Philip Ellis
Features, Tech / Innovation
The 5 Traits Of A Truly Smart Society

What makes a smart city or nation? Is it traffic lights that talk to each other to optimise flow of traffic? Connected homes that know when to save on power? Self-driving delivery vehicles?

While technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and IoT obviously all have a part to play, it turns out that a genuinely smart society needs to have a strong foundation first.  According to Bhaskar Chakravorti and Ravi Shankar Chaturvedi, academics at Tufts University, “before we can take advantage of the ways in which smart technology can strengthen economies, make institutions more effective, and improve citizens’ well-being, we need to bring the idea of a ‘smart society’ down to earth, defining it in ways that are practical, actionable, and focused on outcomes.”

In a recent report published by the World Economic Forum in partnership with Harvard Business Review, Chakravorti and Chaturvedi identified a series of common components necessary for progression of smart societies. These include: public services, trust in government, global connectedness, entrepreneurial ecosystem, talent development, diversity and inclusion, and overall quality of life.

When exploring potential existing models for smart societies, the authors of the study ultimately selected the “D5” nations to focus on; Estonia, Israel, New Zealand, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. These represent the most digitally advanced governments in the world, characterised by a strong …

Each of the D5 nations offers a different approach to “smartness,” with a strong footprint in each of the five areas respectively:


Strong institutions form the backbone of any functioning society. Estonia has leveraged a range of digital solutions to improve the efficacy of its government institutions in providing widespread, transparent access to data and services. For example; Estonia uses a data exchange platform that brings together the majority of public and private sector services, enabling an easier user experience. Additionally, nationwide e-voting has been in place since 2005.


Technology-related innovation is critical to improving public services. In Israel, a focus on connectivity through the Digital Israel programme has empowered start-ups. Additionally, investments in a national security infrastructure have fostered myriad technological innovations.


A diverse range of factors contribute to public wellbeing; inclusion, talent, environment, and overall quality of life. In New Zealand, policy makers believe that offering a seamless, integrated and trusted form of public service is a key outcome for a digital government. Investing in a formidable digital ecosystem can also be seen as a way to attract and retain talent despite the country’s physical remoteness.

Public Services

South Korea’s “Government 3.0” provides a highly personalised level of public services, while also ensuring transparency to citizens with regards to how public agencies operate. Government 3.0 encourages collaboration across different agencies, with the aim of making employment and economic opportunities more readily available and accessible.


The United Kingdom has historically ranked among the world’s best-performing, most globally connected economies, functioning as a hub of global finance. In order to mitigate any future uncertainty caused by Brexit, the British government has created a transformation strategy for 2017 to 2020, with the aim of growing talent and guiding businesses through digital transformation.

“Of course, it’s quite possible that one day all smart societies will be traversed by flying cars and lighted by streetlights that communicate with each other,” write Chakravorti and Chaturvedi. “In the meantime, we can get societies to be a whole lot smarter by making better use of the technology we have at hand. As the footprints of the world’s most digitally advanced governments indicate, even the best-positioned nations have some gaps to close. And those gaps, and the technologies to close them, vary according to every country’s unique context and priorities.”

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