and design of public spaces and govern use of public resources through open and collaborative governance platforms that generates, and leverages, collective intelligence. 

In some respects the description resembles a vision statement with supporting principles or goals that make the vision of a smart city come to life. First, the overarching goal of having a smart city is that it is livable, resilient, and sustainable. These goals increase the value of the city and contribute positively to the lives of the citizens that interact with, and reside within, the city. Second, we must recognize these goals as a function of infusing information into the fabric of the city. Technological devices enable citizens to leverage information as they conduct their daily activities, while they also enable planners and designers to have accurate situational awareness about the city. Information is infused into the planning and design apparatuses as public sector projects are conducted. For example, the use of computational platforms and simulation technologies can enable city planners and designers think through various alternatives, test assumptions, and visualize the impacts of various interventions on critical outcomes. Through harnessing information, the smart city is able to conduct public projects in a highly effective and efficient manner. Third, smart cities use a wide assortment of information pipelines and platforms to integrate the often disparate physical and human sub-systems, infrastructures, and processes. Through building viable connections, information flows between the various parts of the city seamlessly so as to enable for real-time intelligent decision-making. Fourth, smart cities leverage the collective intelligence of its citizens, residents and, even transients (e.g. people who commute to work in the city) using participatory platforms. The smart city has viable vehicles and platforms through which its citizens can contribute to its governance processes and the future design of the city.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the definition and the elements of a smart city.

Intelligence and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Programs: The Achilles Heel

Kristen Lau (University of Oxford) and I have a paper accepted for publication in Intelligence and National SecurityKristen was my graduate student at the University of Washington and is now pursuing a doctoral degree at Oxford. We began studying information management failures associated with nuclear non-proliferation efforts in 2009. We presented an early version of the paper at  the Centre for Science and Security Studies (CSSS) at King’s College London.

Abstract: Intelligence is a critical component for all counter-proliferation activities.  It allows us to assess and determine what makes up the current threat environment in terms of the proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology. The intelligence process as it relates to estimating nuclear capabilities or intentions is wrought with many challenges and complications. The denial and deception techniques employed by states running covert weapons programs and the dual-use nature of many weapons components create many difficulties for intelligence organizations. Additionally, illicit transnational networks obscure the situation further by serving as a source, for both nation states and non-state actors, for acquiring dual-use commodities and technologies. These challenges can lead to the miscalculation of a state’s capabilities or intentions. This paper presents a comparative analysis of three cases of nuclear proliferation: India’s 1998 nuclear tests, the exposure of the AQ Khan network, and Iran’s nuclear program. We examine the lessons learned and propose recommendations for future counter proliferation policy and strategy. 

You might find our other paper of interest. It was published in the International Journal of Public Administration.

Technologies in Public Agencies and in PA Research: Three Mini-Cases of Use-Inspired Research

I will be giving a talk at the School of Public AffairsCollege of Public ProgramsArizona State University on Feb 14, 2011 @ 10.30-12.

Technologies in Public Agencies and in Public Administration Research: Three Mini-Cases of Use-Inspired Research

Emerging technologies are transforming public agencies and the nature of governance. Public Agencies have long recognized the value of information technologies for achieving their missions, streamlining operations, and communicating with the public. Yet, the track record of public sector information systems (IS) projects - system acquisitions, design and deployment - has been sub-par. I contend that one possible reason is their dual personality. They are both (a) public sector projects and (b) IS projects. Contemporary research on public sector IS projects often emphasizes the former but not the latter, often relegating technology to a “black box.” I will argue that this posture is not only unacceptable but also dangerous. Public administration researchers cannot simply relegate the study of technologies to other disciplines. Today, several factors require us to change our stance on the role of technologies in public agencies and in public administration research, including the amount of taxpayer money that is spent on technologies, the democratizing of technology, and the rise of open data programs. Toward this end, in this presentation, I will briefly present three mini-cases of user-inspired research. The first case will highlight the use of sentiment analysis of secondary data on the IRS Business Systems Modernization. Extracting stakeholder Sentiments and Confidence from documents, with a view to exploring how such measures may offer early indications of project progress and assist managers to prevent undesirable future outcomes. The second case will highlight how innovative public managers are leading the way in deploying technology sophistically for superior citizen engagement. The US Census Bureau used technologies not only to complete the 2010 census under budget, but also deployed them innovatively to engage citizens through the design of viable participatory platforms. The Census Bureau also effectively managed risks associated with using emerging technologies. The 2010 Census campaign focused on increasing response rates and encouraging citizen participation through innovations in the communication process with citizens and the infusion of technology. The third case will describe an ongoing project that seeks to understand the motivations of government agencies, software developers, and the public on the creation and use of (mobile) apps for urban governance.

Keynote Address at the 2010 Computational Social Science Society Conference: From Hunches to Evidence Driven Policy Design

I will be giving a keynote address at the 2010 Computational Social Science Society Conference (CSSS). CSSS 2010 is hosted by the Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity and the Consortium for Biosocial Complex Systems at. For more information on the conference, please click here [LINK].

From Hunches to Evidence Driven Policy Design: Leveraging Information through Simulation

Constructing public policy, whether at the national or local level, is a complex undertaking. Complexity arises from the number of stakeholders involved, varying agendas and incentives, resource constraints, a multitude of interacting variables, multiple time horizons, and even political climates. Due to these complexities, we too often categorize political and social problems as ‘wicked’ and unanalyzable. The default option is to take a haphazard approach to policy design, most often the outcome of the ego-based debates and negotiations of the decision-makers. In this keynote address, I will argue for a move from hunches (or intuition) to evidence driven policy construction. Today, due to the advancement of computational power and modeling techniques, we can simulate complex scenarios. Simulation gives us an ability to move policy construction from an activity primarily driven by historic case analysis and intuitions, to more of an applied science, where we can actually predict and control phenomenon. Through simulation we can, with reasonable certainty, ascertain the cost, benefit, risk, impact, and value proposition of a given policy. Using examples from simulation projects, such as a project that examined strategic options for dismantling terrorist networks, I will demonstrate how we can move policy design from being an ‘art’ to more of a ‘science.’