Citizens and Smart Cities

William Webster and Charles Leleux (Stirling Management School, University of Stirling)

Most of us will have heard something about ‘smart’ cities, but perhaps are unsure what the term really means? Using examples from ‘cutting edge’ research which we are conducting here at the University of Stirling, where we are uniquely looking at smart cities from the ‘lens’ of the citizen, we will try to help to fill some of those gaps.

Smart cities often feature a city-wide vision to engage citizens and businesses, using the power of new information and communication technologies (ICTs) to make the city more sustainable, more informed, and more connected. These new technologies are being used to transform the delivery of public services, allowing greater interaction with citizens, and providing opportunities for participation in decision-making. In Scotland, every one of its seven cities are smart cities (Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Perth and Stirling), and they have formed the Scottish Cities Alliance, creating ‘Scotland’s 8th city’ – a virtual smart city in which ‘all seven cities are working together to expand their smart city capabilities.’[i] Smart cities are a world-wide phenomenon, and while no two smart cities will be the same, the following model illustrates some of the common components:

A key feature of the smart city is about incentivising and engaging the ordinary citizen to participate in the life of the city, through new technologies, in ways in which they may not have tried before, including taking part in decision-making or shared learning. For example, this could be through a city app on their Smartphone, sometimes called a ‘city dashboard’, allowing them to access city information about traffic or air quality, or even to make a leisure class booking. Most smart cities organise public ‘hackathon’ events, where teams of people compete against each other, and use open data and other information over the course of perhaps two days, to try to develop innovative ICT solutions such as new websites, or apps, which can be used to help in dealing with societal issues.

Citizens may change their behaviour in relation to home energy usage, through the use of Smart meters, and increasingly, health services are using a ‘gamified’ approach to patients monitoring their own personal health, by having targets and rewards in the same way as activity ‘trackers’. Some Smart cities use ‘fablabs’ (fabrication laboratories) where experimentation with new technologies might take place, with the emphasis being on community-based shared learning. In other cases, citizen engagement may be involuntary, as in the case of ‘intelligent’ street lighting which is switched on only when a movement sensor detects someone walking close by. Citizens’ lives and relations with public agencies are increasingly occurring in the digital world, which, combined with the growing availability of publicly available open datasets, containing performance and demographic information, are creating new engagement opportunities for citizens.

Our research project, Smart Governance of Sustainable Cities (SmartGov), began in October 2015 and is being undertaken in partnership with Utrecht University, (Netherlands); University of Stirling (United Kingdom), and Fundação Getulio Vargas, Sao Paolo, (Brazil). Our case study city is Glasgow, and we are working closely with Glasgow City Council in the development of our research, using legacy projects from the Future City programme as our case studies.

 These are some of the activities we have been engaged in to date, including plans for the next two years:

  • Undertaken various dissemination activities about our research within the UK and internationally, including forming new partnerships with practitioners and other academic institutions.
  • Participated in virtual conferences in 2016 and 2017 involving practitioners and project partners, sharing experiences of engaging citizens in decision-making using ICTs.
  • Organised a Workshop at the University of Stirling on 24 February 2017 on the theme ‘Being Digital’.
  • Entered into an end-user licence agreement for accessing data held within the ESRC-funded Urban Big Data Centre, located at the University of Glasgow.
  • Preparing journal articles and book chapters for publication on citizen co-production, Smart governance and Smart sustainable cities.
  • Undertaking detailed case study research on legacy projects from the Future City Glasgow programme, with a strong emphasis on sustainability, involving interviews with citizens, policy-makers and practitioners.
  • Preparing for larger scale engagement activities with citizens to learn from their experiences.
  • Preparing for the annual project conference which will be hosted by the University of Stirling in 2018.

Participation in decision-making might take place when citizens or citizens’ groups are invited by public bodies to engage with them to provide suggestions and views, for example about a new Council policy, or where to invest funds in new cycle paths or traffic calming measures, or how best to use some derelict spaces for a temporary period – perhaps urban gyms, pop-up gardens, or temporary art such as pop-up sculptures.[ii] Where participation occurs using ICTs, social media, or online questionnaires, and citizens’ views are helping to co-produce services and public policy, this will support ‘smart governance’. When these forms of participation between local government and citizens produce tangible results, or ‘softer’ outcomes such as the building of trust and good relationships, this creates ‘co-production’, which is dependent upon the input of both parties. Research into the processes surrounding both smart governance and co-production are of primary importance to our research project.

Looking into the future, interactions between service providers and citizens will increasingly be digitally-based, where the newly empowered citizen has the opportunity to use ICTs and open data sources to participate in policy-making, decision-making, and shared-learning in ways which were unavailable previously. The SmartGov project will provide insight on these areas for public bodies, practitioners and citizens using comparative analysis from the three case study cities, Utrecht, Glasgow and Curitiba.

William Webster and Charles Leleux are based at Stirling Management School, University of Stirling, and work on the ESRC-funded Smart Governance of Sustainable Cities (SmartGov) project. For more information, please contact the authors ( and or visit the project webpage.

[i] Scottish Cities Alliance:

[ii] Glasgow City Council, Stalled Spaces,