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Dissecting ISO 37120:How voting, women and corruption figure in the smart city standard

Submitted by scc staff on August 22, 2014

By George Karayannis, LEED AP

Image removed.We continue our series on the new ISO 37120 Smart City standard with a look at the seventh of 17 themes defined in the standard – governance indicators.  As previously described, ISO 37120 includes 46 ‘Core’ (must report) and 54 ‘Supporting’ (should report) indicators.  The governance theme has 2 Core and 4 Supporting indicators.

Robust voter turnout is essential to a healthy democracy.  Low turnout generally reflects systemic voter disenfranchisement or public apathy, and can result in elections and policies that don’t reflect the will of the people. Some nations even have rules that render an election invalid if too few people vote, such as Serbia, where three successive presidential elections were rendered invalid in 2003 because voter turnout did not meet the 50% minimum threshold.  In developed countries, non-voters tend to be concentrated among the young and the poor. However in India, the young and the poor vote more than the rich and middle classes.  As of August 2013, 22 countries have compulsory voting, though it is only enforced in 10. 

This theme measures a city's civic engagement -- particularly for women -- as well as the honesty and integrity of its elected officials.

"Transparency in city governments is a critical step in providing and defending basic rights at the city level,” said Professor Richard Stren, Professor of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto and a Senior Fellow of the Global Cities Institute. “A global standard for measuring and reporting on the performance of city governance -- including the role of women in city government, can help city leaders worldwide be more responsive, transparent and more responsible to their citizens,” he added.

Let's explore more in depth the governance theme's indicators.

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Core Indicators

1.    Voter participation in last municipal election.

This indicator is calculated as a percentage of eligible voters and notes the distinction between those eligible to vote and those registered to vote.  Voter turnout for municipal elections in most American cities ranges from low to minuscule. In mayoral elections in the 22 largest cities from 2008 through 2011, no city had a voter rate higher than 43% of registered voters -- which is an even lower number of eligible voters. Two cities in Texas, El Paso and San Antonio, had turnout under 10%. In many of America's largest cities, therefore, the  mayors were elected by fewer than one in five registered voters -- and in two, more than nine out of ten registered voters stayed home.

2.    Women as a percentage of total elected to city-level office.

This indicator can reflect the level of inclusiveness in city governance.  As of January 2014, women comprised 249 or 18.4% of the 1,351 mayors in U.S. cities with populations over 30,000.  Women in the U.S. hold only five governorships, less than a quarter of state legislative seats, and are mayors in only 12 of the 100 largest cities.  From an international perspective, Rwanda currently ranks first in female political participation in national legislatures or parliaments among 188 direct-election countries.  A study conducted by American University researchers identified several reasons why women are less likely than men to run for public office, including:

  • Greater perception of bias against female candidates
  • Women are much less likely to think they are qualified
  • Female potential candidates are less competitive, less confident and more risk averse
  • Women react more negatively to many aspects of modern campaigns
  • Women are still responsible for the majority of childcare and household tasks

Supporting Indicators

1.    Percentage of women employed in city government workforce.

Historically, the state and local public sectors have provided more equitable opportunities for women. According to the Congressional Research Service, in 2013 women held nearly 58% of full-time jobs in local governments. Unfortunately, this also resulted in women experiencing a disproportionate share of job loss as a result of the recession. Between 2007 and 2011, state and local governments shed about 765,000 jobs, with women experiencing about 70% of those losses

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 Number of convictions for corruption and/or bribery by city officials per 100,000 population.

Corruption is as old as cities themselves, and can take many forms including bribery, graft and nepotism. Public corruption is a breach of trust -- often with the help of private sector accomplices -- and is the FBI’s top criminal investigative priority.   New public corruptionconviction data from the U.S. Department of Justice shows the Chicago metropolitan region has been the most corrupt area in the country since 1976 in terms of total convictions. The following table from Governing magazine ranks the top 10 states for corruption convictions per 100,000 population.

3.    Citizen’s representation:  number of local officials elected to office per 100,000 population.

This indicator reflects the proportion of elected officials relative to city population.  One inference that could be made using this indicator is that it could reflect  an increasingly expensive city administration

4.    Number of registered voters as a percentage of voting age population.

According to the ISO, this indicator can “reveal the legitimacy and quality of the electoral process in a city.” 


George Karayannis has over 25 years of emerging technology and complex solutions sales, business development and marketing experience and has held leadership positions at Schneider Electric, Lockheed Martin Energy Solution, AT&T and wireless sensor startups.  He has also served as a city councilman and is restoring a 100-year old opera house to LEED Gold status. @gkarayannis

Next in the series: Health indicators for smart cities

Previously in the Dissecting ISO 37120 series: