Connecting state and local government leaders
A white paper identifies gaps in technology governance in cities, including problems with accessibility, digital infrastructure and cybersecurity.
Local governments have largely embraced technology to continue service delivery during the pandemic, but most of those cities lack comprehensive policies to ensure data protection, cybersecurity and accessibility, according to a white paper from the World Economic Forum.
“As cities adjust to the new post-pandemic paradigm, there is a need to focus on policies for the responsible and ethical use of technology,” says the “Governing Smart Cities” paper. “The analysis in this report reveals serious gaps across cities of all sizes, in all geographies and at all levels of economic development.”
The report, released this summer in partnership with Deloitte, examines the inner workings of 36 cities across the globe, including Chattanooga, Tennessee and San Jose, California. Researchers surveyed and interviewed policy experts and government officials from each city, then assessed “detailed policy elements” to help city leaders “identify gaps, protect long-term interests and keep up with the pace of technology.”
The report examined practices related to five metrics, including the accessibility of information and communications technology, private impact assessment, cyber accountability, digital infrastructure and open data.
Per the results, even as cities rapidly deployed new technologies to keep governments running during the pandemic, most failed to do so safely or with robust security measures in place. For example, while most cities that were surveyed began offering more services digitally to increase accessibility, less than half “have policies in place to embed basic accessibility requirements into their procurement … and less than half of cities provided evidence that they implement these requirements in practice.”
Likewise, 80% of cities are aware of their legal obligations to protect data and privacy, but “less than 25% conduct privacy impact assessments when they deploy new technology,” the paper said. And while cyberattacks on local authorities increased during the pandemic, most cities do not have a designated person in charge of cybersecurity or a “plan that is regularly reviewed by senior executives.”
And while remote work seems likely to continue after the pandemic, many cities “lack the digital infrastructure needed to support or sustain this shift,” the paper says. For example, less than half of the cities surveyed have a “Dig Once” policy, which automatically installs digital infrastructure during street and construction work.
“Moreover, less than one-third of cities have the governance processes needed to drive connectivity roll-out through a Dig Once policy,” the report says.
Addressing the Gaps
To address those gaps in technology policy and governance, the paper recommends that city leaders begin by identifying the shortfalls in their “smart city governance,” particularly those that risk the privacy of their residents and the sustainability and efficiency of their municipalities.
National and regional officials can help with that process, the paper says, by helping to “ensure that guidance and regulations issued at a national level are in line with global best practice” and by lending support to expand capacity where needed. Civil society organizations can also lend support, including providing “transparency and accountability on the state of governance.”
“There is an urgent need for cities to meet policy benchmarks for technology and smart city development,” the report concludes. “Only by addressing these gaps can we be confident that citizens’ long-term interests are protected as new technologies are deployed.”
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.