Smart cities powered by data part 1: Smart governance

14.01.2022
Opendatasoft
Opinion

In the next thirty years, approximately 68% of the world population will be living in cities, according to the UN. To accommodate the rapidly-expanding urban population, cities need to act quickly to anticipate and overcome considerable challenges in many areas, including health and safety, environment, energy, water, electric utility, waste management, transportation and mobility, and service delivery. 

To meet the ever-growing needs of citizens, many have turned to the concept of a “smart city” as the ultimate solution to this immense question. But what exactly is a smart city? Some might link it to IoT (Internet of Things) and connected devices, while others might imagine intelligent infrastructure on the city streets. Regardless of the nature of the projects, a smart city is first and foremost a connected city, powered by data sharing among various stakeholders, city service providers, government administrators, and citizens.

Whether the goal is to enable an intelligent product or service, to achieve transparency with governance and performance, or to enhance territorial attractiveness, it is imperative to have a secure platform to collect reliable data and share them among stakeholders and the community.

What can open data do for the future of smart cities? In this first piece of the series: Smart cities powered by data, Opendatasoft breaks down the question for smart governance and illustrates the role of data with tangible, real-life examples.

Transparency, political accountability and trust

For elected city officials, the most important way to establish political accountability and gain citizen trust is through transparency. To achieve transparency not only requires the availability of information, but also calls for a level of openness and accessibility - there needs to be an information platform that is easy to access, use, manipulate, visualise, and share. This is why many elected governments have turned to open data to establish their legitimacy in a transparent smart city.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has been serving the city since 2014. After her election, she and her team created an open data portal that clearly tracks and visualises the progress they have made on policy areas like housing, mobility, ecology, and taxes. The dashboard on the open data portal of the City of Paris helps her team communicate with constituents directly on how they are delivering Hidalgo’s campaign promises. 

Mexico experienced one of the largest election days in 2018, where the opposition candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador won by a landslide margin, breaking the tradition of a PRI² (Institutional Revolutionary Party) win for almost a hundred years. The new government needed to quickly establish legitimacy and gain trust post-election through transparency. The Mexico City Open Data Portal was created in 2018, with the objective of “building a city of transparent windows and open doors”. Since then, the government has opened 185 datasets available for download and visualisation.

Open data doesn’t only apply to mega cities like Paris and Mexico City. Small to medium cities have also taken on smart city projects via open data. Gijon, Spain, published their budget data in response to citizens’ demand for transparency. Umeå, Sweden, opened their data portal and shared energy consumption data with the citizens. The French city of Bordeaux and the English city of Leicester have also opened their data portal with the transparency objectives.

The digital transformation has ushered in a new reality for smart cities, regardless of city size: citizens want relevant information to be simple to understand and easy to access. An open data portal is the quickest and simplest way to communicate information with constituents and establish political accountability.

Efficient administration and speedy services

The cities of the future will be efficient, sustainable, and smart. For city administrators, this means providing speedy services for constituents, monitoring their efficiency, and improving underperforming areas. To achieve these objectives, many cities around the world have turned to creating an open data portal to communicate their progress with citizens. In the long term, a public portal can showcase service performance and improve administration efficiency.

The city of Vancouver opened their data portal VanDashboard to showcase performance data of the city services. With six categories of indicators in service delivery, housing, climate change, finance, equality, and culture, the portal is a key way to communicate how well the city is serving its community in different areas, like “medical incident response time” and “homelessness services clients.” The dashboard allows intuitive visualizations for citizens to see which areas are meeting targets and what areas need improvement.

The French city of Angers has gone one step further in creating an App based on its data portal “Living in Angers”. It not only provides information on existing services, but also provides real-time data on car park occupancy, meal menu of each school, air quality, and public transport timetables. 

In addition to traditional city service delivery, there are various innovative ways that cities can use an information portal. The city of Paris dedicated a portal called “smart implantation” for people who want to set up businesses in Paris. With all the resources available in one place, the city easily facilitates business owners in the process of moving and opening shops. Bordeaux also set up a chatbot that helps citizens with waste management.

From these examples, it is easy to see that a smart city is not a futuristic concept with complex technologies. Cities of any size can benefit from creating an open data portal with just a handful of datasets. To make a city smart, the key is to think about the needs of the people, provide efficient services, and encourage practical innovations.

Health and safety

To keep the community healthy and safe, cities need to have reliable metrics and long-term monitoring mechanisms to quickly expose potential risks. Because of this, having a trustworthy, open database that collects relevant data and keeps track of incidents is vital. With open data, cities can protect their citizens from crime, violence, drug epidemics, and emergency events.

The town of Cary, North Carolina, is fighting the opioid drug crisis with open data. Town staff took an innovative approach and used sewage water sampling to detect opioid consumption. The data is then shared openly on their data portal for researchers, citizens, and public officials in order to raise awareness and help combat the crisis.

In addition to everyday monitoring, emergency assistance and disaster management can also benefit from open data. The Australian city of Kingston is developing a Housing Assistance and Emergency Shelter data, a crucial first step in helping the urban poor. Civic tech organisations like One Concern Inc. and Ushahidi are using open data to map out earthquakes.

Open data sharing is especially important during a health crisis. Digital contact tracing has largely helped to slow down the spread in East Asia. At the same time, worldwide real-time hospital data on numbers of hospitalised and intensive care patients is helping public authorities adapt their strategies to the constant evolving situation. 

“The effective sharing of data has powered initiatives across a myriad of pandemic responses, from tracking the spread of the virus, to understanding the disease and developing treatments.” — Anthony Cook, Regional Vice President, Microsoft Asia

Internal connectivity and sharing

Internal silos not only plague businesses, but also hinder administration efficiency. An “information silo” occurs when information is not effectively shared among departments within an organisation. And that can be extremely challenging for city administrators, who often have to sift through lengthy annexes to find the information they needed - outdated information management systems can no longer fulfill the needs of smart city-building. Having a data portal for instant sharing can help break down internal silos and make use of untapped resources and knowledge across departments.

Often, the primary users of the data are the team members. France’s city of Bordeaux created a number of services for city residents, including mobile app, chatbot, website, etc. “It is essential that all our channels deliver the same information,” commented Yann, Bordeaux’s Innovation Project Lead. Having a shared, internal data portal ensures that all team members are on the same page and can easily update information within the organisation.

Internal sharing not only benefits within the organisation, but it can also be used to share information between collaborators. For example, eight city councils in Western Sydney are launching their open data portals. In addition to helping each city council internally, the portals will allow information sharing across the councils, enabling a regional synergy and connectivity that would have been possible without open data.

For future smart cities, administrators should no longer rely on outdated office software for information sharing. Having an internal sharing portal is a crucial first step to make sure that all the information is available in one place and easily accessible for all departments.

About the author

Opendatasoft was designed to give people access to business-ready data when they need it. Organisations of every size — from new startups to public companies — use the Opendatasoft data sharing solution to access, reuse, and share data that grows business. By making innovative and intuitive data sharing solutions, Opendatasoft empowers people to collaborate around data.

This article was originally published by Opendatasoft. Access the original here.

Smart cities powered by data part 1: Smart governance
Image credit:
2017, Marc-Olivier Jodoin via Unsplash

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