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A comparison of smart city research and practice in Sweden and Japan: trends and opportunities identified from a literature review and co-occurrence network analysis


Smart cities continue to be conceived and implemented around the world as literature documenting these trends grows at a similar pace. Practices focused on narrow techno-economic objectives have met with sharp criticism as scholars have called for human-centred smart cities that explicitly address social issues and the needs of residents. Yet, literature has made few attempts to systematically compare a representative sample of smart city practices and discussions using objective methods that combine quantitative and qualitative approaches. This study thus focuses on Sweden and Japan as two nations particularly active in the implementation and discussion of smart cities. To compare the state of discussions and practices in each country, we examine a sample of almost 2,000 academic studies published since 2010. Using co-occurrence network analysis (a type of content analysis), we objectively identify the thematic foci of discourse and practices in each country. We then explore the themes characterising each country’s network with qualitative descriptions from the sampled literature. Our analysis reveals unique trends in both countries related to the conceptual framing of smart cities, participation of local government and citizens, and differing interpretations of vulnerability to hazards. Overall, combined findings from both countries reveal that technology-focused discussions are dominating over social topics, such as human capital, stakeholder participation, governance, social equity and so forth. The absence of socially oriented research is more pronounced, however, in Japan. These findings provide important cues for future smart city research, policy and practice.

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  1. Proposed by the Cabinet Office of Japan in the goal of tackling economic and social challenges while driving the development of science and technology, this vision calls for the integration of artificial intelligence, cyberspace and physical spaces to achieve a society where the creation and use of data and ICT services are ubiquitous and largely automated.

  2. Also formulated by the Cabinet Office, this funding and implementation program seeks to support the application of big-data, artificial intelligence and holistic smart city planning to tackle social problems such as health and aged care while improving education and government services as well as decarbonising transport and energy. Five city-scale projects are expected to be funded in 2021.

  3. Proposed by 27 stakeholders in academic institutions, enterprises, NGOs and public agencies, this initiative fixes shared concepts, visions and specific strategies for smart sustainable cities. Emphasis is made on collaborated research and innovation for empowering citizens and building sustainable, integrated urban infrastructure.

  4. In the case where publications from outside either country’s sample are cited in the findings, these are marked with “see” in the citation bracket (e.g. see Author 2019).

  5. In building the Japanese network it was important to include “smart community” in addition to “smart city”. This is because representative smart city projects funded by the national government, often targeting residential areas, are labelled “smart communities” (Granier and Kudo 2016).

  6. This malware, discovered in 2010, was designed to infiltrate Siemens’ SCADA product.

  7. This malware has repeatedly attacked the energy sector during the period 2011–2017, with cases concentrated in Spain, United States, France, Italy, Germany, Turkey and Poland.


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Correspondence to Gregory Trencher.

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Handled by Lars Coenen, Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, Norway.

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Sakuma, N., Trencher, G., Yarime, M. et al. A comparison of smart city research and practice in Sweden and Japan: trends and opportunities identified from a literature review and co-occurrence network analysis. Sustain Sci 16, 1777–1796 (2021).

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  • Smart city
  • Sustainable city
  • Content analysis
  • Japan
  • Sweden
  • International comparison