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Smart Cities in Wallonia : Barometer 2021

The 7 key observations to retain from this study

How did the Smart City dynamic evolve in Wallonia during the year 2021? The Smart City Institute proposes to take stock of the results of its new Walloon Smart Cities Barometer, based on the responses of 113 Walloon municipalities.

Study carried out by Julie Randaxhe - Project Manager at the Smart City Institute
VIDEO - Discover some of the key figures of the study with our animated infographic! (in French)
Although the 2021 study shows that the Smart City dynamic in Wallonia has stabilised and that the degree of difficulty in implementation is still very present, it does give a very positive signal: not only is the level of development of the approaches progressing, but they are also more structured!  Therefore, this new barometer reveals the determination of our Walloon municipalities despite the obstacles encountered, but also confirms that sustained support remains necessary in order to strengthen the dynamics on the territory.

iconeInfo  About the survey 

Every year since 2018, the Smart City Institute has carried out an inventory of the Smart City dynamic in Wallonia by submitting a survey to the 262 Walloon municipalities. This new 2021 study, whose data was collected from August to October 2021 (7 weeks), presents a detailed analysis of the responses obtained from 113 Walloon municipalities, i.e. a response rate of 43%

So what are the lessons of this 4th study? Our team has summarised for you, in 7 points, the main observations to remember.

1) The Smart City dynamic in Wallonia is stabilising

Indeed, this year's study presents similarities with the results of the survey conducted in 2020:
  • The same proportion of Walloon municipalities is involved in a Smart City approach as in 2020, i.e. 6 municipalities out of 10 ;
  • Moreover, the municipalities surveyed still consider the concept to be appropriate for their territory;
  • The Smart City is still mainly associated with (1) the digitalisation of the municipality (84%), (2) the improvement of the quality of life (63%) and (3) the inclusive participation of citizens and stakeholders (60%) ;
  • Furthermore, the majority of initiatives are still initiated by the municipality itself and, more specifically, by its elected representatives: aldermen (31%) and mayors (26%) ;
  • Finally, the number of projects developed by the municipalities has not changed, since the majority (78%) still have between 1 and 5 Smart City projects underway. As for the field of application of the projects, these again mainly concern the following dimensions of the Smart City:

1. Smart Environment (themes related to sustainable urban development, energy optimisation, waste and wastewater management, etc.)

2. Smart Governance (theme related to the inclusive participation of all stakeholders in the territory and to governance), ex aequo, this year, with the Smart People dimension (theme related to the education system but also to telecommunications, digitalisation and innovation)

These figures allow us to observe that the Walloon municipalities have thus taken an important first step in their sustainable and smart transition process, allowing them to prepare and focus on the next step.
This stabilisation of the Smart City phenomenon also seems to be beneficial for the initiatives underway, in two specific aspects that we will now present.

2) The level of progress of Smart City initiatives is increasing 

The study has indeed enabled us to highlight a first progression: whereas in 2020, the Walloon municipalities stated that they were at an average level of progress close to 3/10 (2.93/10), in 2021, we can see a significant progression. Indeed this year the average level of development of the approach climbs to 4.31/10 and 45% of the municipalities have indicated a level equal to or higher than 5/10. 
It therefore appears that, even if proportionally, the Walloon municipalities are not more numerous to invest in a Smart City approach, those who are involved in the process have stepped up their efforts and advanced in the process.

3) Smart City approaches are also more formalised

Another significant change is that, while local authorities' approaches are more mature, they are also more structured. In fact, while in 2020, 30% of local authorities formalised their Smart City approach in a strategy, this new barometer shows that proportionally more of them do so today (40%). Moreover, 81% of them declare that they have integrated their approach into their Transversal Strategic Plan (TSP) and thus include it in the future vision of the municipality. 
Moreover, the figures show that, among the municipalities that have not yet taken the step of formalising their approach, 40% are still thinking about it. 

4) The dynamic is progressing, but remains difficult to implement

Although the Smart City dynamic in Wallonia is developing and becoming more structured, the Walloon municipalities seem to be facing ever greater difficulties. Indeed, 66% (+10% compared to 2020) of the respondents involved in a process estimate that Smart City projects are (very) difficult to implement. 
Among the obstacles encountered, we can mention, as in 2020, the difficulty of mobilising budgets (50%) and the difficulty of acquiring the expertise needed to plan, implement and monitor projects (49%).

5) Difficulties related to new technologies are more significant

This year, difficulties linked to new technologies have gained ground. Indeed, it seems that the identification and implementation of new technologies represent barriers for municipalities.
Julie Randaxhe, project manager at the Smart City Institute and in charge of the survey, explains: "The health crisis, which occurred in 2020, could explain this increase (+11% and +9% respectively compared to last year), since many Walloon municipalities have resorted to new technologies to maintain their activities. The COVID study published by the institute in July 2020 shows that among the 92% of Walloon municipalities that have had to develop solutions to face the crisis, 86% of them have done so with the help of new technologies."
Finally, although the obstacles linked to the lack of expertise and its acquisition remain for all the Walloon municipalities surveyed, it is these obstacles in particular that are at the top of the list for municipalities that are not planning to develop a Smart City approach up to now.

6) Municipalities mainly need financial support and tools to progress

Unsurprisingly, when asked what could help them to carry out their Smart City projects, Walloon municipalities highlight the need to obtain more financial support from the Walloon Region, Europe, etc. (76%) but also the need for tools to train members of the administration (or some of them) (71%).

7) The Smart Region acts as a booster for the Walloon Smart City dynamic

In addition to the digital development of Walloon municipalities (55%) and the formulation of the Transversal Strategic Plan (51%), one of the main triggers for the Smart City process in Walloon municipalities is their participation in the Smart Territory call for projects (54%).
As reminder, the latter was initiated by the Walloon Government in 2019 and allowed 43 laureates to share an envelope of €4 million in order to develop Smart City projects on their territory.
« The data collected in this new barometer shows that 2019 is a key year in the Smart City approach. Indeed, 38% of municipalities developed their approach that year and the reason most often mentioned was the participation in the call for projects. The Walloon Government's initiative has therefore had a very positive impact on the development of the Smart City dynamic within our municipalities » explains Julie Randaxhe. 
Regarding the Smart Région*, 51% of the municipalities seem to be familiar with it and, among them, 98% state that it has an influence (even if only to a very limited extent) on their own Smart City approach. For the winning municipalities of the call for projects, the impact of the Smart Region seems to be a little more marked, thus confirming that this initiative contributes to the dissemination of the major Walloon axes in terms of sustainable and intelligent territories.
* The Digital Wallonia strategy (2019-2024) is built around five structuring themes. The Smart Region is a project that is anchored in the "Digital Territory" theme. This governance model, which is intended to be dynamic, collaborative and innovative, aims to strengthen the performance of the Walloon territory and its sustainability by making tools available to local actors and promoting and disseminating them throughout the territory.

Future perspectives: how to boost the dynamics?

Nathalie Crutzen, Academic Director of the Smart City Institute, concludes: "In summary, if I refer to the analogy with ascending a mountain, the Walloon municipalities are climbing, finding their rhythm and seem to have reached an important level on the tortuous path of the Smart City transition. However, it is a long journey strewn with obstacles. Wallonia seems to have understood these challenges well since it has overcome some of them thanks to some of its Smart Region initiatives. Efforts still need to be considered in the longer term in order to maintain and continue to enrich the dynamic on the Walloon territory. It is necessary to continue to encourage and guide our municipalities, as in the progressive ascent of a mountain."
In addition to the call for projects, which seems to have paid off thanks to the financial support it represents, it is therefore necessary to continue to provide expertise and knowledge to the municipalities in order to strengthen the dynamic and to further pave the way by ensuring that those who are still hesitating also embark on the adventure, thus contributing to the overall development of Wallonia. 
Finally, it is important that Walloon municipalities are aware that they can rely on the governance system set up within the framework of the Smart Region by relying on key territorial actors such as the Smart Region operational referents appointed within the intermunicipalities or the academic referents such as the Smart City Institute. 

About the results 

Are you interested in consulting the detailed results of the 2021 Walloon Smart City barometer ? Discover them through :
  • The full report, also presenting detailed results by province and nature (urban/rural) as well as for the 9 major Walloon cities.
  • The infographic, presenting the main key figures to remember.
To go further - Additional reading

With the support of Wallonia in the framework of its Digital Wallonia programme



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