The 'How To' Guide For Smart Cities.
“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.”

November 19, 2014


PAS 181 - The British Standards Institute (BSI) produce sponsored, fast tracked standards that are formed by pulling together the collective knowledge of industry experts, learned individuals and community organisations. These are called Publicly Available Specifications or PAS.

PAS 181 pertains directly to smart cities and there is a real need that it be adopted around the world. Two consultants at UrbanTide, Pippa Gardner and Steven Revill, were involved in producing PAS 181 and (the more technical) PAS 182 respectively due to their preeminence in leading and delivering the UK's demonstrator smart city project in Glasgow.

In short, PAS 181 lays forth a 'How to guide for Smart Cities'. It is a highly comprehensive set of instructions depicting the ideal benchmarks and critical success factors for smart cities to hit, and that also cater for continual improvement and iteration. These instructions extend to enabling;

'processes by which innovative use of technology and data, coupled with organisational change can help deliver the diverse visions for UK cities in more effective, efficient and sustainable ways'.
What PAS 181 is not is a 'one size fits all' blueprint for a perfect smart city. It is a guide for best practice formulated out of the need to meet the challenges we face as our population continues to flood to urban environments to live and work. By way of example, between the year 2000 and 2030 the urban population of earth is expected to double, adding 2 billion people to our cities.

The challenges noted in the standard range from an ageing population to climate change to top-down funding structures for local authorities - with many in between.  PAS 181 stipulates the ideal benchmark for cities so that they can solve current problems head on and also be prepared to roll with the punches as those challenges change and evolve.

How PAS 181 is structured is that it provides a smart cities framework for cities to refer to. The PAS 181 Smart Cities Framework (SCF) is comprised of 4 components;

1. Guiding Principles

In essence, the SCF recommends that guiding principles for a smart city project are enshrined and can be regularly referred back to. These principles should support the project and commit smart city leaders to stay true to the founding aims and ambitions of the initiative. Below is the SCF's description of guiding principles verbatim.

'A statement of values city leaders use to steer business decisions as they seek to implement a smart city strategy'.

And according to PAS 181, guiding principles are characterised by four key elements. They must be

  1. visionary,
  2. citizen centric,
  3. digital,
  4. open and collaborative

Encouragingly 'smart' criteria indeed.

2. Cross City Governance and Delivery Structures

Section B of the SCF lays out the problems that need to be addressed and there are recommendations of 14 categories ranging from 'establishing a city vision' all that way through to 'digital inclusion for citizens'. There are too many to go into in detail here but perhaps the 3 that characterise the underlying themes of the standard are;

Creation of a city vision

PAS 181 seeks to make 'excellence a habit'. Where this finds its beginnings is in the city vision that must be established from the outset. This should entail determining what 'good' looks like for the city, now and in the future. The vision should be developed in an 'iterative and collaborative manner'. Smart technologies and data should be embraced and all aspects of the city vision have to be measurable. The criteria of measurability endorses a facet of expectation management and imbues the guidance with credibility.

If these tenants are adhered to then any smart city initiative will be off to a great start. 

Leadership and Governance

Smart cities are understood to require effective and sustainable leadership and they cannot be achieved solely through traditional top-down structures. PAS 181 codifies an extensive, though non-exhaustive, list of what ideal leadership and governance should embody in a smart city project;

  1. Clear focus of accountability within the city authority
  2. A broad-based leadership team across the city
  3. City leaders are brought together on a cross-sectoral basis into effective governance arrangements.
  4. Deployment of formal programme management disciplines
  5. The right mix of skills in a leadership team
  6. Allowance for evolution over time amongst stakeholder organisations
  7. An open and transparent governance process including digitally enabled models of public participation.

In short effective governance for a smart city should be characterised by pro-activeness, meritocracy, conscientiousness and inclusiveness. Highly desirable qualities that could represent a shift from some current behaviours.

Citizen-centric Service Management

Some city services have been designed and are run in a way that does not have citizen at their heart. Service areas can exist almost in isolation or in 'silos' that have little if any interconnectedness and that are built around function and not user needs. Where this is the case, it jars with the PAS 181 citizen centric approach and therefore the standard recommends that city leaders; invest in smart data, manage city data in its own right, enable externally driven stakeholder led innovation and enable internally driven, city led innovation to deliver more sustainable and citizen centric services - and  square things up.

What this essentially means is that a balance is proposed between authorities innovating on behalf of citizens but also opening up resources such as data to allow citizens and other key stakeholders to create empowered and totally pertinent city solutions. A hallmark of any smart city.

Benefit realisation structures

PAS 181 offers guidance on 'how to ensure that intended benefits of a smart city strategy are clearly articulated, measured, managed, delivered and evaluated in practice.'

It is advised that benefits realisation equates to a 3 phased approach;

  1. Benefit mapping
  2. Benefit tracking 
  3. Benefit delivery

To make sure that initiatives are proactive, constantly monitored and have a clear, objective and achievable goal in mind. What a methodical approach here leads to is a benefit legacy, whereby repeated realisation offers a guarantee of continued future success. Certainly a desirable and necessary trait for our cities.

Critical success factors

The success of a smart city has to be measurable. If it is too subjective then that risks certain factions being unimpressed, under-represented or gives too much scope for excuses and justifications.

It sounds odd, but our cities are sometimes lax when it comes to maximising the benefits from adopting innovative approaches. The mentality can be to celebrate quick wins and then close the book on a particular 'success'. ICT pilots are cited as being particularly guilty of this in the SCF.

Therefore PAS 181 recommends that what should exist is a checklist of:

'issues which cities should regularly monitor to ensure that they are on track in the successful delivery of their smart city programmes, and that they are managing strategic risks more effectively'.

An action that would go a long way to curing this ill whilst at the same time authenticating the project.

Again it is crucial to remember that this is only a glance at the content of PAS 181, but the common theme of codified common sense is there for all to see.

Is PAS 181 Workable?

One could argue that PAS 181 is too utopian. And they would be right. As we have mentioned in the past, it is trial and error and iteration that will characterise the move towards smart cities.

But an ideal has to be what is aimed for. Especially one that has flexibility, sustainability and inclusiveness at the heart of it.

PAS 181 and UrbanTide

And the invaluable practical contribution made by Pippa and Steven is to the great benefit of UrbanTide. The best practices of PAS 181 come as second nature to a team who worked on the first smart city of its kind in the Innovate UK demonstrator city Glasgow. Our consultancy services are predicated on the need to be adaptive, innovative and moulded on the particular set of circumstances that arise in that instance. Being citizen-centric and allowing for every key stakeholder to input meaningfully into processes motivates our approach to data and ICT structures as well as the hackathons and training that we offer to achieve excellent levels of engagement in all the projects we take on. Read more here about the services Urban Tide offer.


In summary, PAS 181 provides a series of standards and best practices that can't really ever be 'done'. The best that a city can manage is satisfying the criteria and continually striving to optimise performance. That is the way it has to be to ensure that our cities are always on their toes and always ready for the constantly arising complexities ahead.

But more than that, PAS 181 offers cities a way forward. It gives cities an ideal to aim for, and arms them with the best practice to achieve that goal. It is a reusable standard that will always demand cities be the best they can. It is a standard we should adopt the world over as the global conversation and practice of smart cities continues to intensify. 

Just because we have the instructions does not mean it will be easy, but the merits of Smart Cities make the step 1 an inevitability.

If you will allow us at UrbanTide to get a tad sentimental, the quote below feels more than a little apt;

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.”
Oscar Wilde -  The Soul of Man under Socialism


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