Forum Paper | 2022

Digital Dilemmas: Technology, Governance, and Canadian Municipalities

The introduction of new digital platforms into community life – including “smart-city” technologies and firms like Uber and Airbnb – has raised the service expectations of residents, created new challenges relating to data governance and privacy, and introduced cyberthreats into the daily business of municipal administration.

To understand these emerging threats and opportunities, the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance (IMFG) convened a series of three panels in the winter and spring of 2022 focusing on the platform economy, smart city technology, and cyberattacks.

This paper summarizes findings from the panel discussions as well as the relevant literature, providing direction for municipal leaders hoping to chart a course for their organizations through this uncertain landscape. The key policy issues arising from the panels are explored:

  • The platform economy is disproportionately a municipal issue, but local governments lack access to data. Municipalities can do more to force multinational platform firms to share data in order to assess their financial impact and determine negative externalities. Relationships between private and public actors are fluid and require frequent reassessment and patience.
  • Data governance – who owns and controls the data -- is key, especially with the importance of data to commercial applications stemming from smart cities and the need to satisfy national and international privacy regimes. Given the public nature of smart-city projects, residents may be confused over whether it is a private or public actor collecting and controlling their data.
  • Cybersecurity is of utmost concern as local governments accelerate digital transformations to keep pace with the changing expectations of citizens. Yet a lack of coordinated resource-sharing among municipalities, combined with funding shortages, ensures continued vulnerability to cyberattacks.

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