One of the most anticipated events of the recent Smart Cities World Congress in Barcelona was the official launch of the City Protocol, first introduced as a concept last year.
But the public unveiling left much to be desired: At an early launch, several speakers, including a professor, Seoul's mayor, and a Cisco VP, stood up one after the other praising the City Protocol. Yet not one of them communicated what it would achieve. I left feeling just as uncertain, and more frustrated, about the lack of clarity.
I am sure many of you are also wondering what the City Protocol is. Good question. After attending more sessions on the topic and talking with some of its founders and key players, I finally have an answer: In essence, the goal of the City Protocol is to leverage the power of collaboration amongst cities, researchers, and corporations to co-create solutions to common challenges and opportunities.
San Francisco demonstrated an example through its desire to launch a program of four different types of "ecodistricts." The city would initiate a project and seek collaborators from the Protocol Society (which has an open membership model) to co-create ecodistrict models that could be used around the globe.
This was of particular interest for me because I have worked on ecodistrict projects in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, so I could see the potential value of being able to work on such a project in one city while gaining insights from other key stakeholders around the globe before implementing a strategy.
Nevertheless, I continue to have concerns about how the City Protocol will be implemented. Some of my criticisms and suggestions for overcoming them follow.
Problem 1: Semantics
Why would they name this the "City Protocol Society," which they claim was named after the Internet Protocol, if they are not working to develop technical standards to allow multiple smart devices produced by diverse companies to speak to each other? Many of my colleagues had assumed this was the objective -- it really isn't.
Also, I am not a fan of using the word "Society," which conjures up images of a group of elite politicians and executives making decisions that will affect the lives of millions around the globe.
My recommendation: Change the name to something more like "Common City Platform Network."
Problem 2: Appropriate Inclusion
I was disappointed that when Jose Campos of San Francisco discussed the ecodistrict challenge the city faces, and possible city collaborators in a City Protocol six-month project, he never mentioned Portland, Ore. Portland -- just "up the road" from San Francisco -- is widely regarded as a global leader in ecodistrict implementation, with five already in operation. Furthermore, leading global expert Rob Bennett, founder of the Portland Sustainability Institute, was not mentioned (disclosure: Rob is also a personal friend). If the goal of the City Protocol Society is to bring shared solutions to global cities, I would hope global experts, and cities that have already taken the plunge, would be consulted and involved in projects wherever possible.
My recommendation: Implement a crowdsourcing mechanism to allow citizens and other stakeholders to make suggestions of cities and people who should be invited to participate. This will ensure appropriate inclusion (and recognition) of leading cities and thought leaders in City Protocol projects.
Problem 3: Governance and Leadership
The City Protocol Society is led by a steering committee of almost 40 people representing cities, companies, universities, and nonprofits. This is going to be unwieldy, slow, and bureaucratic.
My recommendation: Simplify the governance structure by having a committee of no more than eight people who can rotate annually. Perhaps two representatives for each of the four categories of members (cities, companies, universities, nonprofits); and the groups themselves can nominate the participants. Also, a leadership team with implementation responsibility needs to be recruited. Ideally they would also be independent of affiliations with the steering committee.
The aspiration of the City Protocol Society is admirable. If they are able to implement the model and overcome some of its shortcomings, it may serve to create new platforms of urban innovation, which can be shared with cities around the globe.
C.P.S. It seems the City Protocol would be a living institution and as resources and technology changes it allows discovery and action. It would be nice if the 40 suggested members were all involved. For example there could be 5 committees of 8 people and one representative form each of the committees can be on the executive board to make and implement decisions.
Re: Protocol? My sense is that you are correct Mary. In this case [CPS], the "exercise" seems not to include the Politics of Urbanization. . . . Often, the antithesis of the "concensus" invoked by the CPS 'architects.'
Re: City Protocol Society Thanks for your comments. It was nice meeting you in Barcelona a few weeks ago. I appreciate your honesty about the strengths and weakness of the approach.
I am aware that as of now, ranking or benchmarking smart cities is not a goal of the City Protocol. In fact as some of you know, I have been developing such benchmarking approaches using my smart cities wheel as the framework. Some of my colleagues thought that the City Protocol was going to replace my work, but now I know that is not the case.
Good luck with the launch and pilot and I am sure we will be in touch again.
Re: City Protocol Society I think whenever you have a new programme, and before it is established, it's easy for us to put all our hopes and dreams onto it and see it as providing the answer to all the problems we have identified!
We can't do everything and there are already many city certification organisations out there.
The key thing about City Protocol is that it is about concensus and about developing agreements and common approaches and about bottom up, rather than top down.
I could envisage that some cities might appreciate an opportunity to benchmark themselves against other cities and that they may feel that no existing approach quite meets their needs.
I can also imagine that it would be useful to develop a common way of evaluating different approaches so that their effectiveness could be compared.
However, for City Protocol to become a certifying body could so easily narrow its focus and take away from the peer to peer working model.
I personally would want to argue hard for an approach where, if cities felt that a certification programme was needed, then City Protocol would co-ordinate work on defininng the most useful criteria for such certification and the best process to do it, and then hand off the actual work to one of the existing bodies that run these city certification programmes or city competitions.
and in terms of getting going, we are at the moment working on defining the first pilot action we can support a group of cities in getting going with.
Communication - very much taken on board. one can rarely do enough of it! So getting clarity about what CPS is and is not will be an ongoing task.
Certification - there is a conversation about "CPS-compliant" solutions. I believe the spirit of which is about a project using the protocols to demonstrate value through shared approach (and perhaps solutions). In terms of formal 'certification' I think there is probably opportunity for more discussion.
Pilot - yes, starting and demonstrating success in a few areas of course makes sense. There is a longer list of potential project candidates; and a filtering process by which the most valuable ones will appear - from which terms of reference, task&finish groups etc all flow. Eco-Districts is an example of an early project.
Protocol It's worth pointing out that an important reason why it is called City Protocol is because protocol also refers to formal agreements eg between nations. For instance, we all know about the Kyoto Protocl and, even though there have been problems in implementing it, we all understand the importance of getting agreements about common approaches.
City Protocol is about getting agreements around common approaches at three levels.
First of all it is about three or four cities that face a common problem or opportunity agreeing to work together to address it. It is about recognising that it is worth their while devoting signifcant time and effort into developing a joint response, because that will save them time in the long run as they can share the tasks, and it will enable a better result, because they will benefit from each other's perspective.
Having agreed to work together, the idea behind City Protcol is that those cities will chunk the work up into six months projects and invite relevant industry players, academic institutions and other bodies to work with them to develop the best solution. these tasks may involve identifying appropriate funding mechanisms, developing more effective organisational structures, identifying the most appropriate tecnical solutions, developing data handling agreements, or whatever else is needed to deliver the result they want.
So the second agreement is on the part of the industry and other paricipants is that they will work as part of a team on this and that the Intellectual Property generated by this joint working will be kept open and available for all to use. It will be the role of the City Protocol Society to preserve all the intellectual propoertygenerated and make it freely available.
We think there are good reasons for industry and academia to agree to this as it will help drive the market forward and thus open up new business opportunities for them and will also help them to learn effectively about how to engage with citeis and what their real needs and actual contraints are.
The final set of agreements will come as a result of this. The idea is that when these action focused partnerships have developed somehting tangible after six months, this will then be published as a request for comments and other cities, companies, researchers and others will be able to add suggestions, disagreements, questions to allow open debate. This will allow, hopefully a rough concensus to emerge. This then will allow the city protocol community to adopt that as a common approach that they can take to address that particular need or opportunity.
None of this is about regidity or compulsion, it is about cities, companies, research agencies and other organisations recognising that they will get a better result by working together and making agreements and adopting protocols to make that easier.
The key point about this is that it is about agreeing to take action. The focus is about doing stuff together. As Graham said - if it is not transformation, then it is not City Protocol.
Re: City Protocol Society Thank you so much for your detailed response to my post, and the criticisms I addressed.
There still remains a problem of mis-information and lack of clarity in the initiative and how it will be implemented. In fact, just yesterday a post came out in Fast Company (another media outlet I occasionally publish in) that suggested the City Protocol was going to be a certification program for Smart Cities similar to LEED.
Your comments reinforce what I learned during the Smart Cities World Congress regarding the aim of the City Protocol. I admire the goals of the program and am hopeful it can come to fruition. As you mentioned, the aim is rather ambitious.
It may be good to start with a pilot project to help show the community what can be accomplished, as well as learn more about how it should be executed.
Our fingers are crossed that it does indeed become an open platform for the co-development of new integrative models to smart city challenges.
As with many new developments, there is an important phase of understanding what it is; how is adds; and how it fits in to the existing landscape. So your blog helfully raises questions and thoughts around that in relation to the City Protocl Society (CPS).
As an individual and organisation that is committed to what CPS seeks to achieve I've offered some thoughts, also in response to your 3 points that may help clarify.
First, perhaps a quick headline of what CPS is all about: an open society; that tackles topics that will help transform city outcomes - notably those that are 'cross-cutting'; done through 'task and finish' teams constituted by members (ie a clear delivery and outcomes focus); underpinned by the urban Anatomy (the 'code') that describes city systems; involving 'quadruple helix' stakeholders (city / industry / academia & institutions / society) in a trusted network. It can add to the existing impactful networks that are out there (C40 and the likes). it seeks to "leverage knowledge and experience in real city transformations throughout the world; and offer curated guidance so that cities do not have to navigate this journey alone". That feels admirable.
As regards the 3 points you raise:
You raise two points here (i) Role wrt standards & (ii) Name.
As regards role; CPS does seek to determine the 'code', the 'protocols' by which cities operate. Through this, cities can communicate, compare, build things together; develop new business models by which thigns are done. So the protocols that will be developed go well beyond technology - an important distinction. I guess I would see protocols as being perhaps a step up from (detailed often technocal) standards. CPS would intend to collaborate with standardisation bodies to inform and trial standards perhaps more than create them.
The Name - I have to say I think it fits; as do others. Invariably there will be alternates and opinions.
The 'open' principle is all about inclusion. So we absolutely do intend to embrace what is out there and good: CPS also embraces an 'Adopt, Adapt, Create' principle. I know that as part of pulling the terms of reference together for the Eco-Districts project we are identifying good input, good networks, good experts etc.
The present idea within the Society it to ensure that smaller cities can actively and constructively participate in projects, through a 'hub and spoke' system; with a global core CPS network, and the potential for geographical 'chapters'. Indeed this idea has already constructively been explored in one country just yesterday.
Your idea of crowdsourcing is indeed an excellent one. And through the open processes, the ambition of bringing problems or developed thinking to an open forum for contributions is entirely consistent with your thinking.
3. Governance and Leadership
Yes, steering a ship with 40 members is not the logical ideal or long term model. The Interim Steering Committee (ISC) serves a few functions; which is also about mobilisation of the various sectors to develop and owning a design that is right. Towards the end of Q1 2013 a formal Governance mechanism will take over from the ISC.
The ambition is bold. Indeed i like to use the phrase "if it's not transformational, it's not City Protocol Society"; or in Tonu Vives' words: "we need to create a new pie" (cf tinker with the old).
Several such networks have tried and some have been less successful: it is sometimes about what they do, sometimes about how they do it - sometimes both! We believe the design is right to make a powerful and helpful difference.
Will CPS succeed? Who knows; however it will not be through lack of trying! What we do know is that the need is there - and indeed is escalating by the moment. Join in and help!
Hmmm So, I attended the conference, and I sat down with Mayor Vives who touched on this a bit, and I've read your blog... but I'm still not totally clear on what the City Protocol Society is... and that has nothing to do with your great discussion of it. Rather, I'm not quite sure the people behind it are certain about what it is either.
It's interesting because when I sat with Mayor Vives, he was clear to say that there can't be a set of "best practices" for cities, but it sounds like the City Protocol Society could end up coming up with just that.
Also, I agree with you about the devices speaking to each other issue. That should definitely be a part of this.
I think I'll be left scratching my head on this one until I see something in practice.
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