Establish People-Centered "Living Labs" To Accelerate the Implementation of Smart City and Community Solutions.

USDOT Report Collected 52 Survey Answers from Cities Around the Nation to Gather Success Factors in Implementing Smart Cities and Communities Technologies.

Date Posted

Putting People First – Smart Cities and Communities

Summary Information

Smart Cities and Communities (SC&Cs) use advanced information and communications technologies to find new ways to solve age-old problems like potholes and pollution, traffic and parking, public health and safety, and equity and public engagement. SC&Cs create an intelligent, integrated information network by applying sensors and wireless communications technologies to infrastructure, vehicles, wearables, and any number of physical devices.

The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) conducted a thorough literature review, interviews with municipal officials, and a survey of more than 50 cities using SC&C concepts to assess the forward-thinking ways that communities are applying SC&C concepts as well as some of the benefits and challenges of SC&C technologies and key factors that drive their success. 

The report presents several best practices for SC&C technology implementation, detailed below.

  • Set clear goals. Becoming a smart city or community is not a goal but a means to an end. SC&C initiatives are a way to solve-real world problems. Communities must focus on goals - deploying technologies that can help achieve those goals and solve transportation challenges.
  • Break down silos. A common challenge to achieving the cross-functional efficiencies and holistic insights of SC&Cs is that departments within a given municipality tend to work in silos, particularly with respect to data sharing and operations. SC&C solutions work best when they leverage data across different city domains (e.g., transportation, public services, energy, and public safety) and use this integrated data for optimized city operations. To enable an integrated approach to SC&C solutions, municipalities need to build a strong data architecture and centralized data system that enables a single platform for facilitating planning, data analysis, and greater operational efficiencies. Establishing cross-functional, interdisciplinary teams can also help to break down silos, eliminate redundancies, and facilitate data sharing.
  • Use a structured engineering approach. Take the time for a dedicated planning phase that considers user needs, privacy, and cybersecurity from the start. Following a structured, systems-engineering-based approach can help to ensure that connected systems are both interoperable and secure, improving system resiliency while reducing the risks of schedule and cost overruns. Documenting system processes and architecture can also improve the likelihood that an SC&C project meets user needs and is replicable.
  • Speak the same language. “Lack of standards” was the second most common challenge to deploying SC&C technologies identified by cities in response to a U.S. DOT poll. For systems to work together, they have to speak the same language. Communications protocols and standards are a critical ingredient for scaling up from standalone pilots to an integrated system that serves the whole community. Having clear data standards, integrated systems, and a robust application programming interface (API) enables timely data sharing. This allows users to connect to the data they need, fostering the entrepreneurial uses of data and innovative partnerships that drive successful SC&Cs.
  • Foster a culture of innovation. The public sector has a responsibility to balance risk-taking with fiscal stewardship. To get past resistance to change, some public-sector agencies have focused on developing a culture of innovation by encouraging their staff to use new approaches, technologies, and tools in performing their jobs, creating opportunities to take risks and learn from failures. While SC&C solutions can achieve operational efficiencies and improve staff capacity, they can also disrupt a municipality’s traditional operations. To achieve the benefits of SC&Cs, municipalities must be flexible and agile in meeting the challenges posed by change.
  • Engage citizens. Public engagement is a tool for obtaining feedback from citizens on the usefulness and effectiveness of new technologies, but it also serves to educate the public and obtain buy-in on new efforts. Successful efforts often draw on community resources by working with community- based organizations and engaging in meaningful public outreach. In this way, communities help to ensure that the needs of low-income households, people of color, immigrants, older people, people with disabilities, and other underserved communities are identified and addressed.
  • Explore with livings labs. To accelerate the implementation of SC&C solutions, many cities are establishing living labs. Living labs are physical locations where public agencies and their partners can pilot and demonstrate SC&C solutions. It may be a special district, a college campus, or a new community. Living labs are an effective way to safely experiment with potential solutions at a limited scale while allowing the public to engage with new technologies. Living labs are different than test beds in that they are typically open and people-centered, allowing residents to interact with and provide feedback on new technologies and services. Living labs can serve as a tool for building partnerships, fostering economic growth, and educating the public about SC&C solutions.
  • Partner strategically. Municipalities can also leverage their capacity by partnering with stakeholders in their communities to strategize, plan, deploy, and fund SC&C initiatives. Partnerships with non-profit organizations, universities, and the private sector can provide additional funding and institutional capacity and flexibility to achieve innovative solutions. Partnerships can provide the necessary funding for projects, as well as technical expertise and access to proprietary technology. Partnerships also enable knowledge transfer, which facilitates broader technology adoption. Partnerships are not without challenges, however, and public-sector actors need to be prudent about working with vendors who may oversell their capabilities or do not clearly understand public-sector goals. For example, when initiating partnerships for SC&C initiatives, it is important to establish up front streamlined processes for sharing data and an understanding of who owns the data. Where the public sector owns the data, it can allow greater transparency, data sharing, and discovery of cross-cutting synergies.