The need to focus on policies for responsible and ethical use of technology is growing as cities across the world adjust to the post-pandemic normal, the World Economic Forum said in its first report on the state of technology governance in cities.
Covid-19 has accelerated the digital transformation and the adoption of technology-led city services, according to the Governing Smart Cities report released on Tuesday. However, nearly all the cities surveyed have critical policy gaps related to their governance of smart city technologies.
More than eight in 10 cities acknowledge legal obligations for privacy and data protection and less than a quarter conduct privacy impact assessments when they deploy new technology.
“Cities are continuing to invest heavily in new technologies to automate and improve city services and urban life … yet our findings validate our fears that most cities are falling behind when it comes to ensuring effective oversight and governance of these technologies,” said Jeff Merritt, head of Internet of Things and urban transformation at WEF.
“The G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance is working with cities across the globe to address this gap, beginning with more than 15 policy workshops with city officials this summer,” Mr Merritt said.
Policy experts and government officials in nearly 36 cities — with populations from 70,000 to more than 15 million, spanning 22 countries — were surveyed, including Barcelona, Belfast, Dubai, London, Melbourne, San Jose, Moscow, Lisbon, Manila and Toronto.
Compiled in partnership with the US consultancy Deloitte, the report follows the call to action from G20 ministers in 2019 that resulted in the creation of the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance. The group and its partners represent over 200,000 cities, local governments, leading companies, start-ups, research institutions and civil society communities.
Cyber attacks on local authorities have increased during the pandemic, but most cities do not have any contingency plan or a designated official accountable for cyber security, the report found.
Less than half of the cities surveyed have processes in place to ensure that technologies they procure are accessible to elderly residents or individuals with limited physical abilities.
“Cities have an array of opportunities to become more resilient and sustainable. Technology is an enabler but, to fulfil its full potential, cities need to revise their governance, operational and financing models,” said Miguel Eiras Antunes, global smart cities leader at Deloitte Global.
“Now is the moment for a great urban transformation. Addressing urban challenges through the lenses of sustainability, inclusion and technology is critical to develop and implement a road map to guide cities with their governance of smart technology and make an impact that matters,” he said.
Open data policy is perhaps the only area in which most cities in the sample have achieved a level of basic implementation, the report said. Nearly 15 per cent of the cities have integrated their open data portals with their wider city data infrastructure, which is a necessary step towards making a city “open by default”.
City leaders and officials need to take action before these governance gaps become “material risk and affect residents”, the report said. It urged national policymakers, civil society and the business community to support local governments in overcoming these challenges.
The Covid-19 pandemic has left behind a trail of economic destruction, especially in cities and urban areas, the report said. However, the vaccination programmes will play a major part in getting cities and countries back on their feet.
“City leaders have been hard pressed to improve public health infrastructure and build resilience to counter further outbreaks … smart city technologies have a role to play in enhancing the responsiveness and resilience of cities to current and future shocks while unlocking efficiencies and improvements in the quality of life,” the report said.