16 Oct 2015

Open data in European cities


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Open data has become an opportunity for European cities to promote growth and encourage innovation among local businesses and small and medium-sized enterprises. As part of the EU Open days in Brussels, OrganiCity partner Future Cities Catapult along with Bristol City Council hosted a workshop where representatives of Bristol (United Kingdom), Amsterdam (Netherlands), Tampere (Finland) and Carbon Visuals presented tangible good practices in this field. Together, they analysed how cities across Europe use data to upgrade and stimulate local services and the potential economic growth that emerges from the collaboration between cities and entrepreneurs.

The current developments in smart cities, urban platforms and data by the European Comission were represented by Policy Advisor at DG CONNECT (Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content & Technology) Cristobal Irazoqui. Irazoqui talked about the digital single free market that established policies for the free flow of data; smart grids towards a data management platform, and the European Innovation Partnership on smart cities and communities. He pointed at some of the challenges for an open urban platform: poor communication between systems, lack of openness and interoperability and the difficulty in data collection, access, use and re-use.

The European Commission is particularly interested in whether cities can define typical use cases for smart city solutions which are common to many cities, whether anonymous data can be the silver bullet for smart grids, and whether big and open data is the solution for mobility issues. These are some of the aspects OrganiCity is examining through by establishing experimentation using urban data as a core service for citizens.

Stephen Hilton, the Director of Bristol Futures, spoke about how Bristol, as the current European Green Capital, a Rockefeller Resilient City and a UK Future City Demonstrator, showcases economic, environmental, efficiency and transparency drivers and opportunities. Hilton explained Bristol’s open data journey around the 4Es: enable (provide the platform and set standards), engage (reach out to data owners and the data user community), encourage (lead by example and celebrate innovation) and embed (underpin with policy, systems, infrastructure and skills). Bristol is an open city creating an Internet of Things infrastructure and an open programmable city region.

The representative of Amsterdam city council, Katalin Gallyas (Open Innovation Policy Advisor) touched upon the city’s open source future and citizen-driven public Information & Communications Technology. She emphasised the need for international intelligence networks for open data and city’s active engagement with examples such as the Open Data Institute and the initiative for Open and Agile Smart Cities.

In Amsterdam, hackathons and open data are popular sources to tackle issues around tourism and transport. So far their collaboration with New York City has brought Change by Us a crowd sourced platform to enable collaborations between citizens, city leaders, welfare organizations, housing corporations and government. In Katalin’s vision, open data should be treated as an open source in the cloud so that people can copy, share, use, and redevelop it.

This vision was complemented by, Jari Jokinen (Development Manager from Tampere Region Economic Development Agency in Finland) who believes that open data is dynamic; it requires public-private partnerships; must be driven by regional, national and international co-operation; and will link similar ecosystems nationally and globally.

As part of a national spearhead project with open data, Tampere has identified a need for research and development to develop on national and international levels, as well as advanced demonstration sites and partners in the city.

To understand how small and medium enterprises use and implement data in these cities, Antony Turner (CEO) and Adam Nieman (Creative Director) from Carbon Visuals, focused on projects with audiences that distrust data. They make abstract data representations into visuals that feel real in order to engage citizens using measures they can physically relate to (for example, the volume of air they breathe daily). They believe that open data needs to engage the broadest audience possible.

Precious ozone: the climate connection from Carbon Visuals on Vimeo.

There was also a lively panel debate among the speakers about deriving value from anonymous data and sharing this value between city authorities and citizens. This progression must involve clear communication and collaboration. Together with the audience, the panelists came to a conclusion that it is important to identify what citizens and businesses need first and then communicate their needs to the stakeholders involved.

After the panel discussion, the audience broke out into group discussions; these revealed a need to share procurement and knowledge with businesses regarding city data. Likewise, there are different levels of maturity of a project in cities, so authorities need to step up as the European Commission has, and help cities accordingly.

The shared conclusions across panelists and audience were that businesses, citizens or cities do not always know where to start to work with the data; there is so much data available that stakeholders needs to be encouraged to make the best use of it (including government) and that a single platform at European level to store this data would encourage collaboration and best practices.

OrganiCity hopes to encourage businesses and citizens across Europe to learn more, and to make a start with urban data, by providing an experimentation platform for many different levels of expertise.


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