Research summary: Using data to improve life for city residents

Creating user-friendly websites where citizens can highlight glitches in city services can help generate solutions, a new research study suggests. Susie Sell reports.

Boston used crowdsourced data to repair suncken manhole covers across the city [Pic credit: Bert Kaufmann via Flickr]
Boston used crowdsourced data to repair suncken manhole covers across the city [Pic credit: Bert Kaufmann via Flickr]

The report by UK innovation agency Nesta looks out how to successfully develop initiatives that use data to improve the lives of city residents - so-called Smart City projects. A selection of tips is included here.

Make decision-making a collaborative process
The report says city governments should seek to make use of the collective thinking of citizens. One option is to create user-friendly websites to allow residents to feed into the planning process, it says. It adds that an initiative in Rejkjavik, Iceland, has created a website that allows citizens to post, debate and vote on ideas about how the city could be improved. Another option is to allow citizens to decide how a percentage of a city’s budget is spent, it says. It adds that the ‘Madame Mayor, I have an idea’ initiative developed by Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, aims to spend €500 million between 2014 and 2020 on projects that have been suggested by citizens.

Crowdsource data collection
Crowdsourcing can allow government to save money on data collection, the report says, although it cautions that collecting data in this way can lead to an incomplete picture of the city as the most affluent, educated and connected residents are more likely to be engaged. But it highlights how such data can still be useful, outlining that, in Boston in the United States, a smartphone app automatically collects data when a vehicle drives over a bump in the road. It was originally intended that this information would be used to indentify potholes, the report says. But in the end it was used to identify the location of sunken manhole covers, after these were found to be the likely cause of many of the bumps.

Improve digital capabilities
Unless data is interpreted correctly, there is a risk that smart city initiatives could be undermined.
City governments should therefore ensure training is provided to staff so they have a good understanding of how to handle data, it adds. Data specialists should also be employed, it says. At the same time, it is important that the digital skills of citizens are improved, it adds. It says the Singaporean government, for example, runs "hackathons" to encourage people to take part in data collection and analysis.

Rethinking smart cities from the ground up can be found here.

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