Using Digital Technology for a Green and Just Recovery in Cities

Monday, 5 September, 2022

Using Digital Technology for a Green and Just Recovery in Cities

Published by World Economic Forum in August 2022


Digitally empowered cities are more efficient, inclusive and sustainable. This report recommends 10 steps to get there.

Cities must digitalize systematically Digital technologies provide an unprecedented opportunity to make cities greener and more liveable by resetting existing patterns of production and consumption. City administrations quickly and powerfully adapted digital technologies during the COVID-19 pandemic, establishing their potential. Reform-minded city leaders must now take the next step – to deploy digital technologies in an efficient and ethical way.

Yet, many city halls are still taking an outdated approach to service delivery by only upgrading offerings one at a time, and usually only in certain domains. That means most municipal administrations are not yet agile digital organizations; they are organizations just beginning to offer more digital services. To become more digitally agile, city leaders must systematically steer the use of digital technologies.

This report provides guidance for city leaders to successfully manage digital projects, to strategically utilize data in cities, and to incentivize and initiate the organizational and cultural changes required to build digitally-enabled city administrations.

Digitalization projects must be planned, designed and implemented with an outcome focus

Deploying digital infrastructure is an iterative process. Cities need to start with a pilot approach that engages the right stakeholders, and enables a feedback mechanism at every phase of the design and development cycle. If a pilot fails, it must fail fast and disperse its lessons. If it succeeds, subsequent pilots must iterate, monitor, improve and scale.

Prioritization and planning of projects should be participatory, and based on urgency and impact. When designing digital solutions, the core requirements include privacy, cybersecurity and future-proofing. Design should equally be driven by equity, i.e. ensuring the opportunities generated by the intervention extend to all demographic groups – from digital natives and knowledge workers, to vulnerable communities at risk of digital exclusion. Solutions should be co-created in close collaboration with citizens, actors from the private sector and public institutions.

Finally, successful deployment and scaling of a solution requires a well thought-out change management approach (through communication and trainings, for instance). This approach should consider the diverse requirements of all sectors of society, include both a digital and non-digital solution during the transition phase, and monitor outcomes to ensure the desired benefits are realized.

Data should inform strategy

The use of data has a strategic role all through the digital journey of a city. For example, real-time data collection, advanced analytics and visualizations in the form of management dashboards or digital twins can guide leaders in making more informed and timely decisions. Historical data collected about citizens, accompanied with privacy safeguards, can enable a shift towards proactive service delivery, which increases service quality and helps reduce costs. For example, preventative healthcare improves efficiencies because fewer people are hospitalized and cost-intensive care is avoided.

When implementing complex data-driven models, the approach should be collaborative, open and streamlined so that data from various sources can be integrated while avoiding redundancies. For solving concrete problems, rapidly applying a trialand-error approach to data experimentation often yields faster results than spending too much upfront time and effort on integrating various datasets. To establish a culture for evidence-based decisionmaking, managers should require staff to back up opinions with data whenever possible. More crucial than flashy visualizations is applying relevant data to help address real problems and create accurate semantic models.

Cities must build digital leadership and organization-wide expertise

To maximize the benefits of digital technologies, a city needs a capable organization, with the skills to develop and implement the right digital solutions at all levels. This needs committed leadership that can maintain the momentum, starting with building designated digital leadership at the top of the organization with a digital strategy that is both aligned with the city’s strategy and that fits its specific context and challenges. Until recently, most cities considered the IT department to consist of “the people who make computers work”. Today, most digitally advanced cities have Chief Digital or Technology Officers at the top of the organization, who are responsible for the city’s IT department as well as the wider impacts of technology on city functioning.

What is also essential is that digital expertise is built across all departments, so that they can fully understand, actualize and implement digital opportunities and solutions. Cities must build a pipeline of talent with knowledge of data, software, IT architecture, agile work methods and so on.

Finally, cities must prioritize stakeholder engagement from citizens, the private sector, and other public institutions while designing and implementing digital projects in order to build strong, sustainable and inclusive cities.

10 steps towards building digitallyenabled cities

This report builds on a 13-city survey about the most important digital technologies and solutions that cities around the world are using. The survey was conducted specifically for this report and its results form the foundation of a digital maturity model and a 10-step action plan that this report recommends.

These tools are intended to help city administrations identify where they stand in terms of digital capabilities, and to derive promising measures for their cities to develop the structures and capabilities required to utilize digital technologies for a green and just recovery.

Access the full report here:

or download the attached PDF of the report.