An Executive Summary of the article “The Clash Between Smart City Logic and Traditional Institutional Logic” by Jocelyn Cranefield (Victoria University of Wellington -New Zealand) and Jan Pries Heje (Roskilde University – Denmarkj)

Published in MIS QUARTELY EXECUTIVE – January 2023

Presented by Professor Angelika Kokkinaki

The article presents an in-depth study on the challenges faced by smart city leaders in implementing digital transformation programs. The study identifies eight significant challenges that stem from the conflict between the emerging logic of smart cities and the traditional institutional logic that governs city bureaucracies.

The core work of smart city leaders involves boundary work, which includes spanning multiple structural, cultural, and domain-based boundaries. This provides them with a comprehensive understanding of the various cultures, traditions, practices, mindsets, and values involved. By managing these boundaries, they can translate between perspectives, identify common ground, secure resources, manage resistance, and build the collective cross-boundary knowledge and structures necessary for sustainable smart city transformation.

The article further elaborates on the boundary management strategies. The building, reinforcing, and defending strategy aims to improve the sustainability of smart city initiatives by challenging and changing the fundamental structures that threaten smart city digital transformation. This strategy is suitable when a long-term solution is needed to address a threat to the smart city initiative. In the studied cities, boundary-building involved mandating new requirements for vendor data sharing, internal data sharing, and data formats, and building new data schemas and data governance structures.

The article provides a framework and a table to help smart city leaders decide which boundary management strategy is most appropriate based on the level of threat and the time orientation of the desired outcome. The emphasis on boundary work is likely to change over the life of a smart city initiative. A leader may start with a short-term boundary bridging strategy for support and resources and then move to boundary bridging for knowledge creation. As threats arise, the leader will need to use boundary buffering to defend the initiative. Later, the emphasis is likely to be on building new boundaries and reinforcing existing ones to remove threats, embed smart city logic, and make progress sustainable.

The study emphasizes that smart city leaders need to evaluate which boundary (or boundaries) should be managed in a particular situation as well as how to manage those boundaries. This requires a deep understanding of the boundaries that impact digital transformation in a city’s particular context and an awareness of the potential for these boundaries to be turned into opportunity structures.

The article concludes by reiterating that smart city leaders face significant challenges rooted in the clash between the emerging logic of smart cities and the traditional institutional logic of city bureaucracies. It underscores the importance of boundary management in smart city leadership and the need for leaders to draw on diverse skill sets when managing boundaries. The dual nature of boundaries, as both barriers and opportunities, makes this a challenging and rewarding task.

From a methodological perspective, the research followed an interpretive case study approach based on in-depth interviews with informants from multiple cities. Data was collected in two rounds, one in 2018-2019 and one in 2021. The study included leaders of smart city programs aiming to generate value for citizens by using the latest smart city technologies. The participants were selected based on their experience and the stage of their smart city program.