Measuring the city’s progress

With nearly 70 percent of the global population likely to live in cities over the next three decades, these urban centres will increasingly play the lead roles in ensuring a sustainable future for this planet. In order that cities are able to objectively measure and effectively manage their progress on this front, they need to have the right tools

Is your city safer than this one? Does your city have better transportation than it had five years ago? City managers and urban local bodies wish they had clear, unambiguous answers to such questions. At best cities rely on surveys done by different agencies to rank them on specific parameters. Such surveys are often done by travel magazines, tour operator companies, business advisory firms and the like.

However, cities and city managers now have a better way of measuring the performance of their cities. The International Organisation for Standardization developed and released in 2014 for the first time, a standard to measure service delivery and quality of life of cities. The Standard is known as ISO 37120. It is one among the latest standards adopted internationally. Most citizens are quite familiar with the ISO 9000 series, for Quality Management, which enables an organization to ensure that its product or service meets customer needs while complying with regulatory requirements. The standard ISO 9001:2008 is the edition of the standard 9001 released in 2008 while ISO 9001:2000 is the earlier version released in the year 2000. Many are also familiar with the ISO 14001 standards which help organizations to measure and improve their environmental performance. Thesehave been extensively used across the globe not just by manufacturing companies but also organizations such as banks and hospitals.

The ISO 37120:2014 Standard was released under the title Sustainable development of communities, and incorporates a set of indicators that can be used by urban local bodies, politicians, city managers, corporate leaders, architects and planners to measure and improve the performance of their cities in their journey towards more inclusive, successful and livable habitats. A common saying goes, ‘what cannot be measured, cannot be improved’. Cities therefore need a set of indicators and a standard way of measurement of these indicators so that they can improve upon their performance.

As the briefing note on ISO 37120 says (https://www.iso.org/files/live/sites/isoorg/files/archive/pdf/en/37120_briefing_note.pdf), “As part of a new series of International Standards being developed for a holistic and integrated approach to sustainable development and resilience under ISO/TC 268, Sustainable development of communities, ISO 37120 establishes a set of standardized indicators that provide a uniform approach to what is measured, and how that measurement is to be undertaken. This International Standard does not provide a value judgement, or numeric thresholds on what a particular city should choose as appropriate targets for the indicators.”

A common saying goes, ‘what cannot be measured, cannot be improved’. Cities therefore need a set of indicators and a standard way of measurement of these indicators so that they can improve upon their performance.ISO 37120 establishes a set of standardized indicators that provide a uniform approach to what is measured, and how that measurement is to be undertaken

The Standard aims to set out an internationally standardized set of metrics to be measured in a particular specified way and reported in a commonly understood manner. The measurements are by nature verifiable and therefore enable evidence-based actions including corrective measures and improvement interventions. The Standard is thus a powerful tool available to municipal bodies and other stakeholders to enable them to improve upon service levels, benchmark with other cities, and share with neighbours.

The Standard uses indicators across seventeen ‘themes’, namely Economy, Education, Energy, Environment, Recreation, Safety, Shelter, Solid Waste, Telecommunications and innovation, Finance, Fire and emergency response, Governance, Health, Transportation, Urban planning, Wastewater, and Water and sanitation.

The range of the themes appears quite exhaustive and covers the entire spectrum of parameters that affect the livability and hence the success of a city. This tool is likely to prove useful to city administrators.

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