A “smart city” uses technology to manage resources more efficiently and equitably, and/or pursues long-term planning to that end. Smart city projects have been led by numerous actors, including the private sector and community groups, but a large portion of smart city work takes place within the public sector. As such, public procurement has the potential to be a highly strategic tool for building smart cities: it allows municipalities to signal investment intentions, engage in long-term planning, and manifest their values through procurement criteria for sustainability and inclusion.
There are many different forms of public procurement, both traditional and novel, in Canada today. The successes and challenges posed by different procurement methods are an important and underserved area of study in smart cities research. Traditional procurement, challenge-based procurement, grant programs, sole-source mechanisms, and innovative pre-procurement (for example, “living labs”) offer municipalities and companies a variety of alternatives.
Through interviews with numerous stakeholders and document analyses of procurement mechanisms (requests for proposals [RFPs]), this study investigates how municipalities in Canada enter into public-private-partnerships (PPPs) for smart cities technology projects, and how the results of these projects are tied to procurement mechanisms. Procurement mechanisms may include stipulations about other topics important to smart cities conversations, such as data ownership, degree of municipal involvement, and social impact, and this study also examines these aspects of procurement and PPPs in Canada. The study concludes that smart cities technology companies could benefit from more accessible procurement practices and recommends measures to achieve this. In addition, it identifies areas where PPPs, RFPs, and contracts have room to mature: such as in areas detailing IP guidelines and understandings of municipal involvement and risk-taking within a project.