16 MAY 2019


The Gemini Principles offer a clear pathway to achieving successful smart cities which deliver clear value to citizens, say Mott MacDonald’s Clare Wildfire and Jack Lomas.

The smart city arena has evolved rapidly over the past five years. While before, it felt like an industry flooded with technology solutions desperately searching for suitable city problems, now we recognise that successful smart services depend on there being clear value to a city and its citizens. 

However, putting this approach into practice requires city stakeholders to have a clear vision so both public and private sectors are steered by a common understanding. Step up the Gemini Principles!

The Gemini Principles were developed by the Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDDB) to guide the development and adoption of a digital framework for infrastructure data. 

The intention behind the CDBB’s Gemini Principles is to support the evolution of a national digital twin, however the benefits go much further than this. Applying the Gemini Principles to smart technology interventions will provide stakeholders with a framework to ensure tangible benefits for citizens and the achievement of economic, social and environmental outcomes. 

The Gemini Principles framework is divided into three strands: purpose, trust and function:


Principle 1: Public good

Must be used to deliver genuine public benefit in perpetuity

When introducing new technology into city environments, it is important to evaluate the wider social impact to ensure a net-positive outcome. For example, car sharing apps and autonomous vehicles increase transport accessibility but may promote car usage over forms of transport which have a lower carbon footprint, or which keep people active. City authorities must ask providers to consider the wider public good, upholding the intent of this Gemini principle to start with end users’ needs. 

Principle 2: Value creation

Must enable value creation and performance improvement

In terms of value creation, the adoption of smart systems can save time, money and resources. Many smart city applications increase the availability of data, which in turn encourages value creation through further innovation and increased competition. Data on health, travel or consumer choices has immense value to companies looking to create new or improved services. However, noting Principle 1, the consumer may not always benefit directly and might not even be aware of the true value of the data being shared. Bringing this discussion into the open allows city authorities to contribute to the creation of value for their city and even demand greater benefit to the public if the intervention is weighted too far towards the private operator.  

Principle 3: Insight

Must provide determinable insight into the built environment 

Information technology companies were among the earliest to realise the potential of accumulating and managing data. From collecting information on individual consumption habits to influence shopping choices, to analysing real-time data across a city to predict congestion, the potential to gain valuable insights from data in cities is vast. There is also scope to use this data for direct benefit to citizens, for example, by using shopping insights to promote healthy eating. 


Principle 4: Security

Must enable security and be secure itself

The increased adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) devices requires new considerations in security systems for city authorities to ensure the city and its citizens’ data, privacy and digital rights are protected. At present there is little industry precedent as to what constitutes ‘adequate protection’, so co-ordinated action from both municipality and private sector stakeholders is needed.  

Principle 5: Openness

Must be as open as possible

We have seen many positive stories from releasing city data openly, from predicting the location of fatbergs in New York City’s sewers to the multitude of transport apps that appeared ahead of the London Olympics in 2012. In order to ensure the success of a data-related opportunity there are some key considerations to be made:  

  • Value to citizens can be magnified through enabling network effects, achieved through openness of data.
  • Efficient collation, storage, organisation and analysis of data will ensure maximum value creation for city authorities and citizens 
  • Openness of data must be balanced with the need for data privacy as mentioned in Principle 4. 

The concept of ‘enabling smarter citizens’ is gaining momentum in cities such as Barcelona and Amsterdam through the DECODE project. DECODE generates tools (hardware, software and business models) to put individuals in control of their personal data, leaving it up to them whether or not they share it for the public good. This leads to an opportunity to increase trust between the city and its citizens, by encouraging them to understand city constraints and assist to create win-win outcomes.  

Principle 6: Quality

Must be built on data of an appropriate quality 

Key to data quality is relevance, meaning that data only has to be accurate and comprehensive enough to fulfil its purpose. Maximising returns might mean that capturing increasingly detailed levels of information is unnecessary – so long as the accuracy is made clear to users. However, different tasks require different levels of detail. Models used for investment grade decision making require much more rigour than those used to carry out top level optioneering. 


Principle 7: Federation

Must be based on a standard connected environment 

From a city perspective, interoperability is crucial. A city is where multiple infrastructure systems interact – a system of systems. City-scale decisions often relate to the interdependency between systems, so the ease of comparison and interoperability between different operators’ smart technology is critical. City municipalities that embed co-ordinated acceptance of the principles of federation and interoperability will see vast benefits over the long term, as will private operators. 

Principle 8: Curation

Must have clear ownership, governance and regulation

When investing in a city-scale model, its status, ownership, validity, maintenance and update regime – as well as issues surrounding intellectual property rights – must be established from the beginning. Models are often underpinned by assumptions and these must be clear, so users can properly use and apply it. Developers of models may prefer not to share all rights and information with third parties, and these restrictions – and the possible impact they may have on the model’s usability – must be made known from the outset.

Principle 9: Evolution

Must be able to adapt as technology and society evolve

Cities and their needs evolve over time, so smart solutions must be scalable and flexible. Flexibility in the system can help to mitigate for ‘known unknowns’, while the impact of ‘unknown unknowns’ is harder to predict. This leads into discussions on uncertainty planning and the ability to decide and direct preferred future scenarios. 

The Gemini Principles define an agenda that can be used, without much adjustment, by city municipalities to enable conversations with technology partners about mutual benefits and citizen safeguarding. The dialogue is likely to be one of negotiation, with different outcomes in different cities depending on the local issues, the strength of opportunity for the private sector and the extent to which city municipalities can impose constraints. 

However, there is no arguing with the fact that purpose, trust and function should be objectives that underpin all opportunities for smart technology in cities. At Mott MacDonald, we are excited to be investing in this area and are driven by a belief in a collaborative smart city agenda, where we work together with public and private stakeholders to deliver improved economic, environmental and social outcomes.

Clare Wildfire is technical principal at Mott MacDonald and Jack Lomas is head of product, smart infrastructure at Mott MacDonald.


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