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What is the “Smart” in Smart Government?


November 29, 2016

Short answer: governance.

There’s been a lot of hogwash about “smart” as we traverse the smart city and smart government hype cycle. Two large technology vendors claim to have put “smart cities” in a box. (Oracle and Microsoft. Perhaps these vendors have transcended artificial intelligence to magic?) It’s a symptom of claiming that “smart” is all about technology – especially when vendor-driven.

Governance and Smart

The majority of smart government hype that I see is focused on technology enablers. Not what is important to make cities and governments leverage appropriate technology to support smart, sustainable and exclusive growth.


Government organizations do not become “smart” by adopting the latest technology. It’s a transformation journey. As Andrea di Maio from the Gartner Group observed four years ago, perhaps “astute” is a better word than “smart”. It’s the what, why, when, who and how of technology adoption that is smart or astute – in other words, governance.

The FreeBalance Smart Model

Smart government has become the focus for the Innovation Group at FreeBalance. This came from the realization that our core competence in good governance was critical for governments – from national to local – to achieve the promise of smart government. Unlike most technology vendors, we understand where technology fits in importance.


Our model of smart government consists of five layers:

  • Smart Characteristics: characteristics or elements that enable measuring “smart”. It’s about measurement, so performance is critical – performance tied to policy, internal processes, citizens and human resources and encapsulated in programs
  • Smart Goals:  policy and performance needs to be tied to overall goals like financial and environmental sustainability – depending on the context – and that makes it impossible to get “out of the box”
  • Smart Solutions: categories of technology-enabled solution types to support goals like open government for citizen engagement, digital transformation for improved services or smart public finances for improved planning
  • Technology Platform: orchestrating and integrating technology with goals
  • Technology: underlying SMACT (Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud and the Internet of Things) augmented by gamification and nudge techniques to change citizen behaviour.

Smart doesn’t just happen when a city installs pollution sensors or leverages cloud computing. A national government doesn’t become smart overnight with a transparency portal. The “smart” governance opportunity is almost unprecedented, as long as the political, economic, social and cultural contexts are considered. If not, “smart” government initiatives are doomed to fail to achieve “astute” goals.

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Doug Hadden

Doug Hadden

Executive Vice President, Innovation at FreeBalance
Doug is responsible for identifying new global markets, new technologies and trends, and new and enhanced internal processes. Doug leads a cross-functional international team that is responsible for developing product prototypes and innovative go-to-market strategies.

One Response to “What is the “Smart” in Smart Government?”

  1. Jim Hay says:

    Hi Doug,

    Enjoyed your framework and write up. And concur with the hype. Most local govts appear to trail their corporate counterparts by at least a generation, if not more these days due to the increasing pace of change.

    would be interesting in some of your other thoughts there. We are embarking in Cuyahoga on a Transformation, about a year old, so newborn.

    Jim Hay
    Deputy CIO
    Cuyahoga County

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