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.

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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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Connect via Twitter and Facebook @smartcitypod

The Smart City Podcast is produced by Ellen Ronalds Keene.

My Smart Community

My Smart Community offers consulting and media services with a focus on making our communities more accessible, liveable and sustainable for all. We have a focus on Smart Mobility, Smart project management, Smart technology in regional communities, dealing with disruption and facilitating genuine collaboration. As well as podcast production, communication and media advisory and engagement, keynote speaking, moderating, master of ceremonies and workshop design and facilitation.

The Smart Community Podcast

The Smart Community Podcast is a hub where smart and exciting people from all around the world come to discuss all things Smart City, Smart Town, Smart Region - anything that makes a place more liveable. Together we can create our own Smart Communities.


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