During a meeting with the Council for Strategic Development and Priority Projects held in the Kremlin on July 5, President Vladimir Putin praised Moscow for taking the top three positions in a ranking of the world’s “data driven” mega-cities.
“Moscow is among the world leaders in the use of digital technologies in modern urban infrastructure, ahead of such mega-cities like Toronto, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Barcelona and Sydney. By the way, in certain aspects of the index, Moscow is among the top three: digital services in the interactions between the state and the citizens – actually first place, simply first place in the world,” Putin said.
Although the Russian leader did not specify which ranking he was referring to, it seems that he was citing a report by the Moscow branch of the British consulting company PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), released last week.
The Russian-language PwC-Russia report is headlined: “The future is near: an index of cities’ preparedness.” It places Moscow in the top position among the world’s mega-cities, ahead of London, New York, Hong Kong and Toronto.
According to PwC-Russia, Moscow is in first place when it comes to “virtual services,” second place when it comes to “infrastructure readiness,” and third place in terms of both “digital economy” and “open adaptive education.”
Still, Moscow won only fifth place in the overall ranking, with Singapore in first place, followed by London, Shanghai and New York City.
There are however, several red flags in the report itself, as well as in the background of the PwC office in Russia.
First of all, every page of the Russian-language version of the PwC report that includes any sort of ranking has a footnote which reads: “The information is in the process of verification.” That means the findings were inconclusive, or that the company decided to leave open a window for flexibility. Both possibilities, according to the experts consulted by Polygraph.info, undermine the objectivity and authority of the report.
Secondly, the English version of the same report, which is headlined “Data-driven city,” is significantly different from the Russian version, both in terms of their structure and their findings.
The English version uses different evaluation categories than the Russian one, making it impossible to compare their respective rankings. Moreover, unlike the Russian version, the English version includes no ranking charts, which raises further doubts regarding the “verification” footnotes in the Russian report.
PwC explained that in comparing the cities around the world, the company used various sources of information, including the city governments' own press releases.
In the charts comparing the cities “by the results of the semantic analysis” (pages 8-9), Moscow stands among cities with a disproportionally large “pink ball” – where pink indicates that PwC has relied primarily on city government press releases for its analysis, while in the cases of other cities, “red” and “orange” balls are significantly larger than the pink ones. In the study, “red” stands for “technology news” and “orange” stands for “scientific articles.” This again raises questions about the accuracy of a ranking conducted with such an unequal representation of data.
Thirdly, according to the Moscow city government’s website, PwC is a government contractor involved in a 129.5 million ruble ($2.1 million) program called Moscow’s Strategy for Socio-Economic Development. The project was launched in 2011 and is scheduled to run until 2025.
PwC-Russia is reportedly involved in multiple other government contracts, including the one reached in 1995 with the government-owned gas and oil giant Gazprom.
Meanwhile, other internationally recognized Independent rankings of world cities have had results that are not so flattering for Moscow.
The Business Insider’s 2016 ranking of the 25 most high-tech cities in the world placed Moscow in 16th place.
On the other hand, the 2017 Quality of Living City Rankings by Mercer, the world's largest human resources consulting firm, which ranked 450 of the world’s cities, put Moscow in 168th place.
Mercer applied most of the criteria used by PwC-Russia in its own rankings, which placed Moscow in the top three positions in the world.