Research Output
An investigation of smart transportation system (STS) data integration within Chinese cities: A socio-technical system perspective
  In March 2014, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council of China jointly released the National New-type Urbanization Plan (NUP) (20142020). Smart City development is one of the main objectives of this policy. Amongst many smart city domains, smart transportation systems (STS) are considered an important component that leverages information and communication technologies (ICT) to effectively improve urban transportation efficiency and address transportation-related urban pathologies. However, the state of play of the current STS is that various sub-systems are functionally and technically independent, with much of the data remaining in silos and being difficult to integrate due to varying socio-technical barriers. There has been very little research that looks at the potential for data integration solutions in STS from both social and technical aspects, particularly in the Chinese context. The aim of this research is to fill the gap.

The study aims to explore the challenges and opportunities for initiating a data-integrated smart transportation system application in the context of China’s new-type urbanisation from a socio-technical system perspective. To achieve this aim, this study adopted a qualitative, interpretative, single case study methodology. Data were collected in three successive phases. These research methods and phases were six focus groups with citizen end-users aged between 25 and 60 years old who use different means of transport, 15 semi-structured interviews with private STS enterprise experts holding various positions, and five semistructured interviews with government transportation agencies with various administrative responsibilities. All three stages of data collection were conducted in the case city of Shijiazhuang, Hebei, China. A thematic approach was used to analyse the research data from these sites.

The findings of this research are presented separately according to each of the three perspectives (i.e. citizen end-users, STS enterprises and government transportation agencies), then synthesised to develop a systemic understanding of the potential socio-technical challenges and opportunities that would occur if efforts to initiate a data-integrated STS application were initiated within the distinctive Chinese socio-political context. The study revealed that the current centralised, top-down political and legal systems determine that private sectors are constrained in co-creating STS initiatives with little self-autonomy under the partnership with government. The existing form of STS governmentality in Chinese cities is techno-political in nature, pro-business and technologically deterministic, overlooking grassroot societal demand and local contingencies. While citizens as end-users are encouraged to participate in building STS initiatives, they have rather limited roles in the initial design and decision-making process. Meanwhile, the study also found that potential opportunities reside in (1) the continuing effort to refashion the current organisational structure in both government and private sites in order to become more efficient in information dissemination and resource distribution; (2) building on the sector alliances and coordination mechanisms with more transparent and efficient channels for data governance and exchange; and (3) the growing marketisation and entrepreneurship with many urban indigenous business opportunities and good innovation conditions which stimulate economic competitiveness and diverseness of future initiatives. This study also develops a theoretical framework to visualise the factors influencing the successful design and implementation of future data-integrated STS initiatives in Chinese city context based upon these defined challenges and opportunities.

This study concludes by providing both theoretical and practical implications of initiating future STS solutions. It provides an enhanced theoretical understanding of using a sociotechnical approach to examine the challenges and opportunities that are likely to be faced with the initiation of future STS solutions. It also delivered practical guidance for smart city practitioners to initiate more citizen-engaged, value co-created and sustainable STS solutions.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    13 December 2020

  • Publication Status:


  • Funders:

    Historic Funder (pre-Worktribe)


Zhang, J. (2020). An investigation of smart transportation system (STS) data integration within Chinese cities: A socio-technical system perspective. (Thesis). University of Sheffield. Retrieved from



Smart transportation systems, smart city, socio-technical, citizen participation, Chinese urbanism, qualitative

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