Committee for Sydney calls for digital revolution in NSW government in latest Issues Paper – #wethecity2: From Possibilities to Practice

Committee for Sydney calls for digital revolution in NSW government in latest Issues Paper – #wethecity2: From Possibilities to Practice
November 19, 2015 Committee for Sydney

19th November, 2015

The Committee for Sydney has today released the latest report in its #wethecity series, calling for a digital revolution in government in NSW modelled on best practice from global cities around the world. The best and most successful global cities are becoming data and tech driven and combine smart governance with smart city technologies. Sydney needs to follow suit or fall behind.

These smart cities are transforming how they talk with, and listen to with their residents, how they design and deliver their services and how they create economic opportunities for businesses in the digital era. While there are some examples of best practice in councils and public services in NSW, the fractured governance of Sydney is impeding progress. A bigger, more coordinated cross government effort is required if Sydney is to be truly ‘smart’.

The new Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) and its ‘digital dashboard’ – advocated for by the Committee – is vital in this context to help bring about the coordination needed to get this smart city thinking across Greater Sydney and ensuring digital initiatives are coordinated. And with local government amalgamations forging ahead, Sydney has an opportunity in this moment to take a modern approach to community engagement and to keep improving civic involvement in the design and delivery of services and indeed in the shaping of their city.

There is evidence that having a public sector that is digitally smart creates new business for the tech sector. Sydney’s digital economy is already worth over $27.65 billion and amounts to over 1.8% of national GDP because of Sydney’s dominance in ICT and digital creative. But with a decisive shift by government towards the digital redesign of services and towards a procurement approach which enables tech start-ups and SMEs to help design and deliver public services, we can multiply the worth of the digital economy in Sydney – and make it a leader in the Asia-Pacific region.


Innovation through digital democracy

Making data freely available and offering opportunities for collaboration through competition, seed funding and hackathons, government can reduce the barriers to procurement and capitalise on the groundswell of ambition of Sydney’s SMEs, start-ups and entrepreneurs and access world-class innovative thinking and problem solving.

“Often the best ideas come from citizens and Sydney must leverage the skills and talent out there, reducing procurement barriers and optimising opportunities as other global cities are already doing,” commented Dr Tim Williams, CEO of the Committee for Sydney, on the release of the report.

Look at ChicagoWorksforYou, the result of a government grant, which takes 311 data and tracks every step of a service request, making it easier for citizens to connect with public services and allowing government to analyse the data and respond better to the needs of their citizens.

“Or ‘Madame Mayor, I have an idea’, in Paris, a participatory budgeting process and crowdsourcing platform that lets citizens propose and vote on ideas for city projects.

“Or Better Reykjavik,’ a website enabling citizens to propose, debate and vote on ideas for improving the city. The city council debates the most popular ideas from the website each month and, so far, has invested €1.9 million in the development of more than 200 citizen-proposed projects.”

“These initiatives are encouraging innovation and opening up business opportunities whilst fostering a civic identity and enabling the government to enhance interaction with citizens, offering them a stronger voice in the way their city is managed.” Dr Williams went on to say.  

Collaborating to compete in a sharing economy

Martin Stewart-Weeks, co-author of the report, also highlighted the increasing disruption of business models and governance being experienced and the move towards collaborative economies.

Cities around the world are exploring how digital technology, platforms, data and citizen behaviour shape our cities and the way we live. The impact of this is clear, with hugely popular peer-to-peer initiatives such as Uber shaking up business as usual and tapping in to the shifting mindset towards shared consumption.

These unstoppable, tech enabled trends are transforming the way we live. Cities of the future will be judged on how flexibly they regulate the shared economy and how they embrace this trend whilst protecting consumer rights and the safety of citizens. As the report highlights, other cities are embracing this transformation, adapting their business models and empowering their citizens to unlock both economic and social benefits of the shared economy. Sydney needs to do the same,” he concluded.

Governance in the digital age

The Committee welcomes steps being taken in Sydney towards smart governance and collaboration in the form of the GSC and its digital dashboard. The GSC will integrate silos across all tiers of government and the digital dashboard will offer insight into Sydney’s key performance indicators together with a platform for open data and civic dialogue about the future of the city.

Strong metropolitan governance is a defining factor in achieving the benefits of a digital approach at the city scale. We can no longer let Sydney’s fractured governance hold us back from the ‘Smart Sydney’ we need to be. Collaboration not just across Sydney government but between state and federal governments is critical to achieving this,” Dr Williams commented.

In the US and Europe, metropolitan city leaders are promoting smart city thinking and the idea of the data driven city – Mayor Emmanuel in Chicago, Mayor Bloomberg in New York and former Mayor Menino in Boston. Sydney has 41 councils and numerous government agencies, inhibiting rather than expediting the adoption of smart city initiatives across the whole of Greater Sydney.

The success of a city will depend in the future on how far it is able to exploit the governance and engagement possibilities of digital tools and data and involve citizens in shaping services and opportunities. The GSC, together with fewer, more empowered councils are central to making Sydney a smart and therefore successful global city.

#wethecity2: From Possibility to practice is co-authored by Dr Tim Williams and Martin Stewart-Weeks, with support and contributions from Committee members.

Dr Tim Williams is CEO of the Committee for Sydney. He was previously special advisor on urban regeneration, governance, city strategy and planning to 5 successive UK cabinet ministers, and to the Mayor of London.

Martin Stewart-Weeks is an independent advisor and consultant, principal of Public Purpose Pty Ltd and working at the intersection of policy, technology and change in public and social innovation. He is a Director of The Australian Centre for Social Innovation.

Additionally, we would like to thank those who have contributed to the development of this paper and for their advice and counsel on many of the ideas we’ve been developing. In particular, we acknowledge:

Elton Consulting

Our thanks to members who contributed case studies:
City of Sydney

From the launch event.

Photo Credits: Nerida McMurray