Who Uses Smart City Services and What to Make of It: Toward Interdisciplinary Smart Cities Research

Miltiadis Lytras, Anna Visvizi
2018 Sustainability  
As research on smart cities garners increased attention and its status consolidates as one of the fanciest areas of research today, this paper makes a case for a cautious rethink of the very rationale and relevance of the debate. To this end, this paper looks at the smart cities debate from the perspectives of, on the one hand, citizens' awareness of applications and solutions that are considered 'smart' and, on the other hand, their ability to use these applications and solutions. Drawing from
more » ... tions. Drawing from a detailed analysis of the outcomes of a pilot international study, this paper showcases that even the most educated users of smart city services, i.e., those arguably most aware of and equipped with skills to use these services effectively, express very serious concerns regarding the utility, safety, accessibility and efficiency of those services. This suggests that more pragmatism needs to be included in smart cities research if its findings are to remain useful and relevant for all stakeholders involved. The discussion in this paper contributes to the smart cities debate in three ways. First, it adds empirical support to the thesis of 'normative bias' of smart cities research. Second, it suggests ways of bypassing it, thereby opening a debate on the preconditions of sustainable interdisciplinary smart cities research. Third, it points to new avenues of research. 2 of 16 multidisciplinary (using insights from different disciplines in parallel, not in conjunction) [1] approaches and strategies. Both require conceptual precision if research outcomes are to be valid and usable. Above all, attempts to explore a field as complex as that of smart cities requires questions about the ontology (what is that that exists) and epistemology (how we know about it) to be seriously considered. In contemporary smart cities research, this particular plea has very practical implications. These can be divided into two groups. On one hand, there is a considerable body of literature offering a detailed account of the uses and applications of highly sophisticated information and communication technologies (ICT) in urban contexts [2] [3] [4] [5] . On the other hand, an equally vibrant debate has emerged around issues and topics more frequently associated with social sciences and humanities [6] [7] [8] . The challenge is that research originating in humanities and social sciences tends to reduce the centrality of ICT in smart cities research and, therefore, the depth and breadth of implications that emerge at the intersection of innate social problems and ICT in urban space remain underexplored. At the same time, the ICT-oriented literature [9] [10] [11] frequently resorts to, what has been termed elsewhere as, the 'normative bias' of smart cities research [12] . That is, owing to its disciplinary origins and, hence, respective authors' literacy in advanced sophisticated technologies, this body of research tends to focus on the promise that sophisticated technological advances hold for urban space at the expense of the basic consideration of factors that hamper and/or facilitate their implementation. Attempts at dwelling at this intersection exist [13] [14] [15] [16] . Nevertheless, much more needs to be done to fully exploit it and hence, promote sustainable interdisciplinary smart cities research [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] . Against this backdrop, this paper looks at the smart cities debate from the complex perspective of, on one hand, citizens' awareness of applications and solutions considered 'smart' and on the other hand, their ability to use these applications and solutions. The discussion in this paper adds to the smart cities debate in two ways. First, it adds empirical support to the thesis of 'normative bias' of smart cities research. Second, it suggests ways of bypassing it and thereby, paves the way towards sustainable interdisciplinary smart cities research. To accomplish this, a multidimensional survey was constructed. It was preceded by a smaller international pilot study aimed at streamlining the foci of the larger survey. This article presents the outcomes of that pilot survey to make a case that the end users' awareness of and ability to use applications and solutions considered 'smart' in urban space are not to be taken for granted. Indeed, the discussion in this paper highlights that even the most educated users of smart city services, i.e., those arguably most aware of and equipped with skills to use these services effectively, express very serious concerns regarding the utility, safety, accessibility and efficiency of those services. This, in turn, suggests that more pragmatism needs to be included in smart city research if its findings are to remain useful and relevant for all stakeholders involved. Against the backdrop of a novel typology of smart city services users, is argued that the value added from smart cities research is a function of the end users, i.e., citizens', ability to use the opportunities that advances in ICT bring. This includes a distinct set of skills and a particular mind-set, as well as, factors as trivial and basic as the existence of basic infrastructure, including, not only Wi-Fi, but also electricity, devices, etc. The remainder of this paper is structured as follows. Section 2 outlines the research methodology pertaining to the survey and introduces the research model developed to pursue this study. Section 3 presents the outcomes of the survey. The key findings are discussed in Section 4. Conclusions and directions for future research are detailed in Section 5.
doi:10.3390/su10061998 fatcat:iflukpgyznehrlburg55ojllxy