Smart city projects and characteristics of new urban governance - an institutional and actor-centered comparison

Activity: Talk or presentation / LecturePresentation at a scientific conference / workshop


Spatial planning is subject to political considerations in the form of goals, procedures, budget constraints, etc. Strategies and realized actions are the result of negotiation processes, which are an expression of the prevailing local and national planning cultures. Currently, in European cities and regions there is a trend towards more cooperative and coordinative governance modes in order to be able to meet the new challenges in a more flexible way (current crisis of traditional representative democracy). The changed role of the (national) state institutions away from hierarchy and traditional and authoritarian structures leads to a new understanding of policy making, "e.g. from that of a provider to that of an enabler; from that of initiator to mediator and facilitator; from pivot to gatekeeper or arbitrator; from manager to policy entrepreneur " (Gualini 2005: 287). Therefore, one of the central questions for (smart) cities of the future will be: What (active) role can and will urban planning and politics play, which role are the companies and which one are civil society actors willing to take in order to reach a sustainable "balance of interests" in times of fast-moving trends and socio-technical developments? In this respect, smart city projects are implemented in a certain setting shaped and constrained by institutional arrangements and anchored values in society, but also perceptions, interests and capacities of involved actors. This means that for the success or failure of smart city projects both exogenous and intrinsic factors are to be considered (such as institutional, non-institutional, material preconditions, shared values or conflicting interests etc as well as cognitive and motivational orientations (perceptions and interests) of relevant stakeholders, their capacities, interactions, etc.). Therefore, this paper deals with the main research question: To what extent are given governance structures supporting or hindering the achievement of the Smart City projects´ goals? Furthermore, it explores critical conditions and governance settings to build up and mobilize the capacity for systemic and structural change in smart cities by such projects. The research work proposed in this paper compares different theoretical approaches on governance in an institutionalist and actor-centered view on current smart city activities (e.g. Renate Mayntz and Fritz Scharpf (1995), the institutional analysis and development framework of Elinor Ostrom (2005) as well as the concept of transformative capacity by Wolfram (2015)). Empirical data from qualitative interviews with stakeholders and experts in selected European cities (e.g. Vienna, Madrid, Stockholm, Rotterdam, Glasgow etc.) will be combined with desk research on recent smart city projects in these cities. Based on the heuristic derived from the above-mentioned theoretical frameworks, the paper offers insights on obstacles as well as beneficial factors for the achievement of goals of Smart City projects, as well as approaches from a planning point of view in a systematic manner. What elements/characteristics of the governance structure on a strategic level are a barrier or a supporting factor for the implementation of smart city projects on an operational level? What exogenous factors and which capacities as well as interests influence actors and their actions within those projects and how is this related to the overall governance structure and transformative capacity of smart cities?
Period18 Aug 202021 Aug 2020
Event titleIST 2020 - 11th International Sustainability Transition conference
Event typeOther
Degree of RecognitionInternational

Research Field

  • Former Research Field - Innovation Systems and Policy


  • new urban governance
  • transformative capacity
  • actor-centered and institutionalist perspective
  • smart cities
  • comparative approach