Open Cities Summit 2016 — A Summary

Earlier last month, I got an amazing opportunity to attend the International Open Data Conference in Madrid. As part of the conference, there was a pre-conference event called Open Cities Summit that aimed at understanding how cities and citizens are implementing open data solutions to improve the lives of city-dwellers. The speakers also covered sector-specific case studies around environment, inclusion, culture and other aspects that can be talked about in the context of Open Cities. This experience report covers my learning from the conference and certain pointers around Open Cities that you may find useful.

Before I start with the summary of the summit, I would like to call out that I loved the fact that it was named the “Open Cities Summit” and not the “Smart Cities Summit”. I am not against the idea of Smart Cities. But I would put my money on Open Cities for the fact that they stand for a better inclusion, openness and more involvement from citizen’s front. Open Cities are based on the fundamental understanding of having open datasets for building innovative solutions for urban planning and resilience. The concept of Open Cities emphasizes on the idea of citizens, and not just technology, being at the core of all of these efforts.

According to International Open Data Conference Roadmap 2015, “Open data secures space for citizen-driven development and greater collaboration between officials and outside actors. This can build open cities that adapt to meet the needs of their communities and businesses, rather than imposing top-down structures and solutions

The concept of Open Cities, to say at the least, is worth exploring and as technologists, needless to say, we have infinite number of ways to contribute in. Do check out Open Cities Project and Open City Apps if you want to explore more around the topic.

Now, moving on to the actual conference report, below are some of the notes around the sessions and talks I attended.

Keynote by Amen Ra Mashariki, Chief Analytics Officer of New York City

The day started with a keynote by Amen Ra Mashariki who is currently serving as the Chief Analytics Officer of New York City. He talked about how he and his team have been using data to solve some critical issues in New York City. He discussed how they have made a deliberate effort towards bringing in New Yorkers in solving these issues. He mentioned New York City’s Open Data Law according to which, by 2018, all data that they have been collecting should be made open and public to New Yorkers. He also mentioned New York’s Open Data for All, an effort to establish NYC’s vision to deliver on the promise of the NYC Open Data initiative to the benefit of all New Yorkers. As a case study, he talked about a hack-a-thon that NYC Mayor’s Office of Technology + Innovation and NYC Open Data jointly organized where the participants mapped every single street tree in NYC. As expected, a talk on New York City and Data (from a New Yorker) couldn’t have been complete without the mention of iQuantNY blog by Ben Wellington! More details on his keynote can be found on ICTlogy blog by Ismael Pena-Lopez.

City leaders panel

Moderator:Alex Howard, Sunlight Foundation, What Works Cities initiative


María Jesús Ruiz, City of Zaragoza (Spain)
Stephane Contre, City of Edmonton (Canada)
Nicola Graham, City of Dublin (Ireland)
Juan Prada, City of Montevideo (Uruguay)

Next up was a city leaders panel on local issues and open data solutions, lessons learned, and setting short and long terms priorities. The panelist from Zaragoza (a city that is often quoted in the world of Open Data because of its diligent and sincere efforts towards building an efficient open data ecosystem), Edmonton, Dublin and Montevideo shared open data stories from their respective regions. The most noticeable was Uruguay’s Open Data Portal through which the government of Uruguay open-sourced not only their data, but also algorithms, APIs and services. Stephane Contre from the City of Edmonton, Canada mentioned their Analytics Centre of Excellence that currently hosts over 1000 open datasets for the citizens to use. More notes from this panel can be accessed on ICTlogy blog.

Expert panel on what is an open city: emerging trends, scaling opportunities, strengthening networks.

Moderator: Antonio Moneo-Laín, Inter-American Development Bank


  1. Barbara Ubaldi, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development
  2. Dinand Tinholt, European Data Portal
  3. Stephen Larrick, Sunlight Foundation
  4. Jean-Noé Landry, Open North

Next on the agenda was an expert panel on what is an open city and what are some of the emerging trends, scaling opportunities and strengthening networks.

The first question was for Barbara Ubaldi. She was asked to describe why the relationship between open data and cities is so important? For this she gave three reasons:

  • Strengthening public governance
  • Transitioning from user-centered perspective to user-driven perspective
  • Exploring what all can happen at local level?

The question for Dinand Tinholt was “What are some of the challenges and why hasn’t it been publicly accepted?”, to which he answered:

  • Resilience community isn’t connected to open data community but open data community has insights into resilience issues and this presents infinite opportunities for us. As a reference, he pointed to Rockefeller Foundation’s definition of resilient cities.
  • Smart city infrastructure isn’t always open. How do we solve this challenge?
  • Capacity-building issues
  • What sort of standards do we want to socialise so that we react quickly to conditions? How do we really solve resilience issues?
  • Divide between global south and global north doesn’t exist so much with cities. In fact, global south is leap-frogging and setting some great examples!

On the same topic, Stephen Larrick said:

  • Cities are peer-driven
  • Cities are generally risk-averse
  • We do not just need open data but open ideas and open solutions and that helps scaling.

Providing his own inputs, Dinand Tinholt said:

  • We must liberate data
  • Data poverty” and “Data health” are related and are two of the key issues.
  • Find comparisons and values across countries, across languages, across alphabets

There was also a mention of European data portal which is a single point access to data of all European institutions, agencies and bodies for anyone to use.

Some of the other points during this panel discussion were:

  • Ethos: engage citizens in decentralising and democratising open data to obtain much better results
  • France and Mexico have taken initiatives engaging citizens in decision-making
  • Mexico has been crowd-sourcing ideas and data for social problems
  • Banks, car companies and manufacturers, and “non-sexy companies” haven’t yet realized the power of open data. Imagine if they do, how useful that could be!
  • Panels should be filled by not just data folks, but citizen advocates, city-dwellers who happen to use data
  • No excuse of prioritization of data. It is fair to assume that everything is going to be open in next 5 years!
  • Don’t talk about data to communities but talk about problems to connect better
  • Lack of proper Open Data Standards is still the biggest challenge
  • Open Data Charter has to be adopted (and refined, if need be)

More notes on this panel discussion can be found here.

Pecha Kucha: Public presentation of the eight projects developed along Visualizar’16 international workshop at Medialab-Prado (26 September — 5 October) presented by José Luis de Vicente.

A quick description of all the projects can be found in this blog.

  • staDAtus: A way to escape the desert of knowledge

The presentation started with the mention of three main actors in open data — lawmakers, public institutions and citizens. This project is an effort towards bringing transparency into research and data used for the open data portals. The project’s slides can be found here and github repository here.

  • urBside-art

This is a project aimed at connecting citizens to urban art. It also focusses on creating awareness around the massive amounts of waste that city-dwellers produce in our day-to-day lives. The presentation of this pecha-kucha can be found here.

  • MiMuseo

Quite an interesting project on monitoring behaviours of visitors in museum. They used IndoorAtlas for tracking and Wikitude for Augmented Reality. This project aimed at suggesting assortment for museums and the way activities should be planned inside these museums.

  • FAB city dashboard from FAB lab Barcelona

The central theme of this project was “local production and global connection”. It suggests a resilient, urban model for citizens. More details can be found at FAB City’s website. There was also a mention of MAKE-IT, the platform for Maker movement.

  • liQen

This project aims at mapping micro-conflicts through people experiences. More details can be found here.

  • Gala

A super cool project indeed! The goal of this project is to visualize the concerts happening all over the world as a galaxy/constellation according to musical gender. The data was obtained from The project video can be found on vimeo.

  • Open Referral

This project is aimed at developing data standards and open platforms that make it easy to share and find information about community resources. More info can be found here. During the summit, I was very fortunate to meet Greg Bloom who leads the Open Referral Initiative. I spent some time discussing with him the nuances of open data in the health care space and its implications towards public health. Definitely someone to keep in our radar.

  • Apps4Citizens

This is an effort towards creating a more just and egalitarian platform of techno-social initiatives to empower citizens. The project puts an equal emphasis on platforms for the tech-savvy audience as well as platforms for the activists who need much simpler and usable platforms. Details on this project can be found here.

ICTlogy also has a brief description of all these pecha-kuchas.

  • Ideathon workshops

The last thing on the agenda were facilitated ideathon workshops where the Open Cities Summit participants had to breakout into groups to find innovative solutions to highlighted challenges by thematic areas.

There were 8 different thematic areas for these workshops:

Theme 1: Open data portals and engagement mechanisms. Dinand Tinholt, European Data Portal

Theme 2: Adopting the Open Data Charter. Ana Brandusescu and Olivia Davies, WebFoundation

Theme 3: Competitiveness and economic development. Laura Manley, Center for Open Data Enterprise

Theme 4: Smart and resilient cities. Richard Gevers, Open Data Durban (South Africa)

Theme 5: Interdisciplinary collaboration and organizational change. Katelyn Rogers, Open Knowledge Foundation and Eric Reese, Johns Hopkins University

Theme 6: Fiscal transparency. Sierra Ramirez, OpenContracting

Theme 7: Making city services accessible. Greg Bloom, Open Referral Initiative

Theme 8: Standards and interoperability. Oscar Corcho, Spanish Government and Nico Tillie, World Council on City Data

I was a part of Theme 5 (Interdisciplinary collaboration and organizational change) discussion group.

ICTlogy has a great summary of the key takeaways from all these ideathon groups.

Overall, it was an amazing experience, meeting so many passionate people and learning about what they have been doing in their respective areas. I am still learning and events like these continue to give me more and more inspiration.