Smart cities and knowledge management

The “smart cities” concept is gaining considerable momentum, with recent initiatives including the India Smart Cities Challenge, the United States government’s Smart Cities Initiative, and the Australian Government’s Smart Cities Plan and Smart Cities Summit.

So what is a “smart city”, and what is the role of knowledge management in the development and governance of smart cities?

What is a smart city?

Drawing on the synopsis of a forthcoming paper by Dr. Sam Musa, Professor of Cybersecurity at University of Maryland, Wikipedia defines a smart city as:

…an urban development vision to integrate multiple information and communication technology (ICT) solutions in a secure fashion to manage a city’s assets — the city’s assets include, but not limited to, local departments information systems, schools, libraries, transportation systems, hospitals, power plants, water supply networks, waste management, law enforcement, and other community services. The goal of building a smart city is to improve quality of life by using technology to improve the efficiency of services and meet residents’ needs.

Similarly, the new report Smart Cities — Time to involve the People from the UK Institution of Engineering and Technology has a technology focus in its definition of a smart city:

A smart city uses modern digital communications technology to monitor, manage and enhance key infrastructure and public services. This can include transport and traffic management, energy, water and waste management, healthcare and other community services.

However, while not specifically defining a smart city, the Australian Government’s Smart Cities Plan has a wider focus. Technology is just one of three pillars of the plan, which are smart investment, smart policy, and smart technology.

The United States government’s Smart Cities Initiative and India Smart Cities Challenge also have a wider focus. The US Smart Cities Initiative aims “to help local communities tackle key challenges such as reducing traffic congestion, fighting crime, fostering economic growth, managing the effects of a changing climate, and improving the delivery of city services.” The guidelines for the India Smart Cities Challenge advised that:

Smart solutions are bold and impactful, and strengthen the city’s governance or its physical, social, or economic infrastructure.
Good ideas come in many shapes and sizes, and are designed to improve quality of life. They may involve technology, institutional or managerial reforms, and the involvement of citizens. The choice of solution is only smart if it is right-sized to the challenge it aims to address

Similarly, the European Smart Cities program of the Vienna University of Technology also has a focus beyond just the application of technology:

A Smart City is a city well performing in 6 key fields of urban development, built on the ‘smart’ combination of endowments and activities of self-decisive, independent and aware citizens.

The 6 key fields are smart governance, smart economy, smart mobility, smart living, smart people, and smart environment.

The original proponents of the concept of “smart cities” may have had a primary focus on technological integration, but as the number of smart cities initiatives grows, a broader agenda is being adopted. Irungbam confirms this evolution in a recent paper[1] that reviews 24 definitions of a smart city in the published literature:

It is observed that smart cities as a concept has evolved from a narrow perspective of integrating innovative technology towards building intelligent infrastructure, into a more intricate urban system that calls for social and institutional participation.

The City of St. Albert in Canada proposes a smart city definition that encompasses this wider focus, and also recognises that there is no universal way to design a community of the future, with a smart city strategy or initiative needing to be relevant to each individual community. The City of St. Albert defines a smart city as:

An urban area that solves its core issues through innovation and collaboration, and that applies new technologies and data for the benefit of all.

What is the role of knowledge management in smart cities?

Very little research looking at the role of information and knowledge in smart cities appears to have been conducted. Only a few relevant papers could be located, and most of these explore conceptual issues, offering little in the way of tangible recommendations or actions that could be readily implemented by the governments carrying out initiatives such as those underway in India, the US, and Australia.

For example, a paper by Nam and Pardo[2] in the Proceedings of the 12th Annual International Digital Government Research Conference identifies “A set of the common multidimensional components underlying the smart city concept and the core factors for a successful smart city initiative”.

In another example, a paper by Negre, Rosenthal-Sabroux, and Gascó[3] “proposes a knowledge-based conceptual vision of the smart city, centered on people’s information and knowledge of people, in order to improve decision-making processes and enhance the value-added of business processes of the modern city.”

In a further example, a paper by Chourabi et al.[4] “proposes a framework to understand the concept of smart cities.”

The focus on researching conceptual issues to do with smart cities while significant national smart cities initiatives are already underway suggests that smart cities research is well behind smart cities practice, which raises serious concerns about the extent to which decision-making in regard to smart cities is evidence-based.

One paper that does offer some tangible conclusions is a conference paper by Ritter and Varma[5], who report finding common threads across the smart cities efforts of governments in both developed and developing countries in regard to:

…leveraging (a) data — to get smart insights (b) ideas — crowd sourcing for better public services and their delivery (c) knowledge — to develop smart device apps to enable citizen to play a constructive stakeholder role in development of smart cities and delivery of smart governance.

Initiatives to leverage data for smart insights are already well advanced. Examples include:

  • mySidewalk, which has “helped more than 2,000 organizations understand their communities by empowering them to make better decisions using simple data analysis tools to answer questions like ‘How has this place changed over the past decade?’ and ‘What is the demographic makeup of my project area?’”
  • Smart City Monitor, which is “enabling digital transformation of big data streams from smart everything into rich set of data driven information services for citizens, businesses, administrations, tourists to control, prevent, command, answer questions and take right actions in real time”.
  • Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network (AURIN), “a national collaboration delivering e-research infrastructure to empower better decisions for Australia’s urban settlements and their future development.”
  • What Works Cities Toolkit, which includes “best practices in designing open data policies and creating open data portals, advancing performance management programmes by setting stronger targets, utilising behavioural insights to run randomised control trials and better managing city contracts.”

A number of perspectives published in The Conversation have highlighted the importance of involving citizens in the development of smart cities and the delivery of smart city governance:

Knowledge management has a range of tools and techniques that can be used to enhance citizen input into smart city decision-making, and knowledge managers are encouraged to consider how they can advocate for and facilitate the adoption of these tools and techniques in smart city initiatives.

A paper by Porumb and Ivanova[6] puts forward one way in which this could be done.

The paper proposes the implementation of a Knowledge Broker Intervention Model (KBIM). The benefits of knowledge brokering have been discussed in a previous article in RealKM Magazine.

Knowledge Broker Intervention Model
Knowledge Broker Intervention Model

The paper discusses the main functions of a smart cities knowledge broker.

Image source: SCXFC_63 by Smart Cities is licensed by CC BY 2.0.


  1. Irungbam, R. S. (2016). The Model of Smart Cities in Theory and in Practice. Journal for Studies in Management and Planning, 2(4), 156–187.
  2. Nam, T., & Pardo, T. A. (2011, June). Conceptualizing smart city with dimensions of technology, people, and institutions. In Proceedings of the 12th Annual International Digital Government Research Conference: Digital Government Innovation in Challenging Times (pp. 282–291). ACM.
  3. Negre, E., Rosenthal-Sabroux, C., & Gascó, M. (2015, January). A knowledge-based conceptual vision of the smart city. In System Sciences (HICSS), 2015 48th Hawaii International Conference on (pp. 2317–2325). IEEE.
  4. Chourabi, H., Nam, T., Walker, S., Gil-Garcia, J. R., Mellouli, S., Nahon, K., … & Scholl, H. J. (2012, January). Understanding smart cities: An integrative framework. In System Science (HICSS), 2012 45th Hawaii International Conference on (pp. 2289–2297). IEEE.
  5. Ritter, W. and Varma, S. (2016). Governance of Smart Cities: Comparing Practices in Helsinki, Hong Kong, Hyderabad. 11th International Conference on Knowledge Management (ICKM2015), Osaka, Japan, 4–6 November 2015.
  6. Porumb, E. M., & Ivanova, N. V. (2014). Development through Knowledge Economy: Cluj-Napoca — a European Smart City. Management Dynamics in the Knowledge Economy, 2(3), 453.

Originally published at RealKM.

Like what you read? Give Bruce Boyes a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.