5 critical steps to build smart cities

Although all Caribbean countries might want to develop a smart city, many do not yet seem to know how.  He we outline five critical step that should be implemented.


From the Bahamas to Guyana, and many countries in between, there has been some talk by policymakers about those countries becoming ‘smart cities’. The concept was again raised last week in Barbados when the former Prime Minister, Owen Arthur, speaking on the topic, Smart can be Small, proposed a local community (the Warrens to UWI corridor) could be developed as the island’s first smart community, and so lead the smart transformation envisaged (Source:  Nation News).

However, while concepts such as smart cities, smart communities, smart towns and smart countries, are being bandied around in the Caribbean as popular catchphrases, very little has been said on how they are to be realised. Below, we outline five important building blocks that can help a country develop a smart city.

1.  Clearly define smart

First, it must be emphasised that there is no universal definition of what it entails to be a smart city (community, town, etc.), the elements it must include, or any specific outcomes that must be realised. It therefore means that each country has the opportunity to decide what ‘smart’ means to them.

In the first instance, a clear and overarching vision is recommended, but eventually, specifics are needed. For each industry, sector and area of the economy, it is crucial to describe what would constitute ‘smart’. The more details provided, the better, as the goal is clarity of vision. Further, if SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) targets could also established, they can help all stakeholders to focus and to determine how best to apply their efforts to meet the stated goals.

2.  Determine current situation

Understanding a country’s (a town’s, or city’s) current situation is a critical first step towards it becoming smarter. Essentially, a thorough situation review is needed to understand, among other things,

  • what systems and structures are already in place
  • where the deficiencies are and what exactly they are
  • what resources are available, and what will be required
  • whether all of the important actors or players, whose support and participation are crucial for the success of this initiative, are on board
  • the extent to which there is support for the initiative, by who and in what way.

It is emphasised that this should be an unvarnished examination. The inclination to diffuse unflattering aspects should be avoided, in order for decision makers to clearly understand the situation at hand, and to navigate the best path.

3.  Determine what resources are needed and where they will be coming from

Using the results of the previous exercise, in which the current situation and gaps were identified, there is now a basis upon which to devise a strategy and an implementation plan. Almost without exception, realising a smart city, especially in the Caribbean – where the gap between where we are and where we want to be is so wide – will require considerable resources, much of which will not be available in central government.

Moreover, such a massive exercise would require multi-stakeholder effort, and should benefit from the best brains across the country, such as from academia, think tanks and the private sector. To varying degrees, such fostering such participation would also promote a sense of ownership among the participants. Further, there would be access to first-hand insight into local situations and challenges, and correspondingly a greater likelihood of more relevant and successful solutions being pursued.

4.  Identify financing

Along the vein of resources, external funding is may also be necessary, and is likely to be the case in Caribbean countries, which tend to rely on donor agencies and banks for assistance with major projects. Having said this, securing the financing can be a lengthy process, with extensive negotiations among the parties.

However, it must also be emphasised that the donors tend wield considerable influence on the projects they support. As a result, there can be a wide disparity between the project conceptualised and that which will be financed, to include some of the imperatives and biases of the donors, and not solely reflect the needs of the requesting country.

5.  Figure out how to manage change

Finally, and to facilitate a more seamless transition between the status quo, and what would obtain when ‘smart’ is achieved, a change management framework ought to be developed and implemented. All too often, when new systems are implemented, there is considerable resistance, which threatens the success of an initiative. Hence matters related to securing wider buy-in from the populace, along with ensuring that personnel are adequately trained to manage and use the new systems, should be addressed early in the project implementation cycle, and not just be an afterthought – as it frequently is.


Image credit:  Flo Maderebner (Pexels)