Friday, 20 May 2016

Case Study - Shrimoyee Bhattacharya

Advantage of Pragmatic Research Methods: Case of Smart Cities Study by CSTEP

Shrimoyee Bhattacharya
Senior Research Scientist, CSTEP

The announcement of Smart Cities Mission by the Government of India in 2014 had led to intense deliberations in expert and public domain. CSTEP’s research focus was on bringing better clarity regarding what is a smart city and what is the level of knowledge available globally to support the development of smart cities, whether and how it can be aligned to India’s larger national development agenda and how such an urban development model can be effectively designed on principles of sustainability.

Policy Problem 
There is a substantial knowledge gap regarding the definition and concept of smart cities which is still emerging along with immature standards and regulatory regime, and lack of evidence for success of smart city models globally. The deliberations in the Indian context also triggered opinionated positions among experts on whether such a technology driven city development model should be adopted by India which could create exclusionary development trends. Thus, there is both uncertainty of knowledge and lack of agreement of values on smart cities which has rendered it as an “unstructured” problem ((Politics and Ideas, “Doing policy relevant research – responding to policy problems”, Module 4, 2015-16).

Methodology used
The larger goal of the study was to assess the extent of knowledge uncertainty regarding the concept of smart cities and thus assess the existing urban development ecosystem in India for its preparedness with respect to the concept of smart cities. The adopted methodology for the study thus included major milestones to address these goals.  The study included extensive review of literature drawn on both theoretical and practical discourses, as well as interaction with experts and relevant stakeholders. Both quantitative and qualitative methods were deployed as that is a pragmatic way to analyse urban issues. Interacting with stakeholders was an important source of understanding subtle realities that significantly enhanced the perception gathered from secondary literature.  

Output and Outcome
The immediate research output were a set of criteria for selection of cities under the government mission, and a reference framework for smart urban development in India based on the principles of sustainable development. The process oriented interventions at the forefront of the research recommendations were developed to enable a robust and accountable decision making system at a city level. Additionally avast amount of literature referred for the purpose of this research also enabled the creation of a "Compendium of Resources" for smart cities worldwide. The larger outcome included enhancement of knowledge to create room for better informed deliberations and identification of key issues for a long-term phase that could significantly impact success of the mission.

The problem was generally viewed as more of a technological issue by many stakeholders in the initial stage of the research. This perception changed as researchers started gaining insights into the types of problems associated with smart cities. While this led to changes in the scope of the research at a later stage, adopting a pragmatic research method helped in incorporating such changes in research design. As a result, the research was able to identify ‘city governance’ as the key area seeking attention and technology as the enabler in the Smart Cities Mission. 
Read more about CSTEP’s smart cities work at: 

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