Dubai has set itself the objective of becoming the benchmark for smart cities not only for emerging markets but also globally, with an approach that focuses on the happiness of its citizens rather than merely being the “most connected” city or the city with the most data.

“Our vision is to make our city the happiest city on earth,” said Aisha Butti bin Bishr, the director general of Smart Dubai, which was first launched in 2014. “We have been constantly committed to impacting people’s happiness in every way…the technology is only a means to an end. Our end goal is people’s happiness.”

The city has launched “happiness meters”, for example, to measure how citizens respond to new services and solutions and to understand their current levels of satisfaction and future needs.

During her keynote session on Wednesday, the executive also pointed to Dubai’s partnership with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as the first city to trial the ITU key performance indicators for smart sustainable cities. The KPIs focus on the elements of a smart city that rely on information and communication technologies (ICT), offering a measure of progress relevant to ICT aspects of urban-development master plans.

Bin Bishr told the audience that when the Smart Dubai team first sought examples of what other countries and cities had done, they realised that nothing yet existed on the scale of what Dubai wished to achieve.

“The UN informed us that there was no city that had smart initiatives included across all dimensions,” she said. “We then partnered with the [ITU] to create a bespoke roadmap for services and initiatives for smart city implementation across six dimensions: economy, living, people, environment, government, and mobility.”

The ITU is now carefully tracking the progress of Smart Dubai, “to use Dubai as a benchmark for smart city implementation across the globe,” Bin Bishr said.

Bob Moritz, global chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), praised Dubai for the leadership it has taken globally in driving the creation of smart cities. He also stressed the importance of educating people not only to create the right skills, but also to ensure that they are aware of, and are capable of adopting, the services and technology that are available to them.

“That is absolutely fundamental,” Moritz said.