Smart Cities in Comparative Perspective: Challenges for Political Participation in Data-Driven Local Governments

Open Panel

Smart Cities in Comparative Perspective: Challenges for Political Participation in Data-Driven Local Governments

This panel aims to produce and share reflections in a comparative perspective on the challenges for political participation in Smart Cities experiences.

The current context brings a huge expansion of the possibilities of using technology in local governments, especially with the expansion of mobile devices, data analytics and Internet of Things resources.

Smart Cities are adopting government practices in which the use of large volumes of electronically processed data is central to its decision-making processes. Cities are submited to a datification process with direct impact on daily life. These impacts also reach political participation.

New opportunities for political participation in Smart Cities can be found as: (a) open government data used to support participatory processes; (b) participation in decisions about technologies and data; (c) transparency; (d) public services participatory evaluation; (e) initiatives from civil society based on re-use of open government data and (f) civic tools for local government monitoring. Co-production of data and re-use of public data by organizations of society breakes the paradigm that the government is the one who makes decisions about information availability for the public.

Beside these opportunities, Smart Cities may bring some risks for political participation and democracy: (a) local governments can become technological dependency on suppliers, reinforcing the power of data companies (big techs); (b) mass surveillance and citizen control can be promoted by intensive data collection and processing; (c) citizens privacy can be lost; (d) data collected can be used for political and cultural manipulation; (d) technologies can create new monopolies and powerful interests around city governments.

All these opportunities and risks touch relevant political issues like: democratic local governance, depth of political participation, deliberation resources, government, companies and civic organizations strategies, governance of technology in local governments etc.

Providing comparative analysis of experiences around the world on these subjects can be useful to understand how the Smart Cities expansion impacts democracy not just at local level, but in a broader sense.