How 46 ISO standards for world cities could be used

The International Organization for Standardization has approved a list of 46 key indicators by which to compare cities around the world:

But now, the first-ever set of ISO standards for world cities has been created. And the implications are dramatic. City policymakers will have objective standards to compare their services and performance with other cities around the world. And just as significant, the people of cities — civic, business organizations, ordinary citizens — will be able to access the same new global standards. This means they can ask city leaders tough questions, stoking debate about their own city’s performance on the basis of verified measures ranging from education to public safety to water and sanitation…

But many cities, up to now, haven’t recorded data on all those indicators. Or if they did, they were inconsistent in their precise definitions, making it difficult to make apples-to-apples comparisons of cities across continents and diverse societies. Many organizations, in independent media and special interest groups, issue rankings of cities. But in 2008, when the Global Cities Indicators Facility at the University of Toronto compared rankings that had been applied to seven prominent world cities, it turned out that only six of the 1,200 indicators being applied were exactly the same.

Now, cities everywhere will have an internationally agreed upon set of standards indicating data that should be collected, and the definitions and criteria to use in collecting it. They won’t be legally required to do so, but they’re likely to be under pressure from citizen, business, academic and other groups insisting they use the ISO standards so that their performance can be benchmarked clearly against peer cities, both in-country and — in today’s increasingly globalized economy — across the globe…

A technical committee was formed. With McCarney’s institute acting as a de facto secretariat, meetings were held in urban centers from Japan to France and Britain to Canada. Comments were received from cities worldwide — “fantastic for us, really strengthening the set of indicators we started with back in 2008,” notes McCarney. The analysis winnowed down and rejuggled the list to 100 candidate indicators. Finally, 46 (see them all here) were selected as well-tested core measures that cities must report to prove they’re in conformance with the new ISO 37210 standard.

It will be interesting to see how the data is used. Here are some options:

1. The article suggests having clear points of comparison will push cities to compete. Yet, not all the cities are directly comparable. The article addresses this by suggesting there could be different tiers of comparisons – the top global cities and developing world cities shouldn’t be compared head-to-head.

2. Is this going to be another set of information that is primarily for boosters? Imagine a city in Western Europe could say that it is one of the best of the world in low levels of particulates in the air and then trumpets this in a marketing campaign. Similarly, the media might eat up this information.

3. National or international bodies could use this information to enforce certain guidelines. If there is reliable information on air pollution, outside bodies could then claim other objective standards need to be met.

4. Maybe this is primarily for academics. Consistent data across cities and countries can often be difficult to come by so having set standards and data collection could help. This could be particularly useful for tracking change in developing world cities.

Settling on how to measure data is a start but it is part of a longer process that then includes figuring out how to interpret and use such data.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s