In those hyper-connected, super-smart cities of the future, people are still destined to play important roles.

According to Gartner Research Vice President Bettina Tratz-Ryan, the fate of smart cities hinges on the active involvement of people inspired to use information technology. Without these digital citizens, the cities cannot work, she said.

Defining Digital Citizens

Karen Mossberger, author of Digital Citizenship, defines digital citizens as “those who use the Internet regularly and effectively." To quality, a digital citizen must have extensive skills and knowledge in using a the Internet with a variety of devices to interact with private and public organizations.

Others more broadly define it as norms of appropriate, responsible technology use.

By any definition, Tratz-Ryan said, digital citizens are the keys to success for smart cities.

She points out that when IBM started talking about the smart cities as through its Smarter Planet initiative in 2008, it focused on networking, infrastructure and analytics. So things like efficiency, effectiveness and the operational expense was paramount. To a large extent, though, those objectives have been achieved.

“The cities face new dimensions now. There have been demographic changes, citizens whether they are businesses or people are becoming more open with their data, because it is coming form a lot more places and sensors like street lights, or cars, or public transport," she said.

“The result is that the interaction with technology has become much more profound and people that are experiencing a certain level of interaction in their personal online lives, are starting to expect the same from their cities."

Digital, Smart Cities

The Digital Citizenship Institute is a consortium of educators working to provide digital stakeholders with a better understand of the digital world and how it works. It has identified nine characteristics of digital citizenship:

  1. Equal digital and electronic access to the city through dedicated portals
  2. Access to the growing electronic commerce market
  3. The ability to communicate digitally with other citizens
  4. Educated about new and emerging technologies
  5. Clear guidelines on how to behave in a digital world 
  6. Rules and regulations to guide digital interactions
  7. Basic digital rights that are guaranteed and enforced
  8. Physical safety and wellbeing in digital environments
  9. Electronic precautions to ensure safety of the users and their data

Tratz-Ryan summed it by stating that what is needed here is embedded digital interactions between people, businesses and the wider world to ensure the digital world functions securely. “At Gartner our focus is not so much on Internet of Things (IoT) security or data protection or even privacy as elements that are added on, but as elements that are an intrinsic part of the digital experience," she said.

This echo’s the sentiments of Dana Simberkoff, the chief compliance and risk officer at AvePoint. In a recent post on CMSWire, she points out that Privacy by Design (PbD) — or building privacy into technology and processes from the start — is now a legal requirement for many organizations.

Digital interaction "is not about IoT security or data protection and privacy [as added element]. It needs to be embedded, especially in such a complex environment," she noted.

The Role Of Open Data

At the heart of this is data, and more specifically open data, who is providing it and how it is used.

“Cities have new dimensions, there have been demographic changes and smart city citizens whether they are business or people, they are becoming more open with their data because it is coming form a lot more places like street lights, public transport or even cars and it is feeding into a pool of open data available to cities” she said.

The result is that the interaction with technology has become much more profound and cities are starting to work out what they can do with all that information they obtain from different devices. Like all data, open data needs to be governed.

While she points out that there is considerable pushback against open data because of privacy issues, she also said that by providing open and meaningful data to citizens as cities are building data platforms, city planners increase the likelihood of citizen buy-in

“We need to stay within the security and privacy parameters expected by citizens, but with open data and wider availability of open data we can now start to build models on the back of this and with these models there should be better citizen buy in,” she said.

She cited the examples of a number of cities worldwide that are starting to use open data models and have devised models to put the data, or provide the data in context only. This means a number of ways of accessing a single pool of open data that is provided and created through the interactions across smart cities.

Governance has to be holistic, she noted. It has cover all the data that is being brought into the city through the wider city infrastructure.

“Cities don’t traditionally do that well. They don’t generally oversee the entire picture, so governance has been missing in the sense of innovation and this is why if you think three years ago the models that emerged were technology based and something that IT people would understand,” she added.

… And Governance?

Governance needs to be applied at two different levels:

  • Open data: Defining what data falls under the open data umbrella and deciding who has access to what kind of data, metadata, and structural data
  • Activity models: Governance around the data that applies to specific industries or specific governance models for specific industries

On the basis of this cities need to develop strategies as to how they want open data to  be made available.

The most obvious way is to enable citizens create contextualized data. Contextualized data is data that is made available to specific individuals that access that data through portals that users have to sign into to use.

“This is data democracy. I need certain kinds of data and I don’t want to be innovated with data that I’m not interested in. What people are after are intelligence and the services provided by my  city. I only want the things I need. We are still far away form that but that’s the way open cities see it developing,” she added.

Title image by Damir Kotoric