Goals of this stage

The primary goal of this stage is to define your place and set out the outcomes you want to achieve for your place with the people who will live, work, play and invest there.

During Discovery, you will need to:

  • Identify the area you are wanting to design
  • Engage early so that you and your communities can understand each other's desires for the place, problems and opportunities
  • Establish who is using the place and what they are using it for; and who isn't using the place that should or could be and why this is the case
  • Establish the ambitions and strategic context of the place
  • Understand the cultural significance of the place
  • Understand your authorising environment.
Smart solutions should always be deployed to assist in the function of a place, so it meets the needs of its people, or to improve service delivery for people living, working and visiting a place.


Fully understanding a place and its context will help you to achieve this.

Defining your "place"

Start by defining your place. Is it a park, public space, high street, economic zone, industrial area, a new community or suburb?

Remember, smart solutions can support the ambitions of a place at any scale.

Involving the community

Once you have identified your place, you will be able to identify and involve the people who live, work and visit the area.

Set out a plan for engaging them to determine their needs and desires in relation to your place during the Discovery phase. You will need to identify any barriers to achieving the ambitions you set out for your place as well. So don't forget to think about the people who are not yet using, visiting living or working in your place who might in future.

Understanding the strategic context and the place

A smart places journey begins by understanding your place and its people, as smart technology is one piece of the puzzle to help achieve the community's vision. This is the second principle in the Smart Places Customer Charter.

Smart place initiatives can start with a strategic view of how smart technology can support the overall vision for a place, or with individual opportunities identified to support community objectives, or somewhere in between.

In all cases, alignment to the existing place strategy, including vision and outcomes, is important, including the place's culture, history and functions.


To help understand a place and its future, you should check out local and regional planning documents:

  • Your area's Regional Plan. These plans are set by the State and provide each region with the framework, vision and direction for strategic planning and land use, planning for future needs for housing, jobs, infrastructure, a healthy environment and connected communities.
  • Your council's Local Strategic Planning Statement. These set a 20-year vision for land use in the local area, the special character and values that are to be preserved and how change will be managed into the future.
  • Your council's 10-year Community Strategic Plan and more detailed Delivery Program and Operational Plans. These are prepared in consultation with the local community and provide high-level outcomes that smart places should support.

There are other state priorities, strategies and policies that may apply, and you should uncover and assess these before proceeding.

To supplement this part of the Discovery phase, you should also assess the local character of the place and look at how it functions; and engage with local people.

Resources for discovering strategic context

The Great Public Spaces Toolkit

The Great Public Spaces Toolkit helps bring the principles of the draft NSW Public Spaces Charter to life through a collection of free resources to support local government, state agencies, industry and the community. The department is developing tools that anyone can use to support planning, managing and creating better and more vibrant public spaces.

NSW Office of Local Government's Integrated Planning and Reporting Guidelines and Manual

The Integrated Planning and Reporting (IP&R) framework came into practice in 2009. It begins with the community's aspirations for at least ten years. It includes a suite of integrated plans that set out a vision, goals and strategic actions to achieve them. It involves a reporting structure to communicate progress to council and the community and a review timeline to ensure relevant goals and actions.

NSW Government's Local Character and Place Guideline

The Local Character and Place Guideline aims to support councils and communities to consider and nurture the unique identity of a place while at the same time meeting the needs of a changing NSW. This guideline provides tools to help define the existing character and set a desired future character that aligns with the strategic direction for an area.

NSW Government Architect's Practitioner's Guide to Movement and Place

The Government Architect NSW and Transport for NSW are collaboratively developing the Movement and Place Framework to provide a cohesive approach to balancing the movement of people and goods with the amenity and quality of places, contributing to the attractiveness, sustainability and success of our cities and towns.

Identify outcomes or problem statements

It can be tempting to begin a smart places journey with the question 'what uses can be found for technology X?'.

If you focus on certain technologies before taking the time to properly articulate the desired outcome, you may go down a path that doesn't deliver the expected value or impact.


It is better to have an outcomes-focus. To do this, you will need a deep understanding of place-based opportunities and challenges – and then seek technology solutions to address these.

To define outcomes, smart place practitioners can look to existing strategic plans or can define new outcomes to support strategic plans. You can use the customer outcome areas in the Smart Places Strategy to guide this process.

For example, strategic plans may earmark an area as a future health precinct, meaning people working and visiting this place would be coming and going 24 hours a day. One outcome we would need is a safe precinct after dark.


Customers at the centre:

Skills, Jobs and Development:
Smart Places grow knowledge capital of people and businesses in NSW to benefit from the transition of the global economy.

Collaboration and Connection:
Smart Places bring people, business and governments, their data and their service together in a seamless way.

Safety and Security:
Smart Places provide safer places for our people and increase our sense of security.

Health and Well-being:
Smart Places improve the quality of life and wellbeing for the people of NSW.

Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion:
Smart Places will improve physical and digital access for the people of NSW to participate in economic and civic life.

Environmental Quality:
Smart Places increase our sustainability by reducing emissions, resource consumption and environmental impacts.


The international standard ISO 37122 (Indicators for Smart Cities) has been adopted as an Australian standard and provides a range of outcome-based indicators that may be useful.


Alternatively, where there is a known problem to be addressed, problem statements may be more appropriate. A problem statement clearly articulates the gap between a current state and a desired future state and is formulated collaboratively with customers. This can be as simple as work-shopping a series of questions: 'who, what, why, when, where, how and how much', or capturing a customer journey.

This process is best done with customers, so don't forget to involve people from your community in this stage.

Resources for discovering outcomes or problem statements

Digital NSW research toolkit

The NSW offers the building blocks for creating user-centred digital services, as well as policy tools and guidance. While their suite of resources presumes a set product or service, many of the tools provided can help define outcomes and problems with customers.

NSW Smart Places Strategy

NSW Smart Places Strategy provides the range of outcomes that smart places can support, including environmental, social, and economic.

Human-Centred Design Kit

IDEO.ORG is a not-for-profit organisation that designed and launched a field guide for human-centred design kit in 2009, updated in 2015. A PDF download is available for free, or a hard copy can be purchased.

AS ISO 37122-2020 Sustainable Cities and Communities - Indicators for smart cities

The AS ISO 37122-2022 standard establishes indicators with definitions and methodologies to measure and consider aspects and practices that dramatically increase the pace at which cities improve their social, economic and environmental sustainability outcomes.

Digital equity in smart places

When you are using technology, digital and data solutions to better meet the needs of your communities, it is important that no one is left behind.

You need to proactively consider safeguards to ensure everyone can access new digital services, information and insights.

In communities across NSW and Australia, there is a gap often called the ‘digital divide’. This describes people who are fully able to use digital services or participate online and people who cannot.

Digital inequity, or the digital divide, causes disadvantage. This is because people who can’t get online readily can miss out on educational opportunities, government services, connections to their communities and families, and job opportunities.

Digital equity is impacted by three things:

  • access to digital connectivity, like mobile coverage, Wi-Fi or broadband, and access to a mobile device or computer
  • affordability of internet services and devices
  • the ability of individuals to use the internet and participate in an increasingly digital world.
  • to promote equitable smart places, we need tailored policies and programs addressing these three areas.

Who is often excluded

Groups in our community that are more at risk of being digitally excluded include:

  • multicultural communities
  • people with a disability
  • first nations’ peoples
  • people who are 65 and over
  • people with lower social and economic opportunity.

Additional support is required to address language barriers and assist individuals in adapting to new cultural settings. This includes providing guidance on navigating the various systems and structures – such as banking and government services – so they can go about their day-to-day and participate meaningfully in their community.

Efforts should be made to ensure that digital service design and information are accessible to all of the community, accommodating their unique needs and allowing them to fully engage with digital platforms.

Action should be taken to improve access to devices and reduce the financial barriers associated with connecting to digital services. This will help mitigate existing disadvantages and prevent further entrenchment of social and economic inequality.

Support and resources should be provided to people who have not grown up with technology. This will help them to engage with digital platforms and take advantage of the opportunities they offer.

Understanding digital equity in your place

By conducting targeted research, you can measure the depth of digital inequity in your community.

Armed with insights, you can then work with marginalised community groups to target programs and policies help them to participate.

As a starting point, you can benchmark the performance of your local government area in comparison to others, using the Australian Digital Inclusion Index.

Ideas for improving digital equity

Any interventions you consider should respond to the needs of your communities. Some ideas for addressing inequity include:

  • Providing access to connectivity in public places that are safe and accessible at different times of day.
  • Providing private places and quiet areas to use public Wi-Fi – so people can concentrate and use services online confidentially.
  • Sponsoring and supporting access to devices and mobile and broadband internet.
  • Providing in-community support to boost awareness of digital services and improve people’s skills to use them.

Resources: digital equity

Australian Digital Inclusion Index

The Australian Digital Inclusion Index tracks and reports on digital inclusion in Australia.

Smart Places Customer Charter

Apply the Smart Places Customer Charter to build trust and ensure inclusive design of smart places.

Closing the Gap

Find out more about the National Agreement and the relevant Target 17: By 2026, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have equal levels of digital inclusion.

NSW Connectivity Strategy

The NSW Telco Authority has developed the NSW Connectivity Strategy. The strategy will align and optimise state-wide programs and opportunities to ensure modern, high speed digital networks are available to all.

Digital.NSW: Beyond Digital

Read about NSW Government’s long term goals for digital capabilities at digital.nsw.

The Parks: Digital Equity and Inclusion Insights Program

Find out more about the work underway in The Parks, through the Digital Equity and Inclusion Office.

Building capability and further learning

Smart NSW Case Study Library

The Smart NSW Case Study Library is a resource showcasing great outcomes for people and places enabled by smart technology and data solutions. Visit the library to see examples of relevant projects in this discover stage. 

SmartNSW Masterclasses

The SmartNSW Masterclass series is building a confident, skilled public sector workforce, able to use technology and data as core business. Relevant sessions are highlighted below.

2023:Trust and tech in smart places

This masterclass helps place and precinct managers and councils to deliver smart solutions safely, ethically and transparently, growing community involvement and engagement.

Bridging the digital divide

This masterclass demonstrates how we can address the digital divide and create smart places that are inclusive, cohesive and provide opportunities for everyone to participate.

2021 Smart Places Masterclass Series

Co-hosted with the Australian Computer Society, this series explored core drivers in smart places.

Relevant sessions include:


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Defining a vision for smart places

Having clear direction in place is critical to driving forward Smart Place outcomes. Direction in this instance could be in the form of a smart place strategy or vision, or a more tangible smart place roadmap, or both.

If you are setting out a new strategy or plan for a place, or revising an existing one, you should explore the role of smart technology and include this in the new or updated local strategy.

The community engagement you do during strategy development can help you to identify opportunities and problem statements and consider the role of smart solutions in addressing these.

Within the context of Smart Places, the family of ISO 37100 standards are often considered the building blocks of creating sustainable or 'smart' cities and communities.

international standard ISO 37101:2016 – Sustainable development in communities – helps communities define their sustainable development goals and create a strategy to achieve them. Its focus is involving all interested parties in this process.

Resources to define a vision

ISO 37101:2016 - Sustainable development in communities

The ISO 371010:2016 flagship standard provides an overall framework for defining sustainable development objectives as well as a roadmap to achieving them.

Smart Cities Readiness Guide

Developed by the Smart Cities Council, the Readiness Guide offers place-owners a comprehensive guide on all things smart places, with particular relevance to industry verticals. While its value to the Smart Places Playbook stretches across all chapters, it is particularly valuable to place-owners from a planning standpoint. It is highly recommended that you use the Smart Cities Readiness Guide when developing the strategic direction for your Smart Place.

Understanding your authorising environment

Before you start identifying solutions for your place, you need to think through the approvals you will need in order to proceed.

These will be particular to your circumstance:

  • Where you work, or the organisation you are representing
  • Who owns the land and/or assets on the land
  • The scale and type of smart technologies you might explore
  • Funding you may need and its likely source/s.

You may need planning approvals, there may be legal requirements to consider, and regulatory sandboxes may also apply.

If you are working at a council, you may need Council approvals and may need some funding identified in annual budgets. In NSW Government, you may need Cabinet approval and assurance processes may be needed, such as the Infrastructure NSW Project Assurance gateways, or ICT Assurance.

At this stage you will not know the level of investment needed, so seek to find out delegations that apply and the thresholds for approval levels.

It is important to clarify the information required to support approvals – whether that be technical specifications, evidence of community support, project plans, funding sources or risk management plans.


Early engagement with project approvers will help you to identify their information needs and may help build support for initiatives early so your Design and Delivery phases go smoothly.

Provide and share feedback

  • Is the Playbook easy to use?
  • Is there information missing?
  • Send us case studies and tools that may be useful to others.
  • Share lessons you have learned that can benefit others.



Discover more about the Smart Places Playbook