Future Cities - Catapult
seoul, Datavore
Big data solves even the smallest grievances: Lessons from Seoul Big data solves even the smallest grievances: Lessons from Seoul

Data is an increasingly valuable economic asset, fuelling innovation and economic growth in cities. High-performing cities are finding ways to turn big data into smart data, and using this to improve services, policies and infrastructure in the city.

Seoul has used data to help resolve a number of city challenges. The city’s slogan is ‘Data solves even the smallest grievances’. Three of the city’s initiatives show how Seoul has used big data to work with businesses, generate new data sets, focus on value creation and built new internal capabilities.

Working with businesses to access datasets and generate solutions: Seoul’s Owl Buses

Seoul has sought to directly understand the community’s troubles and concerns using call records from the city’s information hotline and official blog which invites citizens to share their dissatisfactions. This revealed a frustration with the late-night taxi service which was considered to be too expensive and insufficiently available.

Seoul officials worked directly with a telecoms company, Korea Telecom, to design an innovative solution. Analysing the data of 3 billion late night phone calls, they mapped commuter hotspots and used this to design the bus route for Owl Buses, a new night bus service operating from midnight to 05:00.

By tracking usage, the city has been able to make improvements in the design of bus routes. The new service has been successful for Seoul: the night bus serves 5-10% more passengers than bus services running comparable routes. This has led to cost-savings for each passenger.

Encouraged by the early success of Owl Buses, the city is planning to leverage data for a range of new initiatives. For example, by analysing ten years of data containing information on road traffic, such as accident black spots, Seoul is looking to provide traffic forecasts by the hour and day.

Generating new data to solve city challenges: Seoul’s Taxi Matchmaking service

Cities are well placed for data-driven initiatives as they already collect a lot of data from school results to bus timetables and energy consumption levels. Now using sensors, even more data can be collected and analysed in real-time.

When Seoul found out that its citizens were struggling to hail cabs in busy areas at peak times, it decided to introduce the Public Transportation Card Data program. By enabling touch card payment with GPS technology for the city’s 25,000 taxis Seoul was able to collect real-time traffic information and map where people were getting in and out of taxis.

Using this data, and combining it with weather data, the city launched Taxi Matchmaking, a service which helps both citizens and taxi drivers find each other more easily by providing information on the best spots to get taxis at specific times.

Focusing on value: Seoul’s data driven citizen welfare planning

It is important that cities focus on the outcomes for citizens of data-driven initiatives they design.

The value creation goal was clear when Seoul turned to big data analytics to determine the best location for senior citizen welfare services. With an ageing population and lack of facilities for the senior citizens, the city chose to analyse the census records of its citizens aged 65 and over alongside data on income levels, the availability of existing welfare programs and their proximity to public transport services in each of the city’s administrative areas.

This information was used to develop an accurate distribution chart of senior people and to gain reliable information about welfare services needed by location and service type. As a result the city was able to better serve its senior citizens by fine-tuning existing programs and building welfare facilities in locations shown to be more appropriate.

Big data is also being used to help post promotional materials for social initiatives in the areas most relevant for their target demographics – helping the city to reach the people most in need.

Building new internal capabilities

The Seoul government has set about redesigning its organisational structure and processes to nurture its own innovation through its big data projects. It has trained employees in Data Planning and Operation Support and created a data collection and sharing platform. The city has also trained college graduates as Big Data Curators to formulate big data strategies around transportation, public welfare, economy, and culture, as well as support municipal institutions in developing data-driven policies.

Seoul is working to continuously improve the ‘Administration Innovation Through Big Data Project’. The process has been streamlined with a system to verify whether big data can be used to solve social challenges as they emerge. A new service, Seoul Open Data Plaza, aims to grow the number of data-driven initiatives and promote local business. The Plaza will release online all public information and the data produced by private businesses and affiliated institutions, which can be used to improve services and the quality of the life of its citizens.