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Advances in smart sensors, data technology, and data analysis offer promising advantages to cities and city leaders who take the time to learn how to best use them and integrate them into the existing infrastructure and culture of their communities. With careful planning and smart implementation, cities can simultaneously work to improve civic life, government trust and transparency, and local government operations.


There is a clear interest by both cities and private business to pursue smart city projects, as evidenced by the enormous interest in programs like What Works Cities, MetroLab Network, and Results for America initiatives, among many others. Data collection by cities is nothing new, but cities must learn to ask the right questions, collect the right data, and develop the capacity to analyze it well.  A smart city or smart city government isn't just a matter of buying and implementing technology; cities must know how to use the data they collect to improve government operations and public life. And data itself won’t necessarily influence people, policy, or productivity; city leaders and their staff need to use data to tell stories that connect with people and policymakers. Increasingly, innovation in this field of big data means being nimble, experimental, and comfortable with (periodic) failure.


Over the last few years, many cities have made meaningful advances in data driven policymaking that makes government work more effectively and efficiently. Increasingly, cities are hiring innovation professionals for whom data is their main focus: Chief Innovation Officers, Civic Innovation partners, and others with slew of different titles. Strategic gathering, use and dissemination of data has helped city leaders in these roles start to address issues like blight, traffic jams, food and housing inspection efficiency, civic engagement, government transparency, and aging infrastructure. Before they can be effective, however, these types of projects may require changes in departmental structure, day to day city governance, investment in technology and infrastructure, and strategic partnerships with private companies and educational institutions. Using data effectively requires a renewed focus on reducing information silos in city government and requiring different city departments to work together - and with the public - to solve problems.


Today, city leadership is thinking outside the box and embracing their potential to be true innovators in governance. Small or large, all cities can encourage efficiency, equity and sustainability through efficient and effective collection and application of data in policy and decision making. Some key first ingredients? Support at the top of city government, good coordination in data collection and use between city departments, citizen buy-in, and a commitment to collecting evidence to show what's working. 

A Better Way to Release Your City’s Data, Chris Bosquet, Data-Smart City Solutions, May 23rd, 2017. Read more.

A digital right to the city: who defines democracy in smart cities?, Mark Dean, Bang the Table, April 19th, 2017. Read more.

The Rise of the Smart City, Michael Totty, The Wall Street Journal, April 16th, 2017. Read more.

An Open Letter to the Open Data Community, Civic Analytics Network, Data-Smart City Solutions, March 3rd, 2017. Read more.

How Cities Can Get Smart: 6 Tips from Local CIOs, Ben Miller, Government Technology, February 26th, 2016. Read more.

What Works Cities Brief: The City Hall Data Gap, Bloomberg Philanthropies, January 1st, 2016. Read more.

Trends in Smart City Development, Nicole DuPuis, et al, National League of Cities, January 1st, 2016. Read more.

Changing the Culture, What Works Cities, December 29th, 2015. Read more.

Using Data and Evidence to Drive Results in American Cities, Michele Jolin, Results for America, November 1st, 2015. Read more.

Smart Cities Resources: Who, What, When, Where and How?, Dan Lohrmann, Government Technology, May 25th, 2015. Read more.

Smart Cities Readiness Guide, Smart Cities Council, updated for 2016. Read more.

The MetroLab Network is an ever expanding network of city – university alliances launched as part of the White House’s Smart Cities Initiatives.


The What Works Cities Initiative, a project of Bloomberg Philanthropies, is a national coalition of mid-sized American cities working to enhance their use of data to improve services and inform data driven policymaking.


The Environmental Protection Agency has announced a Smart Cities Challenge that will offer grants to cities for projects that incorporate data and sensor technology to address environmental issues like air quality and emissions. Details of the program are forthcoming, but and RFP should be released in April 2016.  

South Bend, IN pioneered a data-driven model to address vacant and abandoned properties in the city, and is applying that framework to other areas of government operations to boost operational efficiency. The city saved millions of dollars using sensors and data to address water quality issues instead of immediately investing in new infrastructure.


Boston, MA has one the most sophisticated data dashboards in the country, and is using it to measure efficiency, set ambitious goals, and even begin to experiment with predictive analytics. Now, Boston is using its enormous wealth of data to tackle a variety of issues such as the wage gap between men and women; how to ensure grid reliability into the future; how to streamline the permitting process; and how to improve safety and response times in high crime areas.


Montgomery County, MD, has its own sophisticated county data portal – CountyStat. The county also has its own Innovation Hub – the Thingstitute – where it hosts data training sessions, brings together different areas of government, and encourages economic development by serving as a test bed for local startups, companies, and college students. The county has deployed smart sensors in places where private tech has been scarce - like correctional and senior living facilities - to try to efficiently manage personnel and resources while providing the best services to these vulnerable populations.


Chattanooga, TN is a great example of a city working to remove the silos in city government to encourage efficiency, innovation and collaboration. Here, a data dashboard – ChattaData – is combined with a new Budgeting for Outcomes approach that requires a cross-departmental focus. Mayor Andy Berke leads monthly cross-departmental meetings on key topics led by performance data and partnered with their local university, John Hopkins, and Socrata to help build a curriculum to educate, retain and inspire city workers.


Houston, TX is partnering with The Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University to help city officials identify what data they have and what their city’s most pressing issues are to identify data gaps and needs. Their goal is to work across different sectors of the city – city hall, utilities, local universities, medical centers, and prisons - to share data to create maximum efficiency and to the best possible outcomes for citizens. 


Katya Szabados
(608) 262-5831

At the Winter 2016 meeting, we discussed how your city can collect, interpret, and use data to improve policies, programs, and service for your citizens. View materials and further resources from the event here.


Click below for the meeting's presentations:


Dan Hoffman

Montgomery County, MD

Jascha Franklin-Hodge

Boston, MA

Mayor Pete Buttigieg
South Bend, IN