Designing a Smart Cities Toolkit – 

Projects, People, Policies, and Pathways  — Integrating Personas, Case Studies, Strategies, Archetypes, and Quality Assurance 

Cities face multi-faceted challenges as they develop. They have to solve infrastructure problems in energy, transportation and waste. They also have to manage socio-economic and cultural priorities such as jobs, social cohesion, and cultural identity. With growing urban densification, rising citizen expectations, and intensifying international competition, these development challenges have become more acute.

Smart Cities Toolkit in Brief

Smart cities creates new ways to tackle these challenges. A smart city is one that uses digital technology and existing systems to design practical solutions. These solutions meet citizen needs, are socially inclusive, and are environmentally sustainable. Overall, they increase the city’s resilience.

The potential and possibilities of digital technologies are key. The general purpose nature of digital means we can design innovations to solve a multitude of problems, specific to a city’s development and circumstances. The exponential leaps in computing power means what cannot be solved today, could be solved tomorrow — we are only limited by our imagination. And the proliferation of personal technologies means we can expand the boundaries of an inclusive city.

To take full advantage of this, smart city leaders must be able to pull together disparate and diverse considerations across the digital, infrastructural, socio-economic, and cultural. This is however often hard to do, even for the best amongst us.

The Smart Cities Toolkit is thus designed to give smart city leaders in low and middle income countries an easy way to do so. It integrates four broad dimensions that are common considerations for all smart city endeavours: Projects, People, Policies, and Pathways.

Each dimension is important on its own and is investigated through relevant resources that provide practical insights: Projects — through Case Studies; People — through Personas; Policies — through Strategies; and Pathways — through Archetypes.

At the same time, these four dimensions are not independent. They span different urban scales, and are inter-dependent. Hence, the links and relationships between them are explicitly spelt out in the resources to illustrate how decisions in one dimension influence actions in the others, and vice-versa.

Taken together, the Smart Cities Toolkit helps smart city leaders see both the macro and the micro. They can thus better balance the diverse and disparate needs across different scales of their cities, and design more robust responses for those needs.

This current version of the Smart Cities Toolkit was co-developed with the UNDP Global Centre for Technology, Innovation, and Sustainable Development, as part of the Smart Cities class (see short bios at the end of this page) for the 2020 Master of Science program in Urban Science, Policy, and Planning (MUSPP) at SUTD.

Smart Cities Toolkit in Detail

Based on the UNDP’s Global Centre’s needs, the Smart Cities Toolkit focuses on mobility and waste management challenges in Africa and Asia as its initial areas.

Projects form the concrete building blocks of any smart city. Planning, developing and implementing such projects are how smart city visions are turned into reality. In the Smart Cities Toolkit, these are explored through Case Studies in Mobility and Waste Management across different cities in Asia and Africa. The visual emphasis, standardised format, and links to the People dimension are all deliberate. Their combination gives smart city leaders an accessible and quick sense of the spectrum of possibilities for their own cities and citizens.

These possibilities must have People at the center. For smart cities to be human-centred, their projects must be anchored on how each project improves people’s lives.  In the Smart Cities Toolkit, these are examined through the highly visual Personas that elaborate on the needs of citizens across and within cities. By exploring how similar and diverse needs are met in different cities, including cities beyond those covered in the Projects (Case Studies) above, smart city leaders can both deepen and broaden their appreciation of what they can do for their own citizens.

To increase the odds of success of projects that improve people’s lives, the right Policies are key. The right ones set clear goals, diagnose challenges critically, and identify the approaches and coordinated actions needed.  In the Smart Cities Toolkit, these are explored through Strategy and Policy Guidelines. There are two levels. The first gives general guidelines that apply across projects (case studies). The second is specific to individual projects (case studies). Reviewing them in tandem helps smart city leaders see how they can translate the macro into the micro (and vice-versa).

Executing the right policies and strategies, meeting citizen needs, and completing each project take cities one step closer towards their smart city aspirations. Each success (and the lessons learned from the less successful ones) puts the city on the Pathways along which cities can continuously improve their liveability, sustainability and competitiveness.

The Smart Cities Toolkit proposes examining these through Archetypes. Archetypes are like personas for cities. They illustrate the diverse forms that cities might take as they develop, without needing to list down exhaustively every form.  They show what is similar, different, as well as unique about each city. Most importantly, they help smart city leaders identify the relevant policies, strategies, and metrics most appropriate to the development of their own cities and citizens.

We examine Archetypes at two levels. The first level is an overall framework showing how existing indices such as the Human Development Index, income levels etc can be the foundation for formulating possible archetypes. The second level is specific to the Mobility and Waste Management projects (case studies), giving greater granularity to how people’s lives can be improved.

Quality Assurance

An important part of designing the Smart Cities Toolkit is Quality Assurance. How do we verify the content, especially given the sheer quantity and uneven quality of information available? How do we ensure the coherent integration of the content within and across the different dimensions? And what do we do when there is no public information available on an issue and we cannot check with someone who knows the specific city or set of circumstances?


Being diligent and conscientious is critical. In this first version of the Toolkit, we reviewed all content, cross-checked sources, and asked naive questions (that often turned out not to be so naive after all). We pointed out where the information needed to be verified with someone with local knowledge.

We also found it useful to critique each other’s work, to iterate with each other on both clarifications and improvements, and to both agree to disagree and to disagree to agree when necessary. We discussed that several of the class’ ground rules turned out to be useful, such as:

1) Explain why something was good, not just why it was bad

2) Build on each other’s points so that we can advance our understanding together

3) Have an open mind, “but not so open that your brains fall out

4) Have strong opinions, weakly held

We concluded that these would be useful in future similar projects. We could use them to seed a constructive culture in smart cities, especially in how different stakeholders critique and collaborate with each other. We could even embed them in future designs of the Smart Cities Toolkit to help smart city leaders build such a culture.

Conclusion and Next Steps

This first iteration of the Smart Cities Toolkit is an exploration of what a “next generation” toolkit could look like. One that is visual, integrative, and practical, with a strong emphasis on people and the lives they live.

It will inform our second iteration, where we will design a digital prototype of the Toolkit.  We welcome all feedback, suggestions, and ideas to help us make what we have better.

About the Team

UNDP Global Centre for Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development

The Global Centre for Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development is a joint initiative by the Government of Singapore and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which aims at identifying and co-creating technological solutions for sustainable development. The Centre curates partnerships, identifies solutions and connects partners and innovations with UNDP’s Global Policy Network and development partners. The Centre’s focus areas are Sustainable Agriculture, Smart Cities and Digitalisation, and Sustainable Finance. Within the Smart Cities and Digitalisation focus area, there are three thematic areas: Inclusive Cities, Sustainable Cities, and Adaptable Cities.

MUSPP Smart Cities class
(in alphabetical order)

Michelle BOO is a PhD student at SUTD.

Hayley Starr GARMENT is a graduate student in the MUSPP Programme.

Anirudh GOVIND is a graduate student in the MUSPP Programme. Trained as an architect, his work experience includes public space and public infrastructure projects developed around participatory planning methodologies.

KOH Eng Fei (“Fei”) is a practising architect focused on integrative design of the built environment, with the belief that a good design is a relevant design that meets end users’ need and lifestyle. She aims to carry over the ethics of good design into the discipline of urban science, that all data revolution first need to be relevant and contextual in order to make a meaningful impact on people’s lives.

Jolin KWAN graduated with a degree in Engineering Systems and Design (ESD) from SUTD, with a specialisation in Urban Infrastructure. She is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Urban Science, Policy and Planning in SUTD as well.

Jingyu MAO is now pursuing his Master‘s in Urban Science, Policy and Planning at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (by the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities and the Humanities Arts and Social Science Cluster). His academic social science pursuits included research and publications at the Academy of Shanghai Social Science and Russian Scientific Database (RSCI).

QI Yanjun is a graduate student in the MUSPP Programme.

Kenneth TANG Jian Wei is currently a PhD student with the Science, Mathematics and Technology cluster at the Singapore University of Technology and Design. His research interests lie in solving urban related problems particularly in the domains of urban aging and urban sustainability.

Marcus YONG is a graduate student enrolled in the Master’s of Urban Science, Policy and Planning program at SUTD.  He has a background in data analytics with a Bachelor’s in systems engineering from SUTD. Currently, he is interested in how to cool the environment by researching the Urban Heat Island phenomenon.

Xinxing ZHAO is a PhD student with SUTD, his research interests include machine learning in medical imaging and system security.  He got his M.ENG in Secure Communication Networks in 2016. Before he joined SUTD, he has been working as a research engineer and research assistant in institutions in Singapore and Italy.

POON King Wang led the teaching of the class.

(featured image: photo by Winston Chen on Unsplash)
(left figurine: photo by visuals on Unsplash)
(right figurine: photo by visuals on Unsplash)