Smart cities

An indicator for qualifying Smart Cities

7 February 2017

An indicator for qualifying Smart Cities

Many of us are talking about the Smart City concept. Quite literally, this is an intelligent city, meeting the needs of its citizens by making full use of information and communication technologies. It’s made the headlines, it fuels conversations and is fodder for Council projects. Yet, we are still lacking in markers and points of reference to be able to qualify a city’s level of maturity.

Working with Engineering students from Lyon Ecole Centrale, we challenged ourselves to measure the IQ of a selection of regions. In just a few months, together we had created an indicator for measuring city performance. We developed a grading system which would allow local councillors to reflect on their digital policy, to measure their city and to explore areas for improvement.


A indicator to assess the city at Time T

With the subject benefitting from wide media coverage over the last 2 years, we might have thought that the excitement for the Smart City would die out. But in the end, every Councillor has a Smart City project sitting on their desk. Of course, how ambitious the project is depends on the city itself, as budgets and needs differ between areas. But the project is there! The idea of creating an indicator was established so as to allow those involved in the project to a take photo of the cities at Time T. We saw a real willingness to encourage Councillors to reflect on their Smart City project and to allow them to find areas for improvement within their community.

The students from the Lyon Ecole Centrale were given largely a free rein throughout the project, the one exception being that they could only incorporate solutions into the indicator that already existed and that had been implemented in certain cities across the world. They also had to consider the fact that when it comes to the Smart City, nothing is fixed or set. We are dealing with a concept in continuous development, which requires a indicator that can adapt to different changes as much as possible. To optimise readability and leave room for adjustments later on, the most suitable solution was to split the indicator into 7 different sets for analysis:

  • Transport
  • Security
  • Healthcare
  • Well-being
  • Economic development
  • Resources
  • Administration

Each set was colour-coded, then divided into sub-sets. For example, in the “Economic development” set, we can see the “Infrastructures for companies” and “Innovation policy” sub-sets.

A degree of progress from 1 to 5 was allocated to each sub-set, with 1 representing standard services and 5 being the most developed services. As the sub-sets do not have the same number of levels of maturity, some might go up to 3 or 4 on their chosen set. The coloured areas represent the level achieved, whereas the grey areas show the levels for potential.


The highest level doesn’t necessarily represent a target. It is a marker which will help communities to reflect on the relevance of their Smart City project. The indicator is not a finished article, either. It moves and changes over time, so as to allow us to add or remove sets, sub-sets, and degrees of progress.
The advantages of digital in our daily lives

The world’s 40 biggest cities represent two-thirds of the planet’s economic potential. Today, 78% of the French population live in an urban area. By 2050, we estimate that this will be the case for 80% of the global population. One of the challenges faced will be to accept more citizens. We have to offer them a comfortable, durable and secure lifestyle. Adapting to their needs and offering them a wide range of solutions and services will be a necessity.


In Nordic countries, civic engagement is well-developed. In France, on the other hand, we are more concerned with people services, energy, and transport. We can’t ignore these cultural differences. We all need solutions and services, and particularly digital ones. We have to make sure that these are adapted to users.

We’re not trying to draw the future, here. All of these things are happening now, and we are already seeing the incredible advantages of digital:

  • Today, we can use interactive pavements which collect data on pedestrian usage of a particular road or district
  • One application offers live public transport occupancy, and would also allow users to give up their travel card or season ticket.
  • Software that makes it possible to carry out predictive analysis of malicious acts thanks to up to date crime data.
  • For improved healthcare, some cities are rolling out connected spaces for exercise and relaxation.
  • Urban connected furniture can interact with citizens who can, for example, inform the Council of the air quality via a sensor connected to their smartphone.


Cities are setting themselves up as key players in digital innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development. This is most certainly the case with New York, London and Berlin but also in France with our own particularity: watching this phenomenon develop within cities but also within a finer regional network.

Which digital strategy should be adopted for your region or city, and how to progress to project roll out?
Get a digital strategy that’s simple in expression and precise in execution
Making the city intelligent requires us to reflect on the purpose of the services on offer. The city has to be developed differently, with an integrated and people-oriented approach which considers the vast scope of the community’s actions and responsibilities. The approach has to be easy to understand for outsiders and expressed in a simple way for users and for the community’s employees.

Build a dynamic

For a successful Smart City project, a cross-dynamic between public services, the economic stakeholders that shape the region and the users has to be put into place.This dynamic can come in many different forms, such as trendy open working spaces (living labs, coworking spaces, fab lab, repair lab, etc.) as well as the development of Open Data.

Accelerate service roll-out and increase usage value

In Smart City projects, two types of intelligence should be differentiated:

  • First: intelligence of urban systems (transport, energy, waste)
  • Second: accessible services. This is visible and useful for the user, making them aware of the changes on a day to day basis, and of the benefits these projects can bring to the community

In the first case, the returns on investment are indeed measurable and it is essentially a question of moving up the ranks to a higher scale (from a building to a district, for example, or a district to a county, etc.).

In the second example, it’s not so much a question of the roll-out but more the level of user appropriation of the services and products offered. This requires an marketing approach specific to innovation to get the community on board.

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