The People-Centred Smart Cities Flagship Programme

In the past decade, internet connectivity has become a requisite for full participation in society, including access to education, affordable housing, and critical government services, yet 3.7 billion people were offline in 2019. Digital transformation is therefore critical to meet the demands of sustainable urban development. 

Launched in 2020, this flagship programme provides strategic and technical support on digital transformation to national, regional and local governments.

In recent years, digital innovations like civic technology, geographic information systems, the sharing economy, open data, and digital platforms have changed how people understand, manage and participate in cities. The COVID-19 pandemic introduced even greater urgency for local and national governments alike to bridge the digital divide especially for marginalised groups and informal settlement communities, build more efficient and secure data management systems, and protect citizens’ privacy when using digital services. These activities are the foundation for inclusive and resilient smart cities.

Our work

The flagship programme People Centred-Smart Cities ensures that deployment of technology and innovation is used to ensure sustainability, inclusivity, prosperity and human rights in cities. It supports national and local governments with their digital transition, applying a multi-level governance strategy to help build skills and capabilities to develop, procure and effectively use digital technologies in an ethical and inclusive way to make sure that no one is left behind. Our programme includes the first United Nations Innovation technology Accelerator for Cities in Hamburg (UNITAC-Hamburg), a digital rights governance framework for local and regional governments, the challenge-driven methodology and a broad range of initiatives in digital transformation and governance centred on people. 


International guidelines on people centred smart cities

At the second session of the United Nations Habitat Assembly in June 2023 in Nairobi, Kenya, 193 countries requested UN-Habitat to develop international guidelines on people-centred smart cities. The guidelines will serve as a non-binding framework for developing national and local smart city regulations, plans and strategies to ensure that digital urban infrastructure and data contribute to making cities and human settlements sustainable, inclusive and prosperous and respectful of human rights. The guidelines development process has started and is expected to be finalized in 2025.

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Our experts


Edlam Yemeru
Chief of Knowledge and Innovation Branch
Pontus Westerberg
Programme Management Officer
Roberta Maio
Digital Rights and Inclusion Officer
Isabel Wetzel
Programme Management Officer
Livia Schaeffer Nonose
Technology and Innovation Expert 
Florencia Serale
Digital Rights Expert



Smart City Expo World Congress

Location: Barcelona

Highlighted Publications

People-Centered Smart Cities
Technical Report
Sihanoukville for all: Promoting a Sustainable, Inclusive Smart City
Toolkits, Manuals and Guides
Innovation and digital technology to re-imagine Participatory Budgeting as a tool for building social resilience
Technical Report
Mixed reality for public participation in urban and public space design - Towards a new way of crowdsourcing more inclusive smart cities
Toolkits, Manuals and Guides
Mainstreaming human rights in the digital transformation of cities – A guide for local governments
UN-Habitat Innovation: Current projects, initiatives and partnerships
Technical Report
Future Cities Advisory Outlook 2020: Urban Technologies in China
Policy and Strategy
Smart city Rwanda Master plan

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