In this section, the results obtained via the questionnaire survey are presented to show the applicability of the smart urban governance framework in a wider range of smart city cases. This is followed by two illustrative smart city cases, which show the detailed working mechanisms of the framework.
Applicability of smart urban governance in wider contexts
Concerning geographical origin, most of the respondents (53%) came from China; the others came from Europe (15.4%), Asia (excluding China) (14.2%), Oceania (5.1%), South America (5.1%), North America (5.1%), and Africa (2.3%). This indicates the variety of the socio-spatial contexts in which smart urban governance is embedded.
In terms of types of urban issues handled, the majority of issues (61.2%) were mixed urban issues (combinations of either economic, social, or environmental issues), while 24.6% of the projects were related to only economic issues, 8.5% to only social issues, and 5.7% to only environmental issues.
To handle these issues, various modes of governance were applied: 12.6% of the projects adopted a centralized mode of governance, 28% a decentralized mode of governance, 8% public–private governance, 44.6% an interactive mode of governance, and 6.9% self-governance. The frequency (absolute number) of use of each governance mode in handling the different types of urban issues (see Jiang et al. 2020c) shows that centralized and decentralized governance were mainly employed to solve economic issues (mostly transportation and mobility), while the other governance modes were typically used to solve mixed urban issues. No governance modes were created to exclusively handle either social (e.g., housing) or environmental issues.
Furthermore, in terms of types of ICT applied to support governance processes and handle urban issues, 2.8% of the projects used only informing ICT, 1.7% only communicating ICT, and 48% only analyzing and designing ICT; 47% adopted hybrid ICT tools (combinations of either informing, communicating or analyzing and designing ICT). We also calculated the frequency (absolute number) of the use of each type of ICT in supporting governance processes and handling urban issues (see Jiang et al. 2020c). First, concerning the linkages between ICT and governance processes, analyzing and designing ICT was mainly used to support decentralized and interactive governance modes, whereas informing ICT and communicating ICT were primarily applied to improve interactive governance modes; few ICT tools were adopted to support public–private governance and self-governance. Second, concerning the linkages between ICT and urban issues, analyzing and designing ICT was typically used to handle mixed urban issues, while informing ICT and communicating ICT were applied to handle economic issues (mainly transportation and mobility issues); few ICT tools were exclusively used to handle either social or environmental issues.
The questionnaire revealed that smart urban governance varies significantly in different socio-spatial contexts. As urban issues differ in different countries, the modes of governance and types of technologies applied also differ. This implies that smart urban governance contextualizes itself and forms a sociotechnical response to urban challenges in the context of smart cities. In the next subsections, we discuss two illustrative cases to show how this context-based, sociotechnical way of governing cities (smart urban governance) works in practice.
Two illustrative cases
Smart Nation Singapore
In recent decades, Singapore’s main urban issues (high energy consumption; insufficient transportation infrastructure and solid waste management; inadequate housing; high unemployment; and environmental vulnerabilities) have been exacerbated by rapid urbanization, increasing urban density, and the high demands of urban environments. More recent changing structures of international competitiveness, along with Singapore’s increasing burdens of an ageing population, a widening income gap, and declining productivity, further magnify the negative impact on the city’s sustainable development (Bhaskaran 2018). Against this background, the Smart Nation project was launched by the government as a nationwide effort to take advantage of the recent emergence of smart ICTs (e.g., immersive media, AI, IoT, and robotics) to handle these sustainability challenges (Tan and Zhou 2018).
Influenced by Singapore’s massive urban issues, along with its top-down institutions and dominant government-led approaches (Ho 2017), the government adopted a “whole-of-government” centralized approach to govern the Smart Nation initiative at the national scale (Khern 2019). Two key government agencies—Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG) and Government Technology Agency (GovTech)—placed under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) were established in 2017 as the central governing body for the Smart Nation initiative. The position of Singapore as a city-state with limited natural and social resources requires it to stimulate innovative advances (e.g., productivity improvement and knowledge economy) and create successful transitions to a more sustainable and resilient future (Cavada et al. 2019; Hoe 2016). As Chesbrough (2006) argues, the nature and characteristics of innovative activities call for the involvement of multiple stakeholders to jointly test, develop, and create smart solutions. Accordingly, the focal point of urban governance in Singapore has also witnessed the emergence of government-led participatory and collaborative approaches to solve its complex and intertwined urban problems (Tan and Zhou 2018).
Selection of ICT functionality
To support the whole-of-government approach and handle service-relevant issues, the abovementioned “informing” functionality was initially created and applied to facilitate the governing of the Smart Nation initiative. For instance, web-based ICTs were used to radically overhaul the city-state’s existing government systems and to build a comprehensive, digital government administration platform—Core Operations, Development Environment, and eXchange (CODEX)—to deal with the segmented e-citizen services and applications. A transformative open government data portal (data.gov.sg) was then launched to provide one-stop access to the government’s publicly available datasets, covering health, transportation, education, housing, the environment, etc. Various communicating ICTs such as online platforms and networks were also developed by government-linked companies to build a system of mechanisms for collaborative innovation. The best illustration of this government-led, ICT-enabled collaboration is the development of startup companies and innovations in technology-based services and products. For instance, AI Singapore—an online innovation platform aiming to engage all Singapore-based ecosystems of AI startups, AI producers, and research institutions—was established by a government-wide partnership comprising the SNDGG, National Research Foundation, Integrated Health Information Systems, etc.Footnote 3 Through crowdsourcing, hackathons, and living labs, it supports new startup companies and/or develops technology-based solutions to address Singapore’s urban problems.
The government’s efforts in recent decades to improve Singaporeans’ digital literacy and technology skills have enabled ordinary people to utilize neighborhood forums, blogs, and websites to improve the way they live, work, and play (Cavada et al. 2019). For instance, a government-facilitated crowdsourcing portal “eCitizen Ideas” allows citizens to share or contribute their opinions, suggestions, and ideas related to daily issues faced by the public, often through campaigns, competitions, and hackathons organized by various government agencies (Woo 2017). Also, collaborations between elderly people and state-owned companies have facilitated the development of the Smart Elderly Alert System, which tracks the movement and activities of the elderly and enables them to live independently. In addition, social media like Twitter and Facebook are also used by innovation enthusiasts to engage in some of the aforementioned innovation activities (e.g., co-production of healthcare services), or curate events and host discussions around new technologies such as blockchains, MedTech, and IoT (Khern 2019).
Role of contextual factors
Looking at the interactions of urban issues, governance modes, and ICT functionality in Singapore, we also see the importance of the embedded context (e.g., political institutions, resource constraints, and technological basis) in analyzing the development, implementation, and effects of smart urban governance. For instance, influenced by Singapore’s massive urban issues and its top-down political tradition, a whole-of-government approach was initially applied to enhance the participatory efforts of various government agencies and enable data to be exploited across individual, organizational, and national boundaries. Then, the position of Singapore as a city-state with limited resources led to more collaborative approaches aimed at mobilizing the strength of the whole of Singapore to address its issues. However, due to the government’s special relationship with the consortium (i.e. government-linked companies), the government and its agent companies still have a role within the collaboration process (Cavada et al. 2019). Influenced by this, ICTs and web-based telecommunication technologies were used either to improve the government’s capabilities to deliver efficient and effective services, or to make use of the knowledge and insight of local people to boost urban innovations and improve residents’ quality of life. This thus reflects a combination of more state-led, informing intelligence and more collaborative governance approaches in Singapore.
Helsinki smart city
Helsinki’s rapid urbanization over the past 20 years has led to a range of urban issues that could restrict its ability to create a sustainable future. Population growth driven by migration has greatly increased the demand for public services, such as energy provision, transportation infrastructure, housing, and employment. In addition, localized environmental problems such as indoor air pollution, vehicle emissions, and the pollution of lakes and coastal areas threaten the living conditions of Helsinki’s residents. Against this background, in 2014 the Helsinki government initiated the Helsinki Smart City program to handle these sustainability challenges (Research and Innovation Strategy for Regional Development 2014–2020, updated by Helsinki Smart Region—Strategy Update 2018–2020 in 2017). As Laakso (2017) illustrates, the overall purpose of Helsinki’s transition toward a smarter city is to create new business models, improve residents’ quality of life, and make Helsinki more sustainable and resilient.
According to Anttiroiko (2016), Helsinki—Finland’s capital city—is characterized by its democratic tradition and bottom-up institutions and decision-making processes. Influenced by this, smart urban governance in Helsinki has been approached, since its inception, from an integrative perspective on urban problems, using triple helix collaborations (Hämäläinen 2020). An ideal illustration of Helsinki’s smart urban governance is the Smart Kalasatama project initiated by Helsinki City Council in 2013 to become a co-created model district for smart living (e.g., unique housing, accessible and flexible living, sports, recreation, greenery). Considering city residents both as the most precious resources and the beneficial owners, the Smart Kalasatama project itself acts as the test and experimentation environment for different stakeholders (mainly enterprises, urban planners, local citizens, and students) to co-create the district.
Selection of ICT functionality
To support Helsinki’s smart urban collaboration, practices showed that right from the beginning, the Helsinki government has used an integrative innovation platform—Forum Virium Helsinki—to co-produce the Helsinki Smart City with universities, companies, and local citizens. The platform serves a wide range of roles (e.g., innovation communities, growth services, participatory and collaborative urban design, and investment). Since its establishment in the mid-2000s, Forum Virium Helsinki has advanced and witnessed a booming growth of living labs, crowdsourcing, open data, urban services, and mobile apps. For instance, Helsinki Living Lab was established and is coordinated by Forum Virium Helsinki to engage interested groups and absorb their new ideas and innovative concepts for service innovation. By using distributed user interfaces on the spot or via the web-based platforms, interested groups can participate in various co-production and/or co-creation activities, such as healthy neighborhoods, mobile services tests, waste collection systems, and future schools.
The applied participatory and citizen-based governance not only enhanced the capabilities of Helsinki to provide functional services, but also fostered social responsibility for tackling urban issues that are of collective concern. Influenced by this, integrating digitally assisted tools with face-to-face interaction creates self-organized innovation spaces that allow local residents to collaborate at the same level as experts (researchers) to discuss and make community-based plans. An example of this is the Aalto Built Environment Lab.Footnote 4 Facilitated by large projection displays and support equipment, such as microphones and cameras, planning experts from Aalto University work and communicate collaboratively with broader community stakeholders (e.g., city planners, politicians, residents, and landowners). By further using ICT-enabled data analytics and visualizations to present the issues of concern, discussions between engaged stakeholders co-produce a large variety of ideas, suggestions, and knowledge as the foundation for planning their community. According to Anttiroiko (2016), the governance of Helsinki Smart City is largely built on ICT-enabled, user-oriented “platformization” to mobilize public data and local knowledge and provide tailored services and solutions.
Role of contextual factors
Helsinki’s democratic culture and active civil society, along with its bottom-up decision-making process, have enabled the municipal government to tackle its sustainability challenges based on wider collaboration between governments, businesses, citizens, and research institutions. In such an environment, civic engagement and collaboration are often considered the key features of Helsinki’s smart city development. Many solutions to Helsinki’s urban challenges have been the result of community-based collaborations between citizens, businesses, and local government, rather than being produced in a top-down bureaucratic way. Various smart technologies (e.g., living labs, platforms, and service- and user-oriented apps) have been developed to engage different stakeholders, especially citizens, to participate in the co-production of services that meet their real needs. Consequently, smart urban governance in Helsinki shows how a people-centered issue (smart living) provides a co-innovative setting in which diverse stakeholders jointly test and create smart solutions through online and offline platforms (Anttiroiko 2016).
Comparison and reflection
The analysis first indicates that, as urban issues differ in Singapore and Helsinki, the appropriate governance modes and relevant ICT functionalities applied also differ. As mentioned, “smart nation” Singapore endeavors to handle both strategic issues that have a long-term impact on survival, and daily issues that influence the quality of life (Hoe 2016). Because of this, it adopted a combination of whole-of-government, centralized, and more collaborative approaches. As for the role of technological intelligence, informing and communicating ICTs are developed and implemented to either deliver public services or facilitate collaborative activities (e.g., product and service innovation). In contrast, “co-created smart” Helsinki shows more concern about the living environment and the level of wellbeing offered to its inhabitants. Therefore, more citizen-centric, integrated, and ICT-facilitated flat structures were selected to govern the Helsinki Smart City project. In terms of the role of technologies, integrative functionalities (informing, communicating, and/or analyzing and designing) allow decision-makers to derive valuable insights into issues, something that previously was not possible. In addition, these technologies greatly facilitate open innovation, experimentation, and citizen engagement in the co-creation and co-production of urban services and urban living.
Second, the analysis also shows the importance of the specific context (cultural, political, economic, etc.) in influencing the choices both within each component and in their interaction, resulting in distinct forms of smart urban governance. In Singapore, massive urban issues along with top-down institutions put the government at the center of efforts to develop and pilot government-led, informative platforms seeking smart solutions. The position of Singapore as a city-state with limited natural and social resources and its efforts to equip people with digital skills, have also created ICT-facilitated, city-wide collaborations with businesses, interested citizens, and knowledge institutes. Taken together, smart urban governance in Singapore indicates the nationwide and whole-of-government effort along with the increased state-citizen engagement to reshape Singapore’s policy processes and transform the living environments of Singaporeans (Hoe 2016). In Helsinki, influenced by Finland’s democratic tradition, innovation culture, and strong technological basis, triple helix collaborations and integrative innovation platforms were developed to handle major issues and problems confronting residents’ everyday lives. As a result, smart urban governance in Helsinki suggests an extended public-sector innovation, with technologically enabled platforms serving to enhance the reach and efficacy of co-creation and co-production mechanisms. According to Zhou (2017), context is vital since the environment in which a typical governance is embedded limits, confines, or shapes the development and implementation of that governance approach. Stakeholders should therefore understand that urban processes are always interlinked and intertwined, and that smart governance mechanisms ought to be contextualized and comprehended as compound, synthesized actions.
Third, the analysis shows that the smart urban governance framework (Fig. 4) provides an effective analytical method to decide how to govern cities in the smart era. Although Singapore and Helsinki are confronted with different urban issues and are embedded in different urban contexts, both have obtained positive outcomes and needed improvements in terms of economic development, e-government innovation, public service delivery, quality of life, etc. (Monachesi 2020; Calder 2016). The key to this is that by adopting a forward-looking and problem-oriented strategy, both highlight that the development of modes of governance and relevant ICT functionality should accord with the perceived economic, social, and/or environmental urban challenges. In addition, the framework explicitly proposes analyses of both the choice of each component and the interactions of the components in a larger urban context. By doing so, smart urban governance moves away from a simple technology-based policy intervention toward a more compound and contextualized comprehension of how interactions of the urban issues, urban actors, and urban technologies engage in generating smart solutions and of their impacts on contemporary urban life.