Building smart sustainable cities – evaluating prerequisities for citizen engagement through the actor network theory

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School of Business | Master's thesis
Degree programme
Information and Service Management (ISM)
79 + 12
The UN predicts that 68% of the population on Earth will live in urban areas by 2050. The current cities struggle in answering to the needs of the growing amount of people. Therefore, the ongoing shift towards urbanization around the world forms a need for new kinds of cities. Smart cities aim at solving problems such as rapid urbanization, climate change, and informal settlements. Currently, the issue is that smart cities inherently aim for economic sustainability rather than aiming at improving sustainability at all its aspects. Furthermore, smart cities are often firstly techno-centric rather than citizen-centric which leads to smart city solutions failing to place the citizens’ expectations. As developing smart city services is a sociotechnical process, it requires citizen participation to succeed. A city cannot deem itself sustainable if it cannot engage its citizens in sustainable behavior. There is evidence supporting the argument that by integrating collaborative means in designing smart cities, citizens can be more engaged in the city sustainability. This thesis investigates the mix of participatory design and urban analytics in building more engaging sustainable solutions in smart sustainable cities in the context of information systems (IS). The thesis aims to propose the best practices for designing more engaging solutions in smart sustainable cities. The current smart city best practices are reflected on the actor network theory (ANT) to assess how they could be combined to achieve a successful participatory process with the smart city actors. This thesis uses a design action research methodology through which a new approach (the actor engagement approach) is proposed based on theory and current best practices. The approach is further developed based on qualitative semi-structured interviews (n = 10) conducted with smart city experts from the City of Helsinki, Forum Virium, Motiva, Aalto University, and the City of Voru. The findings of this research show that assessing the smart city actors as a part of the participatory process can indeed improve engagement in using sustainable solutions. This research confirms that the created approach is considered applicable for developing sustainable solutions in smart cities and the interview results verify that it is likely that using the approach does have some positive effect on engagement to use the created solution among citizens. The thesis provides practical value to city builders, governments, and companies working with governments through providing a concrete development model that has been validated with smart city experts. There is a research gap in IS in understanding the key features that drive engagement to use sustainable services, looking at the whole network rather than just focusing on citizen-centricity. This research fills that gap by looking at what are some key factors in successful sustainability development, focusing on all actors. In terms of originality, the paper combines the actor network theory in a novel way, by using ANT as a basis for a practical development model looking at participatory design and urban analytics in smart city networks.
Thesis advisor
Ghanbari, Hadi
smart city, actor network theory (ANT), urban analytics, participatory design, smart sustainable city, urban data
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