Smart cities: the promise of public-private co-operation

Government smart cities

City policy-makers need to revisit the approaches they adopted to combat urbanization challenges. Traditionally, the provision of urban infrastructure and services to meet people’s basic needs, local economic development and environmental protection has been the exclusive province of the public sector. Urbanization dynamics have evolved over time and call for a transition to a more collaborative approach enabling the private sector, civil society and academia to participate and be a partner in bringing about the desired transformation.

The figure below depicts the four stages of a city’s development. Cities need to identify their current stage and the future transformational initiatives they plan to adopt to climb the development ladder at a rate that is commensurate with the pace of urbanization.

City Development

Engaging multistakeholders

City authorities need to engage multistakeholders and enhance public-private cooperation to build sustainable urban transformation agendas. This involves dialogue, cooperation and a structured process to engage relevant stakeholders, either through informal consultation or formal agreements, to drive cities towards social, environmental and economic sustainability while enhancing urban equity, quality of life, social services, resiliency, trust, integrity, innovation, cohesion and inclusiveness.

It is essential for the public sector to co-create by fostering comprehensive engagements with knowledge institutes, NGOs/civil society, citizens and especially the private sector.

City Stakeholders

City Stakeholders

What is the added value of each stakeholder?

NGO/Civil Society

Civil society actors demonstrate their value as facilitators, educators, conveners and innovators as well as service providers and advocates. By involving civil society as an implementation partner, interventions are more likely to be effective, while ensuring that outcomes are socially and environmentally responsible. Civil society contributes as an official partner, through informal collaborations or through “spillover” effects.

Academic Institutions

Universities provide cities with talent that can develop the economic character of the city. The city of Pittsburgh has leveraged institutions such as Carnegie-Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh to transform the economic character of the city from ‘Big Steel’ to ‘Eds and Meds’ by focusing on innovation and the service based economy. The universities’ contribution can go far beyond providing talent, their research and specialised expertise in urban domain can be leveraged to contribute to urban design and planning.


Citizen engagement is crucial to fully understand the problem and find solutions that meet the needs of all the sections of the community. It is imperative that citizen engagement is not just symbolic, but rather are equal participants in the development process. Cities are increasingly leveraging technology in the planning process by allowing citizens to raise their voice while budgeting and considering new urban development, with some cities even contemplating crowd funding models to support new projects.

Private sector

Private sector introduce innovation, talent and provide capital to the urban development process, while playing a leading role in design, implementation, operations and maintenance, and sustainability of the urban development and services initiatives.

*) This is an extraction of the World Economic Forum report: Harnessing Public-Private Cooperation to Deliver the New Urban Agenda and was written by Alice Charles, Cities & Urban Development Expert, Urban Development Lead, World Economic Forum & External Board Member, NAMA

Alice Charles

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