Comparing Smart Cities around the world


An analysis of smart city strategies in three continents: models, projects and political innovations. Applied science and local development in the Political Science Department of the UAM.

A research team belonging to the Political Science Department in the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, headed by myself and working in collaboration with the Official Professional Association of Telecommunication Enginners and their Public Policy and Regulation group coordinated by Julio Navío, is working on a compared analysis of smart cities. This is a research line with a multidisciplinar scientific approach, from public policy analysis to economy and technology, which delivers knowledge regarding smart cities. Our goal is to provide recommendations to establish policies, detect models and be of use in the setting up of participation mechanisms for governments, citizens and companies.

Our current research is a systematic analysis of smart cities leadership models, which include management, organization, technology, political context, people and communities, economy, infrastructure and environmental issues. The initial cases to be studied at length focus on the comparison of cities located in Asia, Europe and North America.


Why is it so important to perform a comparative analysis on smart cities at a global level?

Cities are currently facing great economic, ecological and social challenges. In order to tackle them, leadership systems are required that make room for the participation of public entities, companies, citizens and communities in collective action. In this context, it is essential to obtain systematic knowledge on the existing public policy approaches -those labelled “smart”- that are emerging in different geographical contexts. It is also important to approach the innovations currently being obtained worldwide, with a view to achieving knowledge integration from a great number of sources available all around the world, as well as from open and global innovation systems. To sum up, having the knowledge makes it possible to make comparisons, and it is by getting inspired by comparison how improvements may be obtained.

Analysis tools offered by social sciences involving public policies make it possible to provide meaningful answers to relevant questions such as the following: Which are the challenges being faced by cities in the new contexts? How is a smart city defined? What can be learned from the existing leadership models currently in use in smart city strategies? How do public entities, companies, citizens and communities respond to these challenges? Which factors may account for the success or failure of the applied strategies, and which indicators can be used to evaluate their efficiency?

Despite the trend being global, answers are local and significantly different. The project focuses on the understanding of differences and the identification of the distinctive elements in each model. Initial results have shown the existence of three different approaches or models of smart cities. The first one is based on human capital; the second one emphasizes technological aspects, and the third one stems from a regulation standpoint that includes the digital training needs of citizens so that they may take advantage of the opportunities provided in the 21st century (“digital literacy”). Even though most of the cases under study have put their emphasis on the second approach, it is remarkable that the concern for digital literacy is also present, particularly in the European context.

This effort towards a comparative analysis is being undertaken at the same time as two other relevant applied projects currently in progress in Europe. In Spain, under the leadership of the mayor of Santander, a network of smart cities has been created, a network in which around fifty member cities contribute with ideas and good practices. In the European Union, a programme is being developed in the framework of Horizon 2020, which is called “Smart Cities and Communities – European Innovation Partnership”.

Local governing bodies, academies, civil society associations and companies may contribute to the promotion and building of productive networks for the development of open and inclusive smart cities. Studies on public policies may be of use to all of them, as they make it possible to know more, and in a more precise way, about the processes that lead to the public decisions that have a strong impact on us. Getting closer to these processes and watching their order, causal relationships, explanations and ideas for action has many advantages; one of the aforementioned advantages is the possibility to position ourselves in the policy process as more reliable and reflexive participants.


Carmen Navarro

Head of the Political Science and International Relations, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Madrid Autonomous University)

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