A Smart City for Public Value: Digital Transformation Through Agile Governance - The Case of 'Smart Dubai'

World Government Summit Publications

70 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2016 Last revised: 13 May 2020

See all articles by Fadi Salem

Fadi Salem

University of Oxford - Blavatnik School of Government; Dubai School of Government

Date Written: February 10, 2016


What makes a city “smart” in the digital age? How can a complex urban fabric develop intelligence that drives planning, decision-making and positively affects the lives of its population? What ingredients — be they organizational, technological, cultural or regulatory — enable a metropolis to re-invent its modus operandi and achieve sustained developmental strides? In short, how can a local government build a “smart city” and generate public value? In exploring these questions, this study provides an in-depth analysis of the critical first phase of Dubai’s mega-transformation into a smart city. Dubai’s stated objective in building the smart city is to improve the quality of life and raise the levels of public “happiness”. Its vision is not just to be the “smartest” city in the world by 2017, but also to be one of the “happiest” places on earth to live and work. Achieving these two ambitious goals requires addressing numerous organizational, technological, cultural and policy challenges. This study analyzes these challenges as well as the milestones reached, through tracing the paths taken by different stakeholders and documenting the multifaceted lessons learned. The findings provide ample evidence suggesting that the technological infrastructure, regulatory frameworks and organizational structures are now in place as critical foundations for building the smart city. More importantly, indicators suggest that public value is being generated throughout the evolution of the project, which is potentially improving the quality of government. The first phase of the Smart Dubai’s journey has already triggered important cross-government cultural transformations. The government’s agility and its entrepreneurial approach enabled it to bridge entrenched silos, infuse a culture of openness and transparency, in addition to fostering a collaborative governance style. This mode of governance also created a shift in collective thinking across the government; in particular from its traditional sectoral view into a city-wide view, with people’s wellbeing and “happiness” at the center. Reflecting on the lessons learned from Smart Dubai’s digital transformation will be critical for the next phase of its development. Moreover, studying the policy challenges, the barriers and the enabling factors in the city’s transformational journey provides timely insight to support wider regional urban development initiatives. Beyond the region, the experiences of “Smart Dubai” in digital-era urban development, and the way it manages — and measures — the accompanying socio-technical impact at a city level, also provide valuable policy learning opportunities at a global level. At this stage, the question then becomes: Had Dubai achieved its vision of becoming the smartest city in the world by 2017; going forward, what does the city need to do to maintain that status and ensure it remains one of the “happiest” cities to live and work? This question is explored here based on the rich findings of the study.

Keywords: Smart City, Digital Transformation, Public Value, Open Data, Collaboration, IoT, Digital Governance

Suggested Citation

Salem, Fadi, A Smart City for Public Value: Digital Transformation Through Agile Governance - The Case of 'Smart Dubai' (February 10, 2016). World Government Summit Publications, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2733632

Fadi Salem (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Blavatnik School of Government ( email )

62 Woodstock Road
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX2 6JF
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://www.bsg.ox.ac.uk/people/fadi-salem

Dubai School of Government ( email )

Convention Tower
13th Floor
Dubai, 72229
United Arab Emirates

HOME PAGE: http://www.mbrsg.ac.ae

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