Smart City Frameworks and Methodologies

Roadi Garages.jpg

Thoughts for Developing Technology-Based Problem Solution Options

Derived from the Challenge Teams discussions of the

MCEDC-TEDCO-NIST-MWCOG Smart Cities Workshop

Final Version

November 17, 2017


Held September 12, 2017 at the

NIST Gaithersburg, MD Campus


Sarah Miller, MCEDC[1]

Ronald Kaese, TEDCO[2]

Jack Pevenstein, NIST[3]

Lisa Ragain, MWCOG[4]

Anna Wright, (MCEDC Graduate Intern), University of Wisconsin

Claudia Elzey, (MCEDC Graduate Intern), University of Pennsylvania

Benjamin Resnick, (NIST Summer Undergraduate Fellow), Case Western Reserve University


Executive Summary

                Presented is a distillation of insights and conclusions reached during a smart cities workshop by six multi-disciplinary teams, each having from 12 to 15 members, which considered approaches to the solution of municipal problems that might involve the application of “smart cities” technology. Teams were established according to six challenge areas including (1) Public Transportation, (2) Public Safety, (3) Health Services, (4) Energy, (5) Water, and (6) Agriculture. Team members were workshop attendees drawn from the communities of the following professionals: (1) Elected and appointed officials and civil servants, (2) Entrepreneurs and small/start-up business owners, (3) Engineers, scientists and policy analysts from Federal laboratories, and (4) Students and faculty from regional colleges and universities. Recognizing the complex nature of developing solutions to municipal problems that may require or lend themselves to the application of technological innovation, the workshop’s overall goal was to develop a roadmap or framework that could be used by multi-disciplinary teams [often established by municipal executives] to address such problems. The workshop strategy simulated the deliberations of multi-disciplinary by organizing attendees into such teams according to the above six challenge areas suggested by the Montgomery County [Maryland] Economic Development Corporation ant the Metropolitan Washington [DC] Council of Governments. The teams, under the guidance of facilitators were allowed approximately five hours for discussion. A secondary objective was to explore methods and terminology for communicating solution strategies across discipline and professional boundaries, especially approaches to communicating the impacts of technology on political, economic, legal and societal aspects of implementing problem solutions.

Based on discussions from the members of the six workshop teams, and considering the complexity of the challenge areas addressed, some interesting “interdisciplinary” insightss have emerged to include the following:

·         The vision of municipalities evolving into smart cities is not a single, integrated technological, political or societal goal, and should not be marketed as a single goal.

·         Not every municipal problem necessarily has a set of technology-based solution options.

·         The market for smart cities technology and the market for technology-based integrated solutions to municipal problems is driven predominantly by the political leadership at the state and local level.

·         There does not seem to be a commonly accepted engineering approach to implementing technology to solve municipal problems. Such an approach may never emerge.

·         An interdisciplinary “lingua franca,” or common language for defining municipal problems and identifying solutions that may have technological components does not exist. Attempts at creating such a language appear to emerge when multi-disciplinary problem-solving teams are called into existence. This phenomenon was observed in the various workshop teams. The success of this communication seems to depend on the good will and engagement of team members.[A1] 

These insights are drawn exclusively from the raw notes and poster sheets used by each team during their discussions, and represent both the discord and eventual harmony that might be achieved when professional from many disciplines are brought together to address a complex problem.



 We wish to express our thanks to the many individuals whose advise and support were essential to the event’s success. First to our core planning team of Ms. Sarah Miller of MCEDC and her two graduate student interns, Ms. Anna Wright of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Ms. Claudia Elzey of the University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Ron Kaese of TEDCO, and my summer research fellow, Mr. Ben Resnick, a junior mechanical engineering student at Case Western Reserve University. Next, we wish to thank Ms. Lisa Ragain, Principal Water Planner and Mr. Ben Hampton, Principal Transportation Planner, both of MWCOG for their support in acting as facilitators for the Water and Transportation Challenge Teams. Additionally, thanks to Drs. Chris Greer and Sokwoo Rhee, Director and Deputy Director of NIST’s Smart Cities Program (Engineering Lab) and especially to Sokwoo for his work as the Energy Team facilitator throughout the event. Also, thanks to Dr. Rob Griesbach, Deputy Assistant Administrator, USDA Agricultural Research Service, for his service as a facilitator for the Agriculture Team, and to Dr. Ben Overbey, NIST Coordinator of Emergency Services for his effort as a facilitator on the Public Safety Team. Finally, thanks to Mr. Paul Zielinski, Director of NIST’s Technology Partnerships Office for his encouragement, guidance, good cheer and support for this entire effort.



                “Smart Cities” suggests images of ultramodern metropolises where all kinds of problems associated with city living are solved elegantly by the application of sophisticated technology. Urban utopia arrived? Not by a long stretch. Research into the term to prepare for this workshop found that “Smart Cities” means many things to many people depending on their professional duties and academic training. Moreover, many of these meanings are disjointed and simply do not connect easily with one another. Some people see “Smart Cities Solutions” as complete solutions only waiting to be implemented by slow-moving city councils; others perceive them as tools that, although useful, could create costly and unforeseen problems.

                The major stakeholders in smart cities are engineers, the business community, and government officials. Engineers are eager to apply systems technology. Vendors are eager to sell specific systems. Elected and appointed city officials want to provide their constituents with the best solution methods to demonstrate economic development and growth. Unfortunately, all too often, visions of problems and societal needs are misunderstood and miscommunicated among individuals who must work together to craft solutions, but who can’t find the right language to do so. This lack of a “Lingua Franca” among interdisciplinary professionals is certainly not new.

                Given the need for an interdisciplinary dialogue, NIST assembled a core planning team in May 2017 with the objective of holding an event that would address “smart cities” problems in six challenge areas including (1) Public Transportation, (2) Public Safety, (3) Health Services, (4) Energy, (5) Water and (6) Agriculture. The planned attendees would be drawn from a diverse set of professional communities, some having members with strong technical and analytic backgrounds and others with more qualitative backgrounds. The planning team targeted attendees from four categories: (1) Elected and appointed officials, policy makers and city planners, (2) Entrepreneurs and small/start-up business persons, (3) Federal laboratory engineering and research personnel and (4) the Academic community. Each professional field uses specialized language and methodologies for defining and describing problems. Overcoming these language and methodology gaps was a major goal of the event. By inviting attendees who represented a diverse group of professionals, the planning team sought to begin a conversation toward a holistic conversation on applying smart technology to address municipal problems.

                The workshop was structured with a team of approximately twelve individuals including a facilitator for each of the six challenge areas listed above. Each team was also provided with a focus for their discussions about how a problem might be defined and its various dimensions described (See these challenge areas and focuses in the following table):





Challenge Area Teams

Problem Focus

Public Transportation

First- and last-mile connectivity

Public Safety

Sensing and preventing crime events

Health Services

Monitoring, controlling and mitigating the opioid crisis


Tracking and regulating building energy use


Meeting federal storm water management standards (MS4)


Nutrient and pesticide management


Each team was charged with discussing its assigned problem focus and developing a “roadmap” or methodology for defining and describing some problem covered under the focus that might lend itself to a solution, which integrates technology or some technological components. A central aspect of developing these roadmaps was to develop (1) common language, (2) plain terminology, and (3) a method of delivery that could be used to communicate solution requirements to professionals across disciplines who might be involved with producing and implementing such solutions. The results documented in these proceedings are drawn from the notes and charts supplied by each team’s facilitators following the conclusion of the workshop.


What does the term “Smart Cities” mean? It means many things to many people.

                Every workshop challenge team wrestled with the meaning of the term “Smart Cities” as a prelude to any discussion of smart cities problems. The complex discussions over the semantics of smart cities led to the first key conclusion of the workshop: as municipal project teams begin to use the term “smart cities” to define their problems, they must be explicit in their meaning of the term as it relates to the project and to their constituency.[A2]  At the workshop, teams created and worked through two broad definitions of “Smart Cities.”

The first main definition developed by the workshop teams centered on city-dwellers and their elected and appointed leaders addressing municipal problems through the skillful application of state-of-the-art technology. Team members agreed that the goal of applying smart cities technology is to significantly improve the quality of life for residents. In this context, smart technology referred to technology which improved capabilities for sensing events, and technology that enabled data collection. Both sensing events and data collection could then be analyzed to inform decisions about the management of scarce resources and the reduction of risks to life and property. Regardless of their professional disciplines, all workshop participants recognized an important caveat that increased data collection and analysis alone does not make for a smart city. Collection of the appropriate data for decision-making is as important as the quantity collected.

                Other workshop participants provided an alternative concept of smart cities: municipalities where elected officials, their appointed staffs and the supporting bureaucracy make policy and decisions objectively, and where both policy and decisions are somewhat if not entirely isolated from political issues. With the emergence of enhanced data collection and processing technology, the academic notion of bringing rational, data-driven decision making to city administration appears intoxicatingly close to realization. Unfortunately, as our workshop teams recognized, only a small select set of decisions lend themselves to being data-driven. So, the vision of smart cities must integrate increased capabilities for data collection and analysis with the local political and cultural issues that drive policy and decision-making activities. This insight leads to the complicated question of determining the value of the smart cities concept, and to whom this value has meaning.

                The structure of this workshop, by its very nature, as well as their discussions, shows that what may be considered a smart city by those public officials concerned with public transportation may have little relevance to those concerned with the availability of health services, water quality or agriculture. What constitutes a vision of a smart city is dependent on the unique requirements of the challenge area to which problem solutions are applied. Moreover, problem solutions that rely on sophisticated, elegant technology in one challenge area for a city may not be appropriate or even implementable in another city. Problem solvers should be cautioned that the vision of a smart cities solution to a municipal problem may be seen by some as inherently better than a solution without. In other words, it is vital to understand that solutions are not inherently better because they incorporate technology or include an abstract buzzword like smart cities.

                Thus, we are led to the first conclusion coming out of the workshop. Before defining and describing a “municipal” problem in terms of a smart cities solution, a project team must first decide what the term “smart cities” means to them and to the constituents they represent.[A3]  They must answer the question if the notion of a smart cities solution relying on technology even appropriate to the problem as it is widely understood by constituents and stakeholders.


What are the dimensions of a smart cities problem solution? This is highly dependent on who “owns the problem and solution.

                While the use of options drawn from information and communications technology most certainly is a significant part of a smart cities problem solution, our challenge teams recognized early in their discussions that certain conditions had to be in place to accommodate technological solution options. These conditions reflect the dimensions of the environment within which any problem solution must be implemented. The dimensions identified in the workshop are summarized as follows (order presented is not significant):

1. Government and Bureaucratic Conditions

·         Governmental organization and bureaucratic infrastructure and legislative institutions

·         Legal and regulatory constraints; pertinent relationships among Federal, state and local institutions

2. Economic and Market Conditions

·         Economic, commercial and financial resources

·         Market availability of relevant technology and engineering capability

3. Government, Community and Constituency Conditions

·         Municipal culture and societal traditions

·         Tolerance for change in addressing municipal problems; applicable time horizons for solution implementation

·         Stakeholder community owning or impacted by municipal problem

·         Relevant historical contexts

·         Where does the mandate to address the problem reside; coalition(s) required to address the problem[A4] 


4. Infrastructure Conditions

·         Quantitative data model(s) required to manage/control the problem; availability of such data

·         Relevant physical infrastructures impacted by/impacting the problem, e.g., utilities, land use, demographic distribution, distribution of residential versus public and commercial buildings, transportation, communications


Whose problem is it, anyway? The challenge of defining and describing the problem belongs to whomever is responsible for solving it. This will vary from municipality to municipality and depend upon the urgency of implementing a solution.

                Unfortunately, even when smart cities technology can improve a municipal problem, many problem definitions fail to frame the issue in a way that highlights how smart technology can have an impact. As pointed out in several challenge team discussions, problem definitions depend on the individuals doing the defining and on how they perceive the needs of their constituencies. Also, the general acceptance of these definitions as the authoritative word often depend on how loudly and aggressively they are promoted and how well they are understood by various stakeholder communities. Thus, as might be expected, many municipal problem definitions begin as political positions advanced by elected officials and candidates, whose messages must reach voters. Consider for example the discussions of the Health Services team, which addressed the “opioid addiction crisis” as problem that could be helped by a variety of technological approaches—the appeal to smart cities technology. Observe the nuances involved in problem definition and possible solution approaches depending on the definers in the following matrix:

Commonly-Understood “Nominal” Problem



Affected Parties


Opioid Addiction

Elected Officials

·          Physicians

·          Pharma industry

·          Public

·          Families

·          Legislation

·          Regulation

·          Professional best practices

·          Education

·          Elect me; keep me in office

·          Let’s apply some IT somewhere

Opioid Addiction

Planners & Policy Analysts

·          Patient demand

·          Physician response to patient & families

·          Public services

·          Commerce and the economy

·          Government

·          Regulation & executive action

·          Efficient allocation of public safety resources

·          Enforcement

Opioid Addiction

Engineers & technologists

·          Patient demand

·          Physician response to patient & families

·          Public services

·          Commerce and the economy

·          Government

·          Improved patient monitoring

·          Early detection of high-risk individuals

·          Improved monitoring of prescription activity

·          Pre-emptive enforcement based on data collection and analysis

Opioid Addiction

Citizens advocacy activists, organizations

·          Physicians

·          Pharma industry

·          Elected officials

·          Regulatory agencies

·          Public

·          Families

·          Legislation

·          Regulation

·          Professional best practices

·          Education

·          Community pressure on elected officials


                To be sure, the above matrix is not meant to be exhaustive; it is meant to demonstrate that problem definitions and descriptions are heavily dependent on the frames of reference and professional “idiosyncratic” terminology brought to the definition effort by team members. This was driven home throughout the workshop. Moreover, the lack of a commonly understood interdisciplinary language for communicating definitional nuances appeared to take up a lot of time during the discussions among team members. It is interesting to note that absent any hidden agendas or advocated positions by challenge team members, there appeared to be a strong collective desire to understand unique terminology and professional viewpoints across the various disciplinary boundaries that were represented on each team. This spirit of interdisciplinary collaboration might not necessarily be present in actual situations where such teams may be called to action in real-world situations.


What are the legal and regulatory issues with the adoption of smart cities technology? In effect, these issues will often set the overall constraints on identifying solution options and implementing them. They may conflict with issues of technical efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

                Any solutions proposed for municipal problems will always have a strong dimension involving what is allowed by law and regulation. This involves legal and regulatory issues at the Federal, state and local levels. These issues are especially important when data collection, analysis, storage and access and use by public officials are involved. Moreover, since this data is sometimes provided to contractors working for government agencies, legal issues of privacy and security become complicated. Interestingly, this is one area often overlooked by engineers and technologists proposing technology-based problem solutions, and if considered at all, is often incorporated as an afterthought.

                Although there was no way to address all the legal and regulatory issues relating to the implementation of technology-based municipal problem solutions during the workshop, team discussions brought up the following points that must be part of any smart cities solution planning:

·         Individual security and privacy.

·         Public liability for safeguarding sensitive personal identity, financial and medical information.

·         Personal liability of public officials and civil servants for failures of smart cities technology.

·         Liability of smart cities technology vendors.

·         Protection of constitutional rights, e.g., freedoms of speech, firearms ownership, due process of law.

·         Line between enhanced public safety and individual liberty.

·         Negotiation of legal and regulatory conflicts between Federal, state and local governmental entities; issues of governmental sovereignty.

·         Legal review of municipal problem solutions, especially those involving data collection, storage, analysis and executive use of generated information; legal input during problem definition and review of solution options.

·         Common terminology/common understanding for communication among legal, technical, policy and elected professionals; especially important when communicating to legal counsel representing clients during discussions that may quickly evolve into advocacy situations.


What are the economic and financial constraints? No matter how elegant or intoxicating a technological solution appears, if there’s no money to pay for it or maintain it over time, it’s a non-starter.

                Obviously, planners must be aware of financial constraints in considering the adoption of any technology as a component of a municipal problem solution; however, this is a more complex and convoluted issue than simply stating that some amount of money is available or that some stream of annual appropriations may be available to support a solution strategy. Our challenge team members were sufficiently sophisticated to be aware that budgets for technology-based solutions are very often impacted by constraints that have little to do with technical efficiencies or resource allocation strategies, or other issues with which engineers and policy planners are normally occupied. Multi-disciplinary problem-solving teams like the ones we modelled in the workshop challenge teams must possess a background understanding of the tolerance of their constituents for spending money on technology-based problem solutions that in a short time may no longer be supported by political leaders who might be elected to office based on drastic cost cutting. Apart from short term politics, problem solving teams must assess the longer capability and willingness of a municipality to maintain and upgrade technology-based solutions as required. Even seemingly simply technology has a way of rapidly becoming obsolete in the face of city growth and evolution and creates its own unique problems that demand the commitment of unforeseen financial resources. Pertinent considerations noted in workshop discussions included:

·         Willingness of constituent residents to spend funds on technologically based problem solutions. This can be tied to such things as the willingness of constituents to spend money on the latest technology for themselves, which in turn can be tied to household affluence and even level of education.

·         Expected changes in the regional economy, i.e., is it expected to grow and become more affluent or is it expected to shrink.

·         What are the perceived priorities for tax dollars, at present and for the foreseeable future?

·         Are Federal and/or state funds available to municipalities; is such availability sustained or a one-off situation?

·         How are problem solving teams to integrate financial constraints into problem-solving options involving the integration of technology?

·         To what extent is it appropriate for problem solving teams to advocate for solution options given the uncertainty of financial resources to support such options.

·         Can solution options be prepared and recommended as “financially agnostic”?


Who decides when the problem has been solved? Identify stakeholders, decision makers, constituents and their interactions and relationships. Do these change in importance over time?

                Our challenge teams found that although it was easy to identify problem stakeholders, decision makers, and constituents, it was more of a challenge identifying their interactions among each other. Moreover, within each group, there were obviously many competing vested interests; so many so that there seemed to be little homogeneity, and little agreement on priorities for problem solutions. An interesting point made during the discussions of several teams was to recognize the possibilities for creating ad hoc coalitions among different stakeholders to address problems and agree on the desirability of adopting appropriate technologies to create solution strategies.


Identification and adoption of “appropriate” technology to support smart cities solutions. Appropriate technology means technology that can easily be applied to help solve a municipal problem and is compatible with economic, financial, legal/regulatory, and administrative constraints faced by municipality.

                Innovative technology can be intoxicating, entertaining and satisfying to those tasked with finding solutions to complicated problems, especially those complex, multidimensional problems faced by municipal governments. Why is this so? NIST’s “Inventor-par-excellence,” Dr. Jack Rabinow[5] points out that an invention is like the punchline of a joke—completely logical and completely unexpected, and therefore has a shining, amazing brilliance to it. To those in search of a problem solution, a relevant invention may be the answer. However, our challenge team members were shrewd enough to realize that not every municipal problem has a complete technological solution, and that a problem faced by one city many not lend itself to the same technology-based solution when that same problem emerges in another city. So, we invoke the term “appropriate” technology.

                Appropriate technology relative to the search for problem solution options simply means a technology-based solution component that addresses the problem in its local context and can be easily integrated into a city’s culture and administrative machinery. Appropriate technology also means systems that are acceptable to the public and can be supported both financially and technically over relatively long periods of time. The quality of a technology’s appropriateness in terms of its support by a city’s management can be especially problematic. The adoption of any technological component of a problem solution may lock a city into a specific evolutionary pathway, which may be difficult to abandon as the need may arise at some future time. A specific technology may limit problem-solving a city management’s flexibility in the future as issues evolve.

                While the idea of appropriate technology is not meant to bias problem solvers against technology-based or technology-supported municipal problem solutions, it is a reminder that discussions of solution options between non-technically-oriented municipal leaders and the engineering community must include critical thinking about where technology-based solutions can lead.


Where does smart cities planning go from here? Are there “workshop take-aways”?

                Based on the wide-ranging threads of discussion from the members of the six workshop challenge teams, and considering the complexity of the challenge areas addressed by the team members, some interesting “interdisciplinary” notions have emerged. Consider the following:

·         The vision of municipalities evolving into smart cities is not a single, integrated technological, political or societal goal, and should probably not be marketed as a single goal.

·         Not every municipal problem necessarily has a set of solution options that are technology-based at any given time.

·         The market for smart cities technology and the market for technology-based integrated solutions to municipal problems is driven predominantly by the political leadership at the state and local level.

·         At present, there does not seem to be a commonly accepted, unified, integrated engineering approach to implementing technology to solve municipal problems. Such an engineering approach may never emerge.

·         At present, an interdisciplinary “lingua franca,” or common language for defining municipal problems and identifying solutions that may have technological components does not exist. Attempts at creating such a language appear to emerge when multi-disciplinary problem-solving teams are called into existence and tasked with exploring solution options for the first time. To a certain extent, this phenomenon was observed in the various workshop teams. The success of this communication seems to depend on the good will and engagement of team members.[A5] 

Certainly, the workshop participants chose to “bite off” a large amount to chew over, not to mention digest. Perhaps one might criticize the effort as a fool’s task addressing so many challenge areas, focuses, and diverse professions. Yet, by all accounts, most attendees were enthusiastic about the results. Many expressed the desire to keep the effort going. Whether we can do this or not remains to be see.

Opportunities for Innovation in Addressing the Application of Smart Cities Technology

                The workshop discussions among the six challenge teams suggested that the dynamics of interdisciplinary problem-solving activities may drive and even accelerate innovative approaches to the implementation of smart cities technology. How is this so? Consider the following argument.

                Smart cities technologies represent many different technology bases, which although interrelated, have their own best practices in terms of application to problem solutions. Innovative approaches to implementing these technologies in problem solving often involve deviations from established best practices. Such deviations carry risks for the engineers who act as innovators as well as for elected officials, policy makers and corporation counsels who must approve the purchase of problem solving technology. So, best engineering practices with respect to implementing smart cities solutions sometimes tends to act as a barrier to innovation when viewed considering risk management. The workshop’s interdisciplinary teams were observed to explore many more options for implementing smart cities technology in support of problem solving than might be the case if, for example, just engineers deliberated. The more options explored, the more likely innovations would emerge. Also, there seems to be a “dynamic” interaction among multi-disciplinary teams that enhances the attractiveness of innovative thought. Perhaps this interaction not only allows greater intellectual exploration of options, but also helps to absorb or manage the perception of risk associated with deviations from accepted practices relating to technology implementation.


[1] Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC)

[2] Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO)

[3] National Institute of Standards and Technology, US Department of Commerce (NIST)

[4] Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG)

[5] Jacob Rabinow, Inventing for Fun and Profit, San Francisco Press, Inc., 1990, p. 245

 [A1]Even if it’s redundant, I think it would be very useful to add an executive summary at the beginning of the report that briefly outlines the content of the report (so, sketch of the workshop) and identifies these takeaways.

 [A2]I would suggest adding the finding of each heading at the beginning and end of the section to provide the reader with a “roadmap,” as I did here with this sentence.

 [A3]This is good, and worth repeating at the beginning of the section.

 [A4]Is this more a government or a community conditions question?

 [A5]Even if it’s redundant, I think it would be very useful to add an executive summary at the beginning of the report that briefly outlines the content of the report (so, sketch of the workshop) and identifies these takeaways.