Information Sharing, Smartness and Megacities: Some Lessons

By J. Ramon Gil-Garcia (University at Albany, SUNY), Theresa A. Pardo (University at Albany, SUNY), and Manuel De Tuya (University at Albany, SUNY)

Megacities, metropolitan areas that concentrate more than 10 million people comprised of one or more cities plus their suburbs (UN 2006), showcase the advantages and richness, as well as the challenges and struggles, of large, diverse, and complex urban settlements. The continuous­­­­ growth of metropolitan areas is creating a myriad of problems whose complexity often outpaces the ability of the city’s government to respond.  In such situations, city governments are looking for new and innovative ways to solve problems and provide services. Megalopolises like Mexico City and New York City (NYC), in particular, are working to understand this new complexity and to address it in innovative ways that make it possible to respond to the increasing demand for current services and in many cases, for new kinds of services. In essence, they are looking for ways to make their cities smarter.

Service integration is at the core of many of the innovations cities are pursuing to become smarter. Unfortunately, many cities are learning through these efforts, that there are significant challenges to integrating service programs, due to the reliance of those efforts on the ability of city government agencies and departments to develop and sustain high levels of capability to share information across organizational boundaries. Relatively little is known about the extent to which current knowledge about and experience with information sharing is relevant in the urban context and in particular, to the megacities of the world. To try to answer the question we studied two megacities, NYC and Mexico City.

Our main findings are that megacities seem to have some of the advantages of state governments such as availability of financial resources and technical skills, but also benefit from the managerial flexibility and powerful leadership that characterize local governments. These differences and particularities combined produce the unique and dynamic context of information sharing in megacities.

In our study we tried to understand what was different about information sharing in megacities from other levels of government or from smaller local governments and to use that understanding to contribute to both research and practice.  Interestingly, a number of the challenges highlighted in the more general information sharing literature, were not found to be as important in the megacities we studied.  In particular, the lack of financial resources and technical skills were not identified as critical challenges for those cities. Five key findings emerged as useful to any city, a megacity or otherwise, looking to create new capability for innovation by enabling the sharing of information across the enterprise.

  1. The Pivotal Role of Mayors. The presence and executive sponsorship of the Mayor in each megacity city made significant contributions to the vision and the strategy and, more importantly, to the creation of organizational and institutional arrangements needed for the information sharing and services integration backbone. Our cases suggest that the role of mayors and their power to make organizational and policy changes is stronger than governors and other executive leaders, particularly in making the kinds of changes necessary to enable cross-boundary information sharing.  In both Mexico City and NYC, the mayors were highly involved in building the necessary organizational and policy infrastructure to support the information sharing efforts, leading to fewer challenges.
  2. An Enterprise-wide View of the City Government. Mayors seem to be able to adopt an enterprise-wide view of city government in contrast to state governments with powerful silo-based structures. Despite the enormous size of megacities it seems that mayors are able to articulate and keep an enterprise-view of the city. There are still silos, like in other levels of government, but the connections among different programs and functions seems to be clearer and the leadership of the cities have a full understanding of the “big picture”. Centralization and the exercise of authority seem to be more feasible in city governments, in particular in megacities, in which population size and budget could be comparable to small states.
  3. Adequate Resources and Skills. Megalopolises seem to have most of the necessary technical skills and financial resources needed for information sharing and, therefore, these challenges are not as relevant as in other local governments. The opportunities available in megacities help them to attract and retain city government staff with talent and skills only comparable with higher levels of government such as federal and state. In addition, their size makes financial resources more available and in adequate quantities, particular for initiatives that have economies of scale.
  4. Managerial Flexibility. Megacities seem to have more managerial flexibility than other jurisdictions, such as state governments. Managerial flexibility is not unique to megacities, since many local governments are generally recognized as more flexible, organizationally, than state or federal agencies. However, this flexibility combined with other characteristics of megacities such as the availability of skills and resources make them unique and a powerful combination to generate innovations and promote smartness.
  5. Information Sharing Readiness. Given the availability of resources, skills, and an enterprise view, megacities appear well positioned to start data-driven initiatives, including sharing information across city departments and agencies. Again, this is more typical in larger jurisdictions, but less so in smaller ones. However, megalopolises have many of the necessary capabilities and infrastructure and our cases show that they are able to create the information sharing capability necessary to serve their communities in new and innovative approaches to services integration.

Read the UAR article here.

Photo by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash

Author Biographies

J. Ramon Gil-Garcia is an Associate Professor of Public Administration and Policy and the Research Director of CTG UAlbany, formerly the Center for Technology in Government, University at Albany, State University of New York (SUNY).  In 2009, he was considered the most prolific author in digital government research worldwide and some of his publications are among the most cited in this field.  More recently, Dr. Gil-Garcia was named “One of the World’s 100 Most Influential People in Digital Government in 2018” by Apolitical, which is a nonprofit organization based in London, United Kingdom. Currently, he is also an affiliated professor at the Universidad de las Americas Puebla in Mexico.

Theresa A. Pardo is Director of CTG UAlbany, formerly the Center for Technology in Government, University at Albany, State University of New York. She is also a Full Research Professor of Public Administration and Policy at the UAlbany. Dr. Pardo serves as OpenNY Adviser to New York State’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, Chair of the U.S. EPA’s National Advisory Committee and as a member of the User Working Group of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center. Dr Pardo is founder of the Smart Cities Smart Government Research Practice Consortium, is ranked among the top five digital government scholars in terms of citations to her published work ,and in 2018 was named as one of the Top 100 Influencers in Digital Government globally.

Manuel De Tuya is a doctoral candidate in Information Science at the University at Albany, State University of New York (SUNY) where he serves as adjunct faculty at undergraduate and graduate level in the areas of project management, systems analysis and design, and data analysis. He has over 20 years of experience designing and building solutions to complex strategic and operational issues in industries such as consulting, retail, food and beverage, medical devices, and biotechnology.