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Smart cities
Smart cities

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1 Smart city measurement: metrics and indicators

A graphic of a compass with the words ‘K.P.I. Key Performance Indicators’ on the compass face.
Figure 1 The use of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) in smart city measurement.

Cities must be able to measure whether or not they’re becoming smarter, and the extent to which they’re smart. But how?

Measurement provides a basis to track progress, to make decisions and to compare cities. Terms such as ‘indicators’ and ‘metrics’ are often used interchangeably, although their meanings can differ across organisations. A key performance indicator (KPI) is a quantifiable measure that an organisation uses to assess performance on objectives. Measurements that are based on a standardised method are called metrics.

Measuring the extent to which a city is getting smarter is by no means a straightforward task. For a start, there’s no standard set of smart city indicators. Even though cities often apply KPIs to measure the progress of their smart city projects – for example tonnes of CO2 emissions per capita or the number of Wi-Fi hotspots installed – the KPIs are not comparable across all cities. Then there’s the problem that it’s difficult to measure direct links between some of the things you would implement as a smart city. So, while KPIs tell us about performance in specific areas, such as increased broadband connectivity, how can we know whether this improves city outcomes such as more jobs for citizens?

The EUROCITIES CITYkeys [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] project started in February 2015. The project aims to help members deploy better smart city solutions by developing and validating KPIs and data collection procedures in collaboration with cities. They’re working with research institutes VTT (Finland), AIT (Austria) and TNO (Netherlands), and five cities: Rotterdam, Tampere, Vienna, Zagreb and Zaragoza. The project will gather as much evidence and feedback as possible about the practical use, benefits and challenges of KPIs and smart city project evaluation frameworks.

Putting in place accurate and regular measurement can also be time intensive and expensive for cities. However, many smart city aspirations, such as delivering a more effective transport system or reducing carbon emissions, are existing city priorities that have indicator sets. So there are opportunities for collaboration and integration to share resources across organisations in city reporting.

City governments around the world publish suites of city indicators for a variety of reasons. But the reports produced can be difficult to navigate; they can be long and contain hundreds of indicators. It’s important for cities to consider who their audience is, and how to present the information in accessible and meaningful ways. Technology can help by creating more accessible interfaces such as smart city dashboards, for example the London City Dashboard created by University College London (UCL), National Centre for Research methods (NCRM) and Jisc.

Effective smart city measurement will include both quantitative and qualitative measures. Whether a city has 10 or 10,000 smart street lights might not be that meaningful to citizens who understand little about smart cities. As you have seen in earlier weeks of the course, some cities are starting to think about how they consult more closely with citizens about the outcomes of smart activities, such as through crowdsourcing websites or citizen panels.

As you work through this part of the course have a think about how you could measure the performance of the smart city project you’re developing.

Find out about the OU’s SmartDframe Research on smart city evaluation.