José Quádrio Alves

The journey for future cities requires a solid roadmap

Today’s cities are facing significant challenges due to population growth, shrinking budgets and rising citizen expectations, among other factors. In response, they are launching transformation programs designed to improve citizen services and increase resource efficiency.

While we see frequent news about cities launching new technology projects to become “smarter,” it is not always obvious whether such projects are part of an integrated strategy; or are opportunistic initiatives motivated by the need to react to pressing problems; or are just good intentions that do not necessarily map to clear benefits for citizens.

The good news is that many cities have stated their vision and objectives for the future (both long- and short-term) in publicly available documents. A very good example is the Los Angeles Sustainability Plan that defines both clear objectives and a roadmap for achieving them.

Linking a vision to specific objectives and defining a roadmap are key steps. But roadmap initiatives need to be assessed for their value, from the city council perspective to other stakeholders’ perspectives. Some initiatives may add significant value to citizens; however their return may not directly benefit the city council but rather other stakeholders instead, such as a transport company, for example. Having a holistic view of how an initiative benefits various stakeholders should have an impact on the funding strategy to adopt.

For those cities launching projects and innovation pilots without a strategic roadmap or a clear vision of value, CGI’s methodology, below, can be a useful approach, supported by tools designed to make the process participative and easy to follow.

Future Cities Roadmap Approach

Step 1, Introduction, creates awareness among city stakeholders for the potential of using innovative approaches and technologies to address city challenges. We use our Future Cities Interactive Tool to spur discussion based on case studies where cities are using innovative technology to improve citizens’ daily lives.

In Step 2, Assessment, the current position of the city is evaluated against international standards like ISO 18091, which focuses on aligning public policy and services to citizen needs and is a starting point to implement a quality management system. Strengths and weaknesses are identified to help determine priorities in the Future Cities Roadmap. We have used Microsoft’s CityNext Assessment tool to help clients progress in this step.

During Step 3, Vision and Objectives, both long- and short-term measurable objectives are developed or reviewed in an iterative brainstorming approach with the city leadership team.

Step 4, Roadmap, uses ideas generated in Steps 1-3, as well as best practices and case studies from other cities, to develop the high-level roadmap and prioritize projects according to their value to the city’s objectives. We have used mapping tools such as Sharpcloud’s visual communication software, together with our methodologies and tools created and used in helping to build and execute various client projects around the world.

During Step 5, Business Case, project evaluation and management tools are used to evaluate and schedule each individual project to confirm return on investment, funding sources and timing.

Finally, in Step 6, Implementation, projects are deployed according to their priorities and a coordinated program management approach.

Following implementation, a periodic reassessment of the roadmap is needed to make sure the vision and objectives are still valid, the execution is evaluated, and any required changes can be introduced.

Since citizens should be at the core of any journey to become a future city, their role is critical to defining, validating and assessing the outcomes of transformation initiatives. Citizen participation in validating and enriching objectives of the roadmap is important. Citizens can be engaged through public sessions as well as through the use of social networks or specific citizen participation enabling tools, such as CGI’s Participation Next.

A governance model is needed to enlist both city leader support as well as citizen participation in both planning and implementation phases. This is certainly a topic to address in more detail in a future blog entry.

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