Building the Digital City: the People, the Smarts, the Buzz


Last year Brook Dixon, the Smart City Director from Canberra (ACT Government), won a Fellowship award from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. His report on critical success factors for building a smart city, based on international experience has now been published and can be downloaded from here.

The digital revolution is ablaze in cities around the world. The fires of big data, open government, smart city, digital innovation, cities 4.0, and the internet of things, burn bright.

But what is the object? How can cities most effectively engage with digital? And what lessons from international experience are there for Australian cities? This Churchill Fellowship Report examines these questions based on visits to 11 cities – Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Seoul, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Stockholm, New York, Raleigh, Lima, San Francisco and San Jose.

This study trip was a remarkable journey of digital city exploration and discovery. From the creation of new public-private data markets in Copenhagen, to the evolution of civic democracy in Seoul enabled by a range of digital initiatives, to partnerships in New York transforming 7,500 old pay phones into new digital hubs (unlocking billions of dollars in new value), to portable digital labs made from shipping containers for schools in Lima.

However, the key lessons relate less to such wonderful digital projects, which are specific to each city, but to the principles of purpose, planning and process which can be applied in any city. The ten digital city principles propounded by this Report are:

  1. Be a digital democracy. Digital for the people – the object and centre of a digital city.
  2. Get a digital city plan! The digital world is too complex for an ad hoc approach.
  3. Find your leaders and governance. Mandate and participation are critical for success.
  4. Develop digital city standards to ensure consistency, security and quality of service.
  5. Prioritise digital projects. Assess all options and set benchmarks to invest best.
  6. Leverage new business models. New York unlocked billions with a new model!
  7. Partner for the win. Make it easy to partner, and stay focused together on outcomes.
  8. Modernise regulation. Digital improvement must be supported by regulatory reform.
  9. Gear your city for innovation. Encourage and showcase real innovation, on the street.
  10. Set digital targets. Measuring progress is the only way to know if we are doing right.