The term ‘smart city governance’ refers to organisational structures, wherein cities bring together multiple stakeholders to solve common problems that occur in the provision of services. Through systems of governance, city governments and their collaborative partners share a vision and problems that occur in objectives, strategies and methods, and they agree on the governance scope and on the means of policy decision-making as well as on the measurement of projects’ social impacts. Smart governance schemes lay out the systemic basis on which cities promote their digital transformation. 

   In order to measure and assess different cities’ governance levels, this report analysed the smart city strategy and policy of the 31 global cities under review, taking into account cities' strategic initiatives and the organisations (e.g. legal entities or formal organisations) they had set up dedicated to integral plans of smart city development. The smart governance systems of the cities were ranked according to three categories: 1. Strategy (the integrity and concreteness of a city's action plan); 2. Leadership (the supposed effectiveness of a city's leadership); and 3. Organisation (the funtional role and focus-areas of dedicated smart city organisations). The review constructs detailed indices based on these three categories to generate, a comprehensive evaluation of the cities’ smart governance systems.

The analysis found that New York, Amsterdam, Vienna and Singapore demonstrated extremely effective smart city governance. Comparing these results with those in the 2019 report, Amsterdam, New York and Singapore retained their positions as top-tier leaders in governance, and Vienna improved its position. When the study considered the leading the cities according to each of the three sets of evaluation criteria, New York, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Singapore demonstrated a comprehensive smart city strategy as well as detailed action plans, while Dubai and Vienna were ahead of other cities in strong smart city leadership (i.e. the degree of coordination and level of control over the whole smart-city plan). Lastly, the review found that other cities, such as Amsterdam and Barcelona, have established dedicated organisations to coordinate and manage smart city developments, focusing consistently on appropriate areas and exercising a well-grounded, centralised role.   

Establishing a Strategic Framework for Smart City Plans: Integration vs. Autonomy in Governance and Leadership

   The first step in analysing governance was to assess the cogency of the 31 cities’ strategic plans. The report considered whether plans were comprehensively cross-sectoral, and also whether there any provision for key sectors (Transportation, Energy & Environment, etc.). The alternative to these cross-sectoral plans was a proliferation of separate projects limited to given domains. Credible cross-sectoral plans provide the opportunity for converged services, so that cities can balance, for instance, what is best for the transportation (e.g. attracting visitors to leisure and retail areas) and the environment (e.g. restricting air pollution). Core resources and capabilties need to be combined to create cohesive smart city plans.

   The second evaluation criteria of the integrity of smart city strategic plans pertains to whether a plan is duly segmented into regions, each with their own detailed plan of work. The spatial characteristics of different urban areas in the same city will likely be different – meaning that an efficient project will take account of the specific projects of individual areas, or of larger areas only in so far as they can effectively be amalgamated. The next evaluation criteria relates to how concrete plans are. Some cities only offer a basic conceptual framework with key elements describing their policy, and don't yet have a detailed action plan being worked on or budgeted for. This analysis classifies strategy reports into four kinds: 1. those that suggest a strategy with framework only; 2. those that draw up subject units (task bases) by strategy; 3. those with proposals in a roadmap; and 4) those with action plans with credibly allocated budgets.


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