Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Smart Cities in Africa

How do information systems contribute to developing Smart Cities in the African context?


The concept of Smart Cities encompasses green building technologies, quality of life measures as well as to the use of information and communication technologies to improve life in cities. We are interested in how information systems are or can be used to make cities comfortable and attractive places for citizens, organisations and visitors. Cities need to manage increasing urban populations; to integrate services for health, education, safety, transportation and utilities; to improve the quality of life of their citizens and be sustainable. Such demands cannot easily be met without information systems and technologies that are infused into city services, inter-connected, accessible and available for use.

Academic research into information systems for Smart Cities has a very short history, beginning only in 2009. That research focuses on (1) defining what Smart Cities are, identifying dimensions of and measures for the “smartness” of cities (2) case studies of projects and initiatives and (3) describing processes and methods for moving towards smarter cities. It is however unclear how the priorities and processes being identified for cities in other parts of the world translate to the African context. This project represents the first significant attempt to explore what information systems, and approaches to developing information systems for Smart Cities, might be desirable and effective in this context. This project seeks to develop an African perspective on information systems for Smart Cities to ensure that we can address local concerns as well as to contribute to the theoretical models that are currently being developed and ensure that they make sense for and are informed by the African context.

We will be looking at identifying the demand for and supply of services. Other projects have used citizen surveys, journey mapping and developing personas to identify the needs and preferences of individuals and organisations and we will apply these in our context. This information will then be analysed to understand the types of information, potential sources, and the ways in which information might be packaged into services to meet these needs. We will examine service catalogues created in previous studies and adapt them to the local context. We will also examine how South African cities have connected demand to services to understand approaches and how effective they have been, as well as how information services have been implemented and are used. Finally, this will lead to a gap analysis and a mapping of gaps to technologies (both devices and applications) and existing or potential service providers. We hope that this project will identify specific technology interventions to provide needed services, or to improvements to existing services, which would then become the subject of a future study.

This project will investigate:
1) What are the information needs and preferences of individuals, organisations and visitors in Johannesburg (and, possibly, other African cities)?
2) How can these be mapped to information-based services that are or could be provided? What processes could be used to make such mappings and how do these compare with existing processes? What theoretical models might best inform such processes?
3) What information services are provided within Johannesburg (and, possibly, other African cities), in what forms and by whom? Who uses such services and (where feasible) what is their impact?
4) What are the gaps in service provision? How can the information based services identified be mapped to technology devices and applications, and providers of services? What processes could be used to make such mappings and how do these compare with existing processes? What theoretical models might best inform such processes?