Context and background

The growing popularity of the “smart city” points to the potential for automatic optimisation of urban management. The arrival of the digital revolution has been sudden and wide-ranging, including in developing cities. But due to the informality of the urbanisation process and the capacity constraints of local authorities, the impacts and changes brought about by the digital revolution are still poorly understood and managed.

For developing cities and their partners, the effects of the digital revolution are, in fact, uncertain and complex – the way in which digitalisation can make urban development sustainable and inclusive remains to be clarified. If it is not properly managed, digitalisation can lead to a further disconnect between local authorities and the dynamics of informal urbanisation. Conversely, if it is well appropriated and oriented, it represents a real opportunity for local authorities: inexpensive tools, frugal innovation and due consideration of existing applications can facilitate the management of the wide range of initiatives and digital players who are already active.

IDDRI and AFD have thus launched a study to analyse the challenges and tools presented by digitalisation specifically in the context of developing cities. This study demystifies the concept of the smart city and deals with the possible uses of digital technology within cities with limited capacity for action. It aims to provide keys to understanding and managing digitalisation that are adapted to the challenges of developing cities, allowing them to make full use of its potential.

Research objectives

The project focuses on real lines of action, tools and practices that digitalisation can offer developing cities. The goal is to facilitate sustainable appropriation of information and communication technologies by the local authorities in the developing world. To this end, a practical guide to digitalisation and governance in developing cities is being produced, outlining case studies and tools to support digital initiatives and policies. It combines:

  • Methodological components that can be useful in developing strategies, carrying out a needs assessment and introducing digital tools into administrative structures,
  • A list of potential uses of digital technology for the management of basic service provision; for risk anticipation and planning of poor neighbourhoods; for the development of the local economy; and to encourage citizen participation and foster a connection between administrations and users.

This Guide is intended for project promoters involved in urban development internationally, including those working in developing cities as well as their partners (international public funders, local authorities involved in developed-developing country cooperation efforts focusing on the city level).

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