How a simulation could help you build a smart city

The responsibility of being a smart city leader means facing a variety of challenges, developing visions, strategies and goals, making tough decisions and weighing trade-offs – all while keeping in mind that your overriding responsibility is to take the steps needed to improve your citizens' quality of life. That's an all too brief description of what Smart Cities Week attendees who participated in Council Global Lead Partner EY's Future Cities simulation program experienced. The story below outlines the event in more detail and highlights some of what the participants learned in what could be called an "immersive smart city experience." ­­-- Doug Peeples


The simulation, based on a case study for the fictional city of Futopolis, focuses on the drivers that can impact citizens' quality of life, the challenges inherent in smart city transformations, solution options and the inevitable long-term versus short-term tradeoffs.

The workshop participants gathered in competitive teams  around tables equipped with written background information and the Future Cities simulation and instructions on a monitor. They were given metrics to judge their ability to improve their citizens' lives in six areas: affordability, agility, amenity, safety, spaces (such as availability of public parks, other open spaces) and opportunity (social, cultural, economic).

The participants were counseled to be open-minded, to collaborate and to embrace diversity. As the teams discussed their strategies among themselves it became clear that several different approaches were underway. Some teams moved through the initial strategy and vision discussions quickly while others were more deliberate, debating the suitability of individual words and their impact on the clarity of their message. A typical exchange went like this:
"No, we shouldn’t say that. It's too broad."
"Yeah, we need to be more specific. But we need to be accommodating, too."
"Should we say smart housing or something else?"

Consensus isn't easy
In other words, participants were getting a crash course in dealing with the diverse experiences, knowledge and opinions of their teammates and trying to come to a consensus. And negotiating to achieve that consensus came into play during the discussions often:
"I keep pitching education programs and everyone else wants to go with data," one participant said as her team was addressing where the city should be investing its limited budgets. Another replied "I'll go for funding education because if our schools suck what good are they? We've gotta have connectivity and we've gotta have good schools."

The teams generally focused on three top hot button smart city topics: mobility (congestion solutions), data (optimizing and leveraging) and housing (availability). The simulation gave them six broad areas to invest in: environment, public services, infrastructure, security, health and economy and the previous mayor's budget allocations for each. Negotiations and compromise were key to achieving consensus (or close to it) as they addressed allocations, trade-offs and longer-range planning.

For small business owner Andre Bryan, the simulation program was surprisingly realistic. "I like the interactivity and getting input, the coming to consensus." As an example he referred to a discussion he had with one of his teammates, Tyrone Riley, a Toledo, Ohio city councilman who was lobbying his team to support infrastructure maintenance program investments. "I learned something in this because he was right," Bryan said. "I hadn't thought maintenance was that important until he proved me wrong." For Riley, the simulation was enjoyable, informative and helpful –- even though it did remind him of the city council meetings and processes he was already so familiar with.

One of simulation facilitators, Meghan Mills, global strategy and operations leader for EY's Government and Public Sector, readily acknowledged that one result of the simulation was a heightened appreciation for collaboration among people who have been through it. "Cities so often operate in silos," she said. "I think what people realize after going through this is 'I need to go back and talk to the team down the hall.'"