SCP E57: City Deals for Integrated Cities, with Michael Comninos


In this episode of the Smart City Podcast, I had a great chat with Michael Comninos, the Managing Director of Astrolabe Group. First he tells us about his background in mathematics and growth infrastructure planning, so how cities grow. He also talks about the Smart City being about people and place, and also the importance of governance reform and leadership. Michael also tells us about some of the things he’s been working on, including City Deals, and how it’s important for the government to shift their thinking from being a regulator to moving to a customer-centric approach. We also talk about some emerging trends and the fact that everyone is still learning. As always I hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as I enjoyed making it.

Listen here: 

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify.

What we cover in this episode:

  • Michael’s background in mathematics, government and growth infrastructure planning
  • What a Smart City is to him and why the people first approach is important
  • How Australia is embracing the Smart City concept and the opportunities Michael sees for us in the space
  • Projects Michael’s currently working on and how his consultancy works
  • What a City Deal is and what the approach means in the context of Smart Cities
  • The need for governments to move from being a regulator to being customer-focused
  • Why focusing on people and place is the antidote to silos and the way we can integrate across disciplines
  • The maturity curve from awareness to alignment to coordination and then integration
  • The reason we need to talk about city management as well as just city planning
  • The difference between consultants and academics, and when you should use each
  • What and how we can learn from our global partners and adapt that learning to local contexts
  • What Michael would change if he had a magic wand
  • Why we need to be talking more about millennials
  • The impact complexity and choice has on citizens lives and therefore on politics



“I’m vendor agnostic, technology agnostic in terms of what solutions address a certain problem…[Smart Cities] is about the use of technology and governance reform to be able to deliver the aspirations and objectives of a place and the people within that place.”

“I don’t think BAU will get us where we need to get to and if don’t look at using technology to help us deal with some of these challenges and take advantage of the opportunities, there’ll be significant impacts.”

“There’s a lot of metrics from a commercial perspective that show that we are highly digitally literate (in Australia). But then there are other elements where we’re very far behind…and the opportunity there is we can be a fast follower.”

“The idea behind a city deal is that you have the three levels of government working together in a place. So you have a defined geography of where you’ll come together and make decisions, you have an agreed set of priorities, and a number of different initiatives that you work together to deliver.”   

“When we talk about Smart Cities in Australia, the Commonwealth has a certain agenda that they want cities to start to do things in a certain way.”

“People understand they can’t do things on their own, they understand in a place context that there are many participants…and there needs to be catalyst to start that conversation, herd the cats, get people thinking about things in a certain way, get them ready to make investments.”

“One of the hardest things for governments to get their head around is moving from being a regulator to being customer focused.”

“When there’s a risk of failure you shouldn’t be using a consultant, you should be using an academic.”

“Some of the constructs we have to create public trust and demonstrate value for money, particularly around procurement, make it very hard for you to try things that might not work, make it very hard for you to engage with a broader group of solution providers without being clear on what you want.”

“Some of the barriers to Smart City development in Australia probably go down to the structural safeguards embedded in our procurement system that primarily are there to avoid corrupt behaviour.”

“I think the technology is running ahead of our ability to use it, so we need reform to some of these government constructs…People are looking at it, it’s just it’s quite a challenging space.”

“[On Millennials] We’re talking about a group of people who have different preferences, different behaviours, different abilities to interact…how do we harness this tremendous pool of talent that we have to make Australia better?”

“An election is the ultimate A/B test, and it happens on a semi- regular basis. And we don’t go deep enough into why people are expressing those views and how we can use those views to shape our city.”



The Western Sydney City Deal Michael has been working on

The Smart Cities Plan from 2016

Future Cities CRC

Michael’s consultancy The Astrolabe Group



Connect with Michael via LinkedIn or on Twitter @astrolabe_au

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The Smart City Podcast is produced by Ellen Ronalds Keene.

SCP E56: BONUS | Smart Chats – Governance, with Danielle Storey



In this episode of the Smart City Podcast I have a great conversation with Danielle Storey. Danielle is the Chief Innovation Officer of Smarter Technology Solutions, a specialist Smart City Consulting and System Integration Company working with some of the leading Smart Cities in Australia. It’s the third time she’s been on the podcast (previously in Episodes 25 and 35) and this time we talk about Smart City Governance and the importance of frameworks in this space. I hope you enjoy listening to this bonus episode as much as I enjoyed making it.

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What we covered in this episode:

  • A bit about Danielle’s background and what she’s passionate about, for those who haven’t yet listened to Episode 35
  • What a Smart City is to her and why it’s so important
  • How Danielle thinks Australia is embracing the Smart City concept and our place in the global context
  • The opportunities for global collaboration that exist in regions with similar problems   
  • What is governance and the various elements of it
  • The importance of having education and consultation in parallel and of asking the questions ‘what lens are we looking through?’ And ‘what problems are we solving?’
  • Why we need to empower people to make decisions within organisations as well as external stakeholders
  • The challenges with having a critical mass of interested parties, engaging people at all levels and having management/senior leadership buy in when incorporating Smart City strategies
  • The need for representing a variety of people on committees as equals, and having a mix of technical and non-technical people in the room to make educated decisions
  • The benefits of periodically getting away from business-as-usual to focus on innovation
  • Emerging trends Danielle has come across since her last interview, including the building momentum for Smart Cities, the interest in public-private partnerships and the movements away from a risk-averse culture
  • Some upcoming conferences and events in the Smart Space in Australia


“I think a Smart City is really about aspiring to do things better. And whether better is more sustainably, to better support the local economy, or whether it’s about the communities. It’s using data and technology to be more efficient and effective in how we run cities and deliver services to the community.”

“I don’t feel that we’re so far behind. Certainly some of the global case studies do a great job of marketing, but boots on the ground, what they’re delivering is not overly dissimilar to what we’re delivering here [in Australia], but perhaps they do it in a more mature way.”

“Depending on the person you’re talking to, [governance] might mean policy and procedure and auditing; to someone else that might mean vision and leadership and a documented strategy; for others it might be technical architecture frameworks and making sure that when we build all these things that they do fit together nicely and we can share data between organisations.”

“The governance piece is not just internal Council-led, but also should be in strong consultation with both those internal stakeholders and the external public.”

“Sometimes people don’t know what they want because they don’t understand the context of the  question. If people don’t know what Smart Cities is and what its capable of, then their suggestions are not going to be coming from a place that understands what is possible.”

“If you talk about Smart Cities and technology, it’s not surprise that you might lose 50% fo the audience in the opening lines. But if you ask people if they want to make their cities safer, create local jobs or fix the traffic problems, you rarely have someone who doesn’t want to participate.”

“We’re always too busy to take a step back and think about if there’s better ways of doing things. But just taking a step back, you often create sometimes a bit more work in the short term to make things more effective and efficient in the long term.”

“If this is something we’re serious about, and if we’re going to change the way that we deliver services and we’re going o change the way that we operate, then how are we going to get there and who do we need to come on the journey?”

“You need people to come along for the ride, and change is not easy. I think it’s probably a bigger challenge than the technology or the actual implementation of a  “Smart City” but it’s the important bit.”

“I’ve really noticed in the last 6 months things really accelerating [in the general awareness about the Smart City space]. I still think we’re probably 2 years away from the critical mass.”


WaterStart Nevada

IOT Impact Event in Sydney 10th 11th September by the IOTAA

Smart Cities Week Australia in October

ASCA Discussion Paper on Reimagining the Local Government Operation Model


Connect with Dani on LinkedIn or Smarter Technology Solutions at the website

Connect with me via email:

Connect via Twitter and Facebook @smartcitypod

The Smart City Podcast is produced by Ellen Ronalds Keene.

SCP E55: The Circular Economy, with Ashleigh Morris


In this episode of the Smart City Podcast, I had a fantastic conversation with Ashleigh Morris. Ashleigh is the cofounder and CEO fo the Circular Experiment, and also joined me on the Future Leaders, Future Cities delegation to Japan. Ashleigh and I discuss our observations from Japan, as well as how Smart Cities and the Circular Economy fit together. Ashleigh also explains what the Circular Economy is and what the Circular Experiment worked on. We also discuss emerging trends of connecting knowledge and genuine collaboration.

Listen Here:

What we cover in this episode:

  • Ashleigh’s background in environmental management and how she’s ended up working in the circular economy
  • What sparked Ashleigh’s interest in the Smart City Space and how it fits in with the circular economy
  • What is a Smart City to Ashleigh and why she thinks it’s so important
  • How Australia is embracing the Smart City concept and thoughts on why it’s integrating so quickly
  • What the circular economy is and what The Circular Experiment does
  • The problem with the linear economy model and the experiment Ashleigh and her co-founder did on the Sunshine Coast to prove the benefits of a circular economy
  • What Ashleigh and Zoe took away from the trip to Japan for the Future Leaders, Future Cities delegation
  • The opportunities and challenges of collaboration and integration across diverse stakeholders
  • The importance of trust and relationship building in the collaboration conversation
  • The problem with putting Smart Cities and Circular Economies in different conversations and the opportunities of genuine collaboration


“The rise of technology and applying that into our cities for the better, to drive economics, environmental change and societal change, is really strong.”

“Technology is going to the be the enabling factor that provides us with that big data on what is happening, what are the inputs and outputs in our cities and our lives, and how can we then be more efficient and Smart about how we use them and interpret that to create positive change.”

“A Smart City to me is a connected city. Utilising technology for us to communicate and interpret data, and make more intelligent decisions on how we operate and how we recoup any lost value within the system.”

“If we look [at Smart Cities] through the lease of opportunity, of value creation, it’s unprecedented. I think it’s going to change our communities, our societies, from that micro to the macro level, significantly and for the better.”

“Australians are quite progressive. We’re a small country and we rightfully innovate because we can, and we are a wealthy nation as well.

“The circular economy is not new, it’s been around for millennia, and you can refer it back to indigenous cultures right around the world where you’re looking at the entire operating system that we live in. Taking that…an economic performance-based model that relies on systems-wide innovation to de-couple our economic growth from the consumption of finite resources.”

“Now we build in obsolescence because that’s really become a strong economic model, which is the linear model. We take, we make, we use and dispose, so we have to constantly go out and  buy new. But a circular economy is about keeping things at their highest value for the longest amount of time you can possibly.”

“We were able to prove that there is actual economic revenue generated out of applying circular economy. There’s large economic savings to be made, there’s huge social capital gains…and also environmental savings.”

“Collaboration is essential but it’s very difficult to achieve.”

“There’s power in the collective, so if you’re able to get a diverse group of stakeholders around the table and have a conversation in a way that’s non-threatening…Smart Cities can be a conduit to bring those people around the table to say you all have a vested interest here and this is the means by which it can be achieved.”

“We can’t afford to do things the way we’ve always done…and that’s exciting because it opens such a realm of opportunity for everybody.”


The best place to connect with Ashleigh is LinkedIn

Connect with me via email:

Connect via Twitter and Facebook @smartcitypod

The Smart City Podcast is produced by Ellen Ronalds Keene.

SCP E54 Cybersecurity in the Smart City, with Vaughan Emery


In this episode of the Smart City Podcast, I had a really interesting chat with Vaughan Emery. Vaughan is the Founder and CEO of Atonomi, a company focused on security protocol for the internet of things. We talk a lot about the importance of cybersecurity as we get more connected, and how they’re using the Ethereum blockchain to do their business. We also have some really interesting conversation about the future of cryptocurrencies. I learnt so much talking to Vaughan so I hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as I enjoyed making it.

Listen Here:

What we covered:

  • Vaughan’s background and his passion for cyber security
  • What sparked his interest in the Smart City space and how his company began
  • What a Smart City means to him and why it’s so important
  • How the US is embracing the Smart City concept, cybersecurity and blockchain
  • Projects Vaughan and Atonomi is working on
  • How autonomous vehicles might become less about transport and more of a platform
  • How connected vehicles can be a security risk and ways that can be isolated or prevented
  • The importance of identity, trust and reputation in a cyber secure future
  • How Atonomi’s products sit on the Ethereum block chain
  • The opportunities and challenges of innovation, regulation and integrating across different disciplines
  • Vaughan’s thoughts about the future of cryptocurrencies


“[I’ve been] Really thinking about cybersecurity and the impact that it has on a rapidly connecting world.”

“As a [cyber security] industry, we don’t have that good a grade. There’s constant data breaches. Most people have been affected by or are fearful of cyber security…So what I do day to day is work on technologies that protect data and protect things.”

“In Smart Cities you have a heterogenous environment, lots and lots of suppliers to cities. Those devices must work together and the only way they can work together is they’re known and trusted.”

“To me a Smart City is taking what the industry has developed as a static city — not a lot of connectivity — to a future state where a lot of the infrastructure and services are actually connected.”

“Statistics has shown that every city has had some form of cyber security attack or data breach. No city and no individual is immune. Before cities really go all in on connecting their infrastructure, the industry has got to figure out how to address the cyber security risk.”

“We think about risks in the context of sensors or devices having to be known and trusted, whether it’s in an autonomous vehicle or in an industrial setting, or it’s a sensor in a city. Good cybersecurity begins with identity and the idea that every device can be known and trusted.”

“I think it’s going to take the government’s input to make sure that all players are using the same protocols, the same standards.”

“For me, what people aren’t really talking about when it comes to crypto is the real utility and the value of moving towards currencies that are borderless, immune from politics and that really can serve a role in a lot of applications.”

“I’d like to see more conversation about how cryptocurrencies can really make it more secure, more efficient, more convenient in a machine economy.”


You can find out more about Aonomi and their website, connect via Twitter @vaughanemery or @atonomi or Telegram

Connect with me via email:

Connect via Twitter and Facebook @smartcitypod

The Smart City Podcast is produced by Ellen Ronalds Keene.

SCP E53: Using technology to empower people to solve real problems, with Alvaro Maz


In this episode of the Smart City Podcast, I had a great conversation with Alvaro Maz from Code for Australia. This episode isn’t about coding, it’s about using technology to empower people to solve real problems, which is a concept that I love. We discuss a lot of things including the changing ways of work and the importance of creating exciting and interesting projects to attract the talent that you want and need in order to keep moving forward. Alvaro and I also talk about about solving some of those boring inefficiencies that happen in Government and organisations, which you know I’m so passionate about. So as always I hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as I enjoyed making it.

Listen here:

What we cover:

  • Alvaro’s background in international relations, philosophy and urban planning and what sparked his interest in this space.
  • Why he’s passionate about opening up opportunities for people to use their talent on things that matter
  • What he thinks a Smart City is and why it’s so important
  • Some of the gaps in how Australia is embracing the Smart City concept
  • Alvaro’s work with Code for Australia and the other projects he’s working on
  • The importance of creating interesting opportunities in order to better integrate across different disciplines and government sectors, and why it’s not always about the money
  • The changing world of work and why future generations are going to laugh at the fact that we have ongoing full time jobs
  • How regulations, work and democracy needs to evolve
  • The emerging trend that people aren’t talking about enough of there being too many trends, too much talking and not enough doing!
  • The importance of solving the boring but important problems, inefficient processes and things that impact many people if they fail and why we need to prioritise this over sexy new tech


“There’s a lot of talent and experience that is not being used at the moment because of the way that we’ve constructed our society…I try to open up opportunities for people to use their talent on things that matter.”

“There’s a lot of buzz words that you can apply to [Smart Cities]…but ultimately it’s a city that is inclusive, that is sustainable and that evolves with the population.”

“We’re treating Smart Cities as a silo-ed thing…so if we’re going to be doing something seriously, it needs to be common practice and it needs to be embedded into the everyday practice of everyone.”

“We believe technology can open up opportunities to meaningfully impact the public sphere.”

“It’s often technology that is not super sexy but it’s tools and processes that help people that have a lot more at stake than what we do, and where cool and new technology is not applied but where there is a massive need.”

“What we’ve found with Code for Australia is that you can attract super, mega talented people not necessarily with those big wages that big tech companies have. The very first thing is creating interesting opportunities that have purpose and autonomy.”

“The world is evolving, cities are evolving, work is evolving, so should all the other things that encompass that.”

“There’s too many trends and too much talking and not so much doing…There’s a tonne of stuff that needs to be fixed but because of those trendy things we don’t pay enough attention to them.”

“[Insert Buzz Word Here] is like the new teenage sex: everyone claims to have done it but the reality is very different.”

“We’ve estimated that over 90% of government IT projects over 10 million dollars fail…if we can move the needle 5 degrees we can save hundreds of millions of dollars.”

“A group of people have a lot at stake if this thing doesn’t work….and so focusing on that because there’s no reason that in this day and age these things should be clunky.” ~ Zoe


Connect with Alvaro on Twitter @alvaromaz or via the Code For Australia open Slack. You can find this via the website,

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The Smart City Podcast is produced by Ellen Ronalds Keene.

SCP E52: Smart Local Councils and Communities (Part 2), with Bronwyn Voyce


In this episode of the Smart City Podcast we have part 2 of my conversation with Bronwyn Voice. In Part 1 we talk about the Future Leaders, Future Cities delegation, Bronwyn’s background, the sharing economy and karaoke. In this episode, we continue our conversation and start it by talking about Bronwyn’s observations of the Smart City space in Hong Kong and Japan. We also cover disaster resilience, which both countries are facing, in different aspects, and the future of mobility and emerging trends, and how there’s lots of challenges coming such as facial recognition technology.

Listen Here:

What we cover:

  • Observations and reflections about how Tokyo and Hong Kong are embracing the Smart City Concept
  • Zoe and Bronwyn’s takeaways from the Future Cities, Future Leaders trip to Japan
  • Disaster resilience in Australia and what we can learn from Japan
  • Japan’s population challenges and the similar challenge in rural and regional communities in Australia
  • Other projects Bronwyn is working on at the moment
  • The importance of getting together on the big emerging trends across all disciplines
  • Why governments, industry and academia need to be engaging with the community to bring everybody on the journey
  • A great example of thinking outside the boundaries of metropolitan areas for Smart initiatives
  • The emerging trend of facial and gaze recognition technology and the new challenges that creates


“It’ll be interesting to see how they manage to transform the whole island [of Hong Kong] into a Smart global hub. But they’ve got the talent which is really critical.”

“We have world-leading experts in disaster preparedness and recovery. I think our communities are becoming more resilient. And we have to…we’re not going to ever stop Mother Nature, so we do have to think about that.”

“Building things back better, using technology to better design roads or drainage systems, or whatever infrastructure is all impacted. We can start to think about that in a different light when we think about the Smarts of a Smart City in disaster preparedness and resilience.” 

“There’s a lot of opportunity from an economic development and a regional development [perspective] for Japan and Australia to connect.”

“I don’t think there’s a perfect solution. I think there’s a role for leaders and influencers to do just that: to step up and lead, and bring people together around tables and have really important discussions, and then also do the same with the community.”

“As businesses we need to be more responsible in terms of our contribution, our impact to society and the local economy, and just more broadly, the people’s lives who we impact by the work that we do and who we employ.”

“It’s all about responsibility, collaboration and using dialogue and data to understand the real issues and make better decisions.”

“Let’s get together on the big issues that we know are emerging, and the big opportunities.”

“I know people are talking about [facial recognition technology] but I just don’t think we are advanced enough in the conversation. What does that mean for individual privacy and… what does that mean for what we as consumers, we as citizens, getting access to based on the algorithms, the biases and all those kind of things that are a little bit beyond the every day citizens’s reach and touch in terms of understanding what technology is being used to influence what they see, how they are influenced to try and behave and act. We need a lot more transparency around that and we need to build capacity around what that means for individuals, what that means for government and what that means for the private sector.”


Connect with Bronwyn on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn or Email 

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Connect via Twitter and Facebook @smartcitypod

The Smart City Podcast is produced by Ellen Ronalds Keene.