Information sharing key to smarter cities

June 10, 2019

Big cities that want to get smarter need strong mayoral leadership and must effectively share more information across departments according to University at Albany researchers.

CTG UAlbany Research Director J. Ramon Gil-Garcia and Director Theresa A. Pardo shared this conclusion in, “Information Sharing as a Dimension of Smartness: Understanding Benefits and Challenges in Two Megacities,” published in the May edition of the journal Urban Affairs Review. It is currently available online.

University at Albany Informatics Ph.D. student Manuel De Tuya is a co-author on the paper.

“Information and communication technologies enable new organizational structures in city governments and new innovative problem-solving capabilities,” the authors said in the paper. “Many initiatives seek to integrate services and, as a consequence, rely heavily on city government agencies and departments to develop, and sustain, high levels of capability to share information across organizational boundaries.”

While information sharing has been studied over the past two decades, researchers found that little is known about how specific strategies and capabilities can be applied to urban settings, particularly megacities with populations in excess of 10 million people. 

Researchers focused on two cases - New York City’s 311 city information system and Mexico City’s Red Angel system of integrated social services - since both rely on information sharing among city departments and agencies and both were defined as smart city initiatives by city officials. 

According to the Gil-Garcia, Pardo and DeTuya, big cities executing these kinds of programs have unique financial, personnel, and technical advantages compared to state and local governments.

“These factors may help to explain the relative success of megacities in terms of information sharing projects because some of the typical technical and financial challenges are simply not present,” the researchers said.

City leadership also plays a pivotal role in information sharing and program success. In Mexico City and New York, mayors were highly involved in building the necessary organizational and policy infrastructure to support the information sharing efforts.

“Mayors engender more managerial flexibility leading to fewer challenges to efforts to modify rules and organizational structures,” the team said.

Researchers point out that more work is needed to understand how similar or different these findings would be in smaller, resource-constrained cities and towns. 

“Future research could explore the nature of information sharing challenges in cities of different sizes and with different characteristics, in particular, where there is a lack of financial resources and technical skills,” the team said.

The work was partially supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada, Université Laval, Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, University at Albany, University of Washington, United Nations University, and Fudan University. 

Urban Affairs Review is a peer-reviewed, bi-monthly journal focused on questions of politics, governance, and public policy specifically as they relate to cities and/or regions.

CTG UAlbany, formerly referred to as the Center for Technology in Government, focuses on transforming public service through innovations in management, policy, and technology.