Cities are complex systems and the ways in which we consider and conceive them requires disruption. This disruption is not technological, but methodological – providing new ways to understand and explore their structure, composition and potential.
This paper outlines an approach to modelling the complexities of cities, utilising smart cities as a case study. Drawing on the scientific and methodological legacy of the discipline of Human Factors and Ergonomics (HFE) the research outlines and applies a Sociotechnical Systems (STS) understanding of complex city systems. STS approaches were conceived to assist in the design of complex systems within which human operators are key components but interact with many technical elements (e.g. nuclear power plants). This paper argues that our cities are STS (humans, technology and their environment) and explores this via the application of the HFE method of Cognitive Work Analysis. An STS model of an architype smart city was developed to draw together the array of smart city perspectives and explore possibilities for the design of new city systems. The smart city was modelled across five hierarchical levels - detailing, describing and linking the purposes, values and priorities, the activities that are performed, and the physical objects that make up a smart city. The model is formative in nature, moving away from reductionist approaches of how cities ‘should’ be designed to explore how they ‘could’ be designed. It allows all stakeholders to better understand the complex nature of humans, technology and their environment, revealing it is possible to create cities that cope with complexity rather than collapse under it