Smart Cities in Wallonia: A dynamic that is consolidating (Barometer 2020)
2020 Barometer of Smart Cities in Wallonia : the key observations of this third study
Every year since 2018, the Smart City Institute has been delivering a detailed report on the Smart City dynamic in Wallonia. With an exceptional participation rate for this 2020 edition, a total of 140 municipalities have expressed themselves through this study, thus enabling the SCI to draw up a new inventory of the dynamics.
Julie Randaxhe, project manager at the Smart City Institute and author of the study, gives an overview of the key elements of this 2020 Walloon barometer of Smart Cities :
Julie, can you first tell us a bit more about how the study was carried out ?
To carry out this 3rd barometer, we launched our study at the end of August 2020 and it lasted 7 weeks. As for previous years, the 262 Walloon municipalities were solicited and, in total, 140 of them (53% of Walloon municipalities) responded to the survey. A great success!
This sample, which is representative of the population from the point of view of the nature (urban or rural character), size and geography (provinces) of the Walloon municipalities, has therefore enabled us to present results which can be generalised and extrapolated to all Walloon municipalities.
Can we say that Walloon municipalities are Smart Cities ?
It is still too early to say that Walloon municipalities are accomplished Smart Cities, but we can feel a progression in mentalities and a consolidation of the dynamic throughout the territory.
Indeed, many Walloon municipalities are now involved in a Smart City dynamic (63%), in both urban and rural areas, and in each of our provinces. They are also more and more numerous when estimating if the concept is appropriate for their territory (51% against 45% in 2017). Despite this, on average, they rate their progress at a level of 3/10.
However, there is a real evolution in the perceptions of Walloon municipalities regarding the Smart City phenomenon: in 2018, it was above all perceived as a means of improving their brand image. Today, although digitalisation naturally occupies a predominant place in the elements that municipalities associate with the Smart City concept - and this has probably increased during the health crisis - we note the consideration of more sustainable issues such as the inclusive participation of the territory's actors and the improvement of the quality of life within the perceptions of Walloon municipalities.
How, then, can we explain the fact that the municipalities do not yet feel very advanced in the process ?
Part of the explanation could lie in the fact that the dynamic remains relatively recent in Wallonia : 75% of the respondents have initiated their initiatives in the last 5 years.
However, it is during the implementation of the projects that the municipalities seem to encounter the most difficulties. Indeed, many obstacles are identified, including the lack of expertise of the administration - whether technical or methodological -, the difficulty in mobilising budgets and the complexity of setting up the dynamics between the actors. Many of them also mention the difficulty in identifying and implementing new technologies.
Who are the actors most involved in the approaches ?
It is, above all, the public authorities that are the most involved throughout the process. At the initiative are mainly the aldermen (28%) and mayors (27%). As regards to operational management, even if the elected representatives and the administration remain in charge, 52% of the municipalities call upon external entities and mainly intermunicipal entities (83%).
In concrete terms, what types of projects do our municipalities favour today ?
In general, Walloon municipalities still develop few Smart City projects (1 to 5 for 65% of them). Among the key themes represented by these projects, Smart Environment, Smart Governance and Smart People dimensions are at the top of the ranking.
In conclusion, how can municipalities be helped to develop their approach ?
The study shows that Walloon municipalities today have a real need for guidance and support in order to successfully carry out their Smart City projects. It is therefore necessary to provide them with the necessary tools for a sustainable and smart transition, whether we are talking about technical tools or, more simply, project management.
In Wallonia, the initiatives of the Smart Region are already moving in this direction, but it is important not to slacken efforts and investments. As an academic reference of the Walloon Region within the framework of the Smart Region strategy, the Smart City Institute thus participates in this dynamic by developing tools intended to fill, precisely, this lack of expertise within the municipalities (publications, support tools, training, inspiration days, etc.).
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