Smart Cities as Large Technological Systems

Overcoming Organizational Challenges in Smart Cities Through Collective Action

Published in: Sustainable Cities and Society (2021). doi: 10.1016/j.scs.2021.102730

Posted on RAND.org on January 26, 2021

by Jared Mondschein, Aaron Clark-Ginsberg, Andreas Kuehn

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In a race to develop 'smart cities', policymakers in metropolitan regions across the world are rapidly deploying internet of things devices, sensors, and other modern information and communications technologies to solve various governance challenges, increase efficiencies, and empower residents. In this article, we argue that the main challenges policymakers confront in deploying these technologies are organizational rather than technological. To do so we draw on research from science and technology studies on sociotechnical systems and interviews with city government officials to characterize smart cities as large technological systems, which are immense, interconnected systems that consist of not just of technologies but organizational and institutional processes. We then use this analysis to identify challenges and opportunities affecting North American smart city initiatives. We find that disparate—and at times competing—stakeholder motives inhibit the deployment of smart city technologies, including in ways that preserve privacy and security, creating organizational challenges that we argue must be overcome for smart city initiatives to succeed. We conclude by drawing on the perspectives of local policymakers and science and technology studies to offer pathways for local governments to overcome these organizational challenges through collective action and facilitate smart city development.

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