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Proving the Value of City Data – The Man from Government’s View Proving the Value of City Data – The Man from Government’s View

A major part of my City Hall role is to promote the London Datastore, so you may be surprised that my opening statement is that we still have distance to travel before we fully prove the value of city data.

This is not to say that we do not do great things.  Transport for London’s record of using data to improve city mobility is well established.  The current trial of a direction giving app to help visually impaired people navigate the tube network is proof of this.  Nor is the London Datastore a dusty data sinecure.  The 35,000 unique visits per month indicate we are doing something right.

Guest Blog by;

Andrew Collinge

Assistant Director of the Greater London Authority

 

Proving the Value of City Data – The Man from Government’s View

A major part of my City Hall role is to promote the London Datastore, so you may be surprised that my opening statement is that we still have distance to travel before we fully prove the value of city data.

This is not to say that we do not do great things.  Transport for London’s record of using data to improve city mobility is well established.  The current trial of a direction giving app to help visually impaired people navigate the tube network is proof of this.  Nor is the London Datastore a dusty data sinecure.  The 35,000 unique visits per month indicate we are doing something right.

My point really is this: the potential to prove the value of data is only now becoming real; we do so by acting across all of culture, policy, technology and organisation.

Most importantly, in this period when so much policy is aimed at ‘the city’, we need to instil a new ‘city data’ mindset.  The London 2050 Infrastructure Plan makes the case for the modern, connected and digitised infrastructure required for London.  Underneath the necessary co-ordination across utilities, developers, the public and private sector, has to sit a mature approach to data sharing.  In vital areas like energy, enlightened minds in organisations like UK Power Networks are coming forward with huge tracts of data which we will use to answer questions around city energy management and consumer value.  Suddenly, ‘open data’ seems too narrow a pursuit; a thing of government only.

City government needs to force the pace on the regulation and legislation required to grow the data aspects of the smart cities market.  From utilities exercised by competition issues thrown up by the prospect of data sharing, to building trust around the sharing of personal data in areas like health, barriers to value creation need to be removed.

From a technical perspective, city government must support the open standards which will make meaningful data integration possible.  This will enable the interoperability of city infrastructure and utilities, which will in turn provide the platform for the new and truly exciting set of smart city services which can transform the way we live, work and travel in urban settings.  In anticipation of the move from near real-time to proper Internet of Things datastreams, we have placed a Hypercat wrapper around London Datastore.

Then of course, we need to very deliberately engage with the city data ecosystem which has developed so dramatically since the London Datastore’s original launch in 2010.  Yes, the Borough Data Partnership and forthcoming City Data Challenges to spur data-led innovation are valuable pursuits, but the astounding diversity of talented players on the pitch mean that more is required.

This premier league team of innovators – from data experts, to urban designers, behavioural scientists and city planners – needs to be asked more systematically what it can do with city data.  Setting out the early value case for data release in this way increases the chances of first, its release from parties often working to a different set of incentives than Government’s own and second, the proper exploitation of it.  This rather than simply following an open data publishing agenda focussed on quantity (and sometimes redundant datasets), rather than quality.

Nothing should be off limits in terms of exploration.  The only constraining factor should be that we know when to put the lid on the technology and data side of the discussion and always keep a keen eye trained on the end goal.  Simply put, this is to make practical and noticeable improvements to the lives of city dwellers as they live, work and travel and play.  Here lies much-needed political attention.

I have no doubt about the tremendous value of city data.  Let’s set about proving it.