Keeping people at the centre of smart city initiatives

Developing smart city solutions that are citizen-centric and offer real value will be key to future success, according to experts at the World Smart City Forum held at Fira de Barcelona as part of the Smart City Expo World Congress.

Opening the Forum, Spain’s Secretary of State for the Information Society and Digital Agenda, José María Lassalle Ruiz, highlighted the importance of putting people’s needs at the centre of future urban development.

“Some believe that data and algorithms will soon be managing the contemporary world, but they must be used to combat inequality and poverty in our towns and cities. Today, our efforts must be focused on reconciling man and his environment,” he said. Ruiz added that: “It is incumbent on our generation to ensure that technological progress is not subject to short-sighted or self-serving goals. If there is to be digital disruption, it must be social and ethical, with citizens profiting from the feedback of data and algorithms, not the other way around.”

Citizen-centric urban development was underlined by many other panellists and speakers during the day, with discussions touching upon how citizens’ digital footprint can be used in an ethical way to improve everyday life in cities, for example through more intelligent public transport systems or more efficient energy use.

Putting citizens at the centre was also something highlighted by UN-Habitat’s Acting Chief of Office for Europe and European Institutions, Paulius Kulikauskas, who emphasized this opportunity to ensure that proper and well-organized urbanization is a key driver of sustainable development. He also welcomed the fact that urban development is now taking centre stage in many of today’s most important discussions, illustrating how it touches almost all aspects of modern life.

“Ten or twenty years ago, any discussion of urban issues and urbanization in the context of the United Nations was happening in a rather empty room. We, as UN-Habitat, at times felt rather alone. The last five or six years have changed the game completely, and now every institution is involved in this discussion. If you speak about migration, you also speak about cities; if you are talking about health, you also speak about cities; and if you speak of mobility, you will be talking about cities. The discussion has finally reached different stakeholders, which we are very happy about.”

Kulikauskas added that technology and standards are some of the instruments that can enable civil society and the private sector to connect and work together in an integrated manner to address challenges and identify cities’ potential.

This view was also echoed by panellist Andrew Collinge, Assistant Director, Intelligence and Analysis, at the Greater London Authority, who spoke about work to measure and improve air quality in the capital. Collinge underlined that standards can help balance the needs of cities and citizens in addition to supporting collaboration with industry groups.

The role of standards in supporting collaboration and the sharing of resources was also highlighted. Marijn Fraanje, CIO for the Municipality of The Hague, spoke of the devastating consequences cyber-attacks can have on the global shipping industry. Fraanje referenced a project in the Netherlands where the country’s five biggest cities focus on different aspects of a smart city and then share findings and resources, with The Hague looking at cyber security. Sharing resources in this way, both in a national context and between cities of different countries, relies on the use of interoperable solutions and standards.

Other key takeaways from the event included the importance of getting more cities and city leaders involved in standards development to ensure the solutions developed truly reflect their particular circumstances. For this to work well, participants highlighted the need to engage cities early in the process, make the value of standards to cities clearer and ensure the standards development process is accessible to this group of stakeholders.


The World Smart City Forum was organized by the IEC, ISO and ITU, this year under the leadership of ISO, and is part of the World Smart City partnership. It brought together representatives of cities, standards development organizations, industry groups and investors to explore some of the major challenges cities face today and how international standards can help solve them.