My previous article on human smart cities was one of our most popular – you can read it here. This article looks at the blockers that prevent cities from becoming smarter and why humanising smart cities is so important.

Why cities are not going to be smart for a while

The reason we do not have human smart cities is that we have organised them to stay dumb. We create directorates responsible for delivering citizen services as silos. The need for these directorates to have an accountable individual puts a leader on top of the silo.

Leaders organise these services, making the silo efficient. As a silo leader, I can prove I am meeting the key performance indicators. The silo is working. I would argue though the silo is not smart.

Human analysis and response to information causes time lag. In a smart world, this process is quicker, and delays decrease or are even eliminated. The spare capacity built into silo-centric systems, along with the knock-on impact this has on resources and capital is minimised when using predictions based on data.

Silos still exist

Sadly, the tech industry is just as guilty of thinking in silos. This is driven by the need to persuade budget holders, those silo leaders, to buy shiny new digital things that will make their place smart. The project invests in a solution with an easy-to-grasp headline like “smart buildings”.  Yet, these smart projects tend to fall short when the slide rule looks at the return on investment numbers. This often means a reduced appetite to repeat similar projects.

An image of a person holding a phone with screens from a building security management application,

Smart building technology is readily available but it is often difficult to justify financially without demonstrating clear benefits. Used under pixabay license

If only we thought of smart projects differently. In an interconnected world, where information can embrace prediction leading to automatic decisions, the silo is no longer the best way of organising ourselves. This is because decisions and impacts leak out of the silo. It is also compounded by the speed at which smart things can happen and the simplification of complex things like supply chains.

Benefit for all

What would be smarter is for the benefits, and of course costs, to be measured across all elements in a city. Improving air quality has both environmental and health benefits, but it could also have impacts on congestion, which gives back people time. It could impact the Gross Value Added measurements as the people who are walking are more inclined to browse and shop. We need a basket of measures to prove success.

Going smart has so many positives. Measuring success, therefore, has to be multi-faceted and multi-dimensional. These measures are the outcomes that now need to be focused on and where they are achieved they should be shouted about. These outcomes are not managed or delivered in a silo. They can though be place-centric.

A photo of the Christmas market in Winchester, UK

We helped Winchester City Council develop the digital experience for tourism offerings like their Christmas market. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Based on our experience smart cities are collaborative and not ring-fenced by silos. We also know that connecting things using data to deliver a better outcome is not cheap and is difficult to make work. Plus, we have plenty of evidence of what a successful smart city should look like. The project that KnowNow has with the City of Winchester is using PAS184 from the BSI. It is a good demonstration of the ingredients for a successful human smart cities project.

Why aren’t more places human smart cities?

The question then, is why aren’t more places human smart cities?  Well apart from the silos and the need for accountability. The real failure is in our use of data. This is why cities are not smart. Until we unleash data on the problem, humans might as well bumble along as they have for 5,000 years. After all. our oldest cities did not get to be the size and economic powerhouses they are today by being smart. They got to be where they are because of the people, living, working, and visiting these great places.

Until we start thinking of outcomes the silos will always exist. Outcomes cut across silos. In fact, what is required is multiple outcomes to create a pattern of what good looks like for a particular place. An example would be air pollution due to traffic congestion. There are many ways to improve air quality.

One view could be to ban all cars and polluting vehicles. This has knock-on impacts on the economy as well as the availability of workers and goods in their ability to get to a market to work. Another could be to make traffic go faster, as slow, stationary traffic pollutes more. Yet, faster traffic may mean lost economic opportunities as everyone whizzes past and does not stop to spend money, along with more road traffic accidents and the associated health costs of fixing broken bones.

Ends justify the means?

The thing is, different places can choose different paths to achieve the same outcome. Hence a basket of measures is required to put the outcome achieved in context. Do the ends justify the means? Or do the means justify the ends?

Oslo has gone and banned cars from the city centre. Yet, their team also embraced outcomes as not only a justification but also as a method for tweaking the policy. This tweaking based on evidence and feedback from engagement is essential. How do you persuade business, residents, and visitors that not being able to use a car is a good thing? Especially when a car is a symbol of so much meaning.  From the ultimate expression of economic success through to a tool of freedom, allowing you to hit the open road and drive…

Future is Bright

I firmly believe that eventually, we will have information-centric, outcomes-based cities. I also believe the dialogue between citizens and city leaders will change. This is because cities will compete between themselves based on the outcomes they are generating. By using a mix of measures, it is possible to say:

“My pattern happens to have multiple measures;  These range from wellbeing, measured by happiness; a lack of congestion measured in person minutes spent in a queue; air quality measured by NOX, PM2.5 and CO levels and asthma attacks per citizen; the amount of local energy generation using renewables and how much is sourced from the grid, (how many days a month). Our city is a net provider of energy to the grid.”

Once the city is measuring itself it can brag about why its stats are better than the neighbours.  Maybe they have more air pollution but a higher amount of carbon burning to generate energy. This generates more wealth but happiness is less as more days are spent with asthma.

Who is to say one place is better than the other? That is a point in time and semantic measure. What is more important is that the people living in each place trust the data. Use the data and seek to reinforce or change the data points depending on what they want to do.

Using Smart City Models

What cities should start to adopt is Smart City Models. These digital twins are representations of how a place works, how it thrives, and how it then changes when new inputs and outputs are applied. These models start conversations and engage citizens. They break down silos, and make a place more outcome-centric.

The smart city model is a foundation for the PAS 181 (now ISO 37016) smart city information marketplace. This new marketplace is a single place (virtual or physical) where all data about that location can be viewed, traded, spliced, and diced. New value and insights are identified.  This can be acted upon and then the benefit pocketed. This benefit subsidises the marketplace for all.

Why aren’t smart city models more prevalent?

There are multiple reasons smart city models are not on everyone’s radar today. Firstly, not enough good-quality data has been created. Data with the right frequency, the right velocity, and the right volume. Data that is trusted and is interpretable and consistent when it comes to location. Secondly, no one is asking the right questions about the data that exists. This means business success, a good return on investment and an exemplar project have not been started.

Split photo of Leeds town Hall and Graffiti in Bristol

Images of Leeds and Bristol by Gary Butterworth and Harry Kessel on Unsplash

The pattern of outcomes identified is not being touted by the city leaders as good things or bad things. In fact, very few places are embracing open data to tell stories that influence policy, and that then leads to new decisions.  Some great examples of superb open data-based storytelling and outcome analysis are out there. Examples include Tom Forth at Leeds Data Mill with Data City. Plus we have Bristol is Open, a collaboration with city stakeholders that is creating measurable for the residents of Bristol.

Finally, smart cities are forgetting the key reason why – Us, humans. Cities are not any smarter now than they were in 2016 when I wrote the original Humanizing Smart Cities article.

Location Location Location

Yet a smart city is by definition all about your location. The context of you, your needs, and where you are.  A smart thing to know is what can make you happy, right here and now. Or maybe what will make you happier in three hours when you are on your way to a different place.   This is about personalisation, this about making sure you have given consent; plus this is also about delivering new types of service too.   Services that put you the human first.

By using the outcome you want, mapped to the outcomes the city is wanting to achieve, it should be easier to match your wants and needs to the city’s ability to deliver them. The information marketplace, that smart city model is where the magic will happen. This is when a place becomes smart. The marketplace will match the personal outcome to the city outcome.  If you want a fast non-polluting journey, you have it! Want free energy to wash up? Then you can use your dishwasher at X o’clock and enjoy!


Cities are a long way from being smart. To become a human smart city, cities need to change how they are organised and run. They need to break down the silos and to put citizens first. Cities should be managed via a basket of measures that create an outcome pattern. This pattern becomes the new point of pride for a place.

“Our outcome pattern for our place has these elements and the way this profile looks is how we like it!”

When this happens, cities will not only be smart, but they will be more human too.   Wonder who will be first?

Let me know what your city is doing to become a human smart city using the comments below.

You can also send me a message on Twitter using @mobilitycooper.

My company, KnowNow Information helps cities become smarter. To talk to KnowNow Information about how we can help, or call 023 92 160 640