Smart city governance

At June 21th, I attended the conference Next generation cities: Who owns the city. This conference was part of the five-day WeMakeThe.City festival in Amsterdam. The conference offered ample opportunity to debate the positive and negative effects of technology, in particular within the context of the smart city.

Actually, the most important issues were:

  • To involve citizens in the development of the city and the technology which is a part of it.
  • To prevent big technology companies taking the lead (and the money) and spy us, using the words of Richard Stallman, whose phrasing was not shared by every participant.

The conference revealed that many cities are on their way: Amsterdam and Eindhoven are making all data available to the public; information collected by the growing number of sensors included. They also use open software standards where it is possible. Barcelona has revised its contracts with technology companies like Vodafone regarding the availability of data. This city, like other cities, enables citizens to vote directly with regards to certain projects.

A study by Platform 31, issued by the Dutch Ministry of the Interior reveals quite a number of omissions in lawmaking with respect to the protection of privacy, the use of sensors in particular. But open data policy is raising legal questions too. For instance, can a community that has created an open data platform be held responsible for its accuracy?

The study also refers at a number of street interviews in Nijmegen. My impression of the results is – apart from a general lack of knowledge – that most interviewees don’t worry about the collection of personal data for commercial objectives. Meanwhile, they are afraid of the impact of Internet criminality on the safety of their accounts.

Nearly all questions mentioned above can be brought together under the umbrella of smart city governance:

The concept of (smart) city governance refers at the way a city maintains practices of good government like democracy, transparency and integrity in a balanced way in the relations with its stakeholders.

A few months ago, the Eden Institute published its Top 50 of Smart City Governance.

Despite my sceptic about the value of rankings, the research contributes to our understanding of smart city governance. Each of the cities that have been studied has been screened on the basis of ten factors that together characterize smart city governance.

Source: Top 50 Smart City Governance – Eden Institute

The researchers collected information about 140 cities, which have been labelled at least twice as a ‘smart’ and talked with city officials. Next, they allocated factor scores from one to five to each of these cities. The maximum score is 50 points. The highest rated city (London) gathered 33,5 points. Number 50 (Kigala) scored 20 points, which is an inconceivable small difference.

Source: Top 50 Smart City Governance – Eden Institute


Keeping the WeMakeThe.City festival in Amsterdam in mind, I was curious to compare some scores of Amsterdam with its peers.

Amsterdam competes with the highest scoring cities with regards to financial incentives of smart city initiatives (4), outnumbering overall highly rating cities like Seoul, Barcelona and Helsinki. Differences in governmental support of startups are a probable explanation.

In contrary, Amsterdam – together with Shenzhen and Chicago – is scoring low (1) with regards to the degree smart city initiatives are supported. With regards to people-centricity, Seoul and Melbourne excel (4), Barcelona, Helsinki and Copenhagen follow (3) outnumbering Amsterdam (2).

Source: Top 50 Smart City Governance – Eden Institute


These at first sight noteworthy results for Amsterdam match in two respects the outcomes of my own analysis of Amsterdam smart city characteristics.

Lack of support

Amsterdam is developing a thriving community of start-ups, and quite a number of financial schemes are available. In addition, the Amsterdam Smart City platform offers ample opportunity for collaboration between innovators. However, finding support with regards to technology, entrepreneurship, marketing and legal affairs is more difficult, partly because a well-developed framework of incubators is lacking.


The thriving smart city community in Amsterdam (the ‘influencers’) and by far the largest part of the Amsterdam population are unconnected. With its open data policy Amsterdam claims to act in the interests of the citizens. Considering the above-mentioned street interviews, one can doubt the perceived priority of this topic over many other citizens’ concerns. Addressing citizens’ manifest concerns is the first priority of top-scoring cities like Seoul and Melbourne.

This brings me back to the beginning of this post. I am sure that the city government of Amsterdam intends to act in the conceived interest of its citizens. But putting the manifest interests of citizens at the center is something different. This requires listening to their concerns and addressing them. At a more institutionalized level, this includes organizing and supporting decentralized neighborhood-oriented decision-making regarding a number of topics, their budgeting included. In this respect Barcelona seems to be a few steps ahead.

Source: Top 50 Smart City Governance – Eden Institute


*) This article was brought to you by Professor Herman van den Bosch, Professor at Open University of The Netherlands.

**) Source of the header: Chief Technology Officers in discussion – photo by author

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