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G20 Alliance launches to advance ethical smart cities and address standards fragmentation

The Alliance says it is committed to “not being just another body”. It aims to stand out through a global focus, practical approach and by streamlining standards fragmentation.


Fifteen global city networks and technology governance organisations have formed a new partnership to advance the responsible and ethical use of smart city technologies.


The G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance on Technology Governance will create global norms and policy standards for the use of connected devices in public spaces. It claims to be “the largest and most ambitious undertaking” of its type.


While smart city technologies aim to decrease traffic congestion, combat crime, improve resilience during natural disasters and reduce greenhouse emissions, there are also growing concerns about risks relating to privacy and security.


The Global Smart Cities Alliance will develop, pilot and collectively implement new global policy standards to help ensure data collected in public places is used safely and ethically.


"We have designed this effort to specifically unite existing entities working in this area."


Announced in June 2019 in conjunction with the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, the 15 partners represent more than 200,000 cities and local governments, companies, start-ups, research institutions and civil society organisations. The World Economic Forum serves as the secretariat.


“We are committed to not being just ‘another body’,” Jeff Merritt, Head of IoT, Robotics and Smart Cities at the World Economic Forum, told SmartCitiesWorld. “We have designed this effort to specifically unite existing entities working in this area. In doing so, we can enable much-needed consensus-building so cities don’t just have standards available to them but we rather rally around established global norms that are rooted in best practice.”


Pandora’s box


The founding partners of the Alliance include: Japan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (the presidents and host nations of the G20 in 2019 and 2020); the Smart City Mission of India; Cities for All; Cities Today Institute; Commonwealth Local Government Forum; Commonwealth Sustainable Cities Network; Connected Places Catapult; Digital Future Society; ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability; International Telecommunication Union; Open and Agile Smart Cities; Smart City Expo World Congress; United Cities and Local Governments; What Works Cities; World Economic Forum; and World Enabled.


“Our cities stand at a crossroads. Rapid urbanisation – if not effectively managed – threatens to paralyse local economies and undermine recent advances in the quality of life,” said Merritt. “Smart city technologies offer huge promise, but they can be a Pandora’s box. [This] announcement is a critical first step to accelerate global best practices, mitigate risks and foster greater openness and public trust regarding the collection of data in public spaces.”


Working together with municipal, regional and national governments, private-sector partners and city residents, the Global Smart Cities Alliance has committed to co-design and roll out a "first-of-its-kind" global policy framework on smart city technologies in advance of the 2020 G20 Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.


The first policy design workshops with city leaders will be held in November 2019 in conjunction with the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.


"The Alliance is differentiated by both its global reach and a focus not simply on clear, actionable policies."


The initial focus will be on sourcing and advancing existing policies which have been successfully tried and tested in cities around the world. Five key areas will be prioritised: transparency and privacy; safety, security and resiliency; interoperability and openness; operational and financial sustainability; and equity, inclusion and societal impact.


In the area of transparency and privacy, for example, this will include policy templates for local laws on public consent and disclosure related to the deployment of connected devices and related data collection in public spaces. These standards will build on existing work like the IoT Guidelines that were first developed by the City of New York, while also incorporating newer initiatives like the Designing for Digital Transparency in the Public Realm project which was initiated by Sidewalk Labs in early 2019.


“During the first set of workshops with city leaders that will take place in November, we aim to arrive at the first set of shared norms and policy standards for each category,” Merritt said.


He noted: “Unlike previous efforts, the Alliance is differentiated by both its global reach and a focus not simply on guidelines but rather clear, actionable policies that cities can implement."


Clarifying fragmentation


Merritt says a key driver for the launch is also to address fragmentation in the city standards and best practices space.


He told SmartCitiesWorld: “[The founding partners] help ensure that our work is rooted in – and leverages – the great work of countless existing networks and organisations who are currently working on related, but often fragmented, issues of smart cities and technology governance.”


He added: “This approach also recognises that many cities find it challenging to manage membership and activities of multiple related entities. By bringing together these leading smart city initiatives under the umbrella of the Alliance, we simplify the process so cities can rest assured that these global initiatives are aligned and coordinated. Our institutional partners also ensure that we can efficiently source best practices and distribute our work without creating unnecessary and duplicative bureaucracy.”


Following the launch, the Alliance is now accepting nominations from individual cities and private entities who are interested in piloting and contributing to global policy standards.


Cities including Barcelona, Toronto, Yokohama, Helsinki and Kobe have pledged their support for the Alliance and committed to piloting new standards resulting from the initiative.


“Cities are the solution-makers and testbeds of the future,” said Jan Vapaavuori, Mayor of Helsinki, Finland. “Our ability to forward technological advancements and smart city solutions is directly related to the responsible and ethical use of data and technology. Only by creating a joint trust-based framework can we realise the full potential of smart city technologies for the benefit of all mankind in the future.”


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