For many developing cities the “smart city” is still a chimera. International technological models, whether idealised or unattainable, are somewhat at odds with the realities of urbanisation in countries of the Global South. However, be it applications for on-demand waste collection, participatory mapping of precarious neighbourhoods, incubators and informal fablabs, online citizen media, etc., the effects of digital technologies are particularly strongly felt in the ways private actors and individuals use them, outside the realm of public action. Digital tools provide opportunities to renew urban management and put it more in touch with on-the-ground realities. What is needed is a new way of running projects and local policies with and for digital tools so as to drive sustainable and inclusive urban development.

Key Messages

  • The uses of digital technology by private actors and individuals, even on a relatively unregulated basis, must be considered as an opportunity and a resource to build on.
  • Introducing digital tools into urban management is a transition process, and thus supposes managing human and institutional change, particularly for resource-strapped cities.
  • The authorities must develop a strategy (objectives, resources, partnerships, etc.), applying a learning approach, so that digital tools become embedded in the local political culture and practices.
  • Digital tools make it possible to acquire better knowledge of cities and thus better inform policy. It depends on and leads to greater transparency, collaboration and accountability, to which the authorities must be committed.
  • The local authorities can use digital tools as a means of enhancing their legitimacy and capacity for action, with support from thematic networks, donors and through peer learning.
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  • Laure Criqui