Photo Credit: Catarina Belova

The Nimble Metropolis: Making Data Work for Cities

A Case Study of How Waze is Improving Mobility in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

At this year’s CityLab conference in London, the importance of technology and inclusion were themes that resonated across two days of packed sessions with global mayors and urban thinkers. In the kick-off session, moderated by the Aspen Institute’s Walter Isaacscon, Michael Bloomberg joined Mayor of London Boris Johnson as he unveiled Techmap.London. This new site, which provides an in-depth, data-driven picture of the science and technology sectors in London, reminded me a lot of the Made in NY Digital Jobs Map Mayor Bloomberg launched in 2012, underscoring the parallels between New York and London. Both are leading digital cities, and that has a lot to do with leadership who understands that technology plays a big part in the economic development and even the marketing and promotion of a city.

Techmap.London provides information on jobs and opportunities at science and technology companies across London. Along with street level mapping, the new site includes company profiles, sector and trend analysis. It serves as an in-depth snapshot of the thriving science and tech sector in London which, according to the new Techmap, includes 94,284 companies and employs over 700,000 people.

But London is far from the only city effectively using technology and digital platforms to inform and improve the lives of citizens. Rio de Janeiro, led by a Mayor who clearly understands and values innovation, is another great example. Mayor Eduardo Paes has empowered his team to experiment and imagine new ways for the city to use technology, including a public-private partnership with Waze that has quickly become the blueprint for a growing roster — 55 and counting — of cities around the world.

I had the chance to sit down with Chief Digital Officer for Rio de Janeiro, Pedro Peracio and Manager of the Waze Connected Citizens program, Paige Fitzgerald, at CityLab 2015 to learn more about their partnership.

In a clear sign of the ways technology continues to iterate, on the day of our conversation Waze launched a new version of their app with an easier to read map and a color-coded reporting system. What also continues to evolve is the way that Waze, a traffic navigation app acquired by Google in 2013, partners with cities in a unique no-cost model of data sharing. The simple underlying goal is to improve mobility for citizens using real-time data and analysis to address immediate and long-term traffic and congestion issues. What follows are highlights from our conversation.

Katherine Oliver (KO): I’m so excited to share with you an incredible case study, an example of how a city, Rio de Janeiro, is using technology to address an urban challenge — traffic — and how a private sector company — Waze — is working effectively with a municipality. Because of increased mobile connectivity, cities are now able to use user-generated information and real-time data to address traffic and congestion problems. It enables them to put out information that makes the quality of life more efficient and safer for both citizens and residents.

I’m a Waze user. I’m addicted and I can attest that it relieves stress, it makes you feel more confident whether you’re in a new city or in your hometown. You can use it to explore ways in which you never knew how you could get from point A to point B.

It’s with great pleasure that I introduce Paige Fitzgerald with Waze. It’s remarkable what Waze is doing with the city of Rio. I’ve known Pedro Peracio for a number of years, the Chief Digital Officer from Rio. We met in New York when I was working in the Bloomberg administration. Mayor Paes of Rio had created the position of Chief Digital Officer and hired Pedro. He came to New York and worked with us. We were quite proud to share what we were doing in New York. I’m humbled now after going to Rio to see not only what he is doing with the Chief Digital Officer role but how he is engaging and using initiatives like working with Waze to address some of the civic challenges that he’s facing.

So Paige, Pedro, how did this partnership begin? Take us back, this began in October two years ago?

Pedro Peracio (PP): Two years ago, yes. The Mayor’s always pushing me to bring something new with technology. He’s always saying to use Rio as a lab. Bring new technology and start-ups to work with us…So I got in contact with Waze. I went to their website, as simple as that, clicked in and started a conversation with the people from there. In less than one month we had signed an NDA and started exchanging our data.

KO: So Rio was the first city where you launched this program?

Paige Fitzgerald (PF): That’s right.

KO: And now you’re in 55 cities?

PF: That’s right. 55 cities, states and countries around the world.

KO: What is the criteria for selection? How do you typically go about working with partners? When Waze got the call from Rio, what were you thinking?

PF: We look for a couple different things. First of all we look for partners who have data that we don’t have access to. Particularly we’re looking for advance notice of road closures and construction. You can imagine if we navigate a user to a closed road, that’s a pretty negative user experience. So we recognize that working with government partners is really an opportunity for a win-win data exchange. We also look for a willingness to innovate. Can our partners take our data and really turn it into meaningful impact.

KO: Now Rio is gearing up for the Olympics. How are you using Waze to address some of the short term traffic challenges?

PP: We have a good team of engineers at the Center for Operations that know how to manage the data. We have the map of the city and we can merge a lot of information and with Waze we can have a lot of accurate information about the citizens so if any accidents happen, in real time we can take action more quickly. For us, during the Olympics or for day-by-day use, it’s good because we can see what’s happening and we can see what’s around and take action more quickly… We are already starting to do test events for the Olympics and we are working with Waze to give them all of the information, all of the road closures happening for the specific events. The Waze users can see that information in advance… We are starting a pin drop feature that will show all of the venues for the Olympics on the map so that people can start to interact and plan for the games.

PF: We are hoping to navigate our users who are visiting Rio for the first time as well as our large user base within Rio around those closures as they occur. One of the most interesting things I think you’re doing leading up to the Olympics is using our data to analyze potential rerouting of roads. So looking at how users report congestion as you reroute roads to make sure that you don’t increase that level of congestion.

KO: For a private sector company looking at addressing a civic challenge, this is an incredible opportunity for you. You’re developing your company, you’re building your company, you need users.

PF: Exactly. How we approach user growth is looking to develop the most accurate assessment of real-time conditions on the road. So we recognize that the data that our partners can provide supplements the incredible data that our users, our community of users all around the world, can provide in real-time.

KO: And is it ideal for short-term traffic challenges or are you using this as well for longer-term traffic problems?

PF: We’ve seen our partners do both. Our government partners can leverage this partnership to give us real-time closure information around major traffic events. We then close those roads on the map and reroute users around that closure, decreasing the associated congestion. We’ve also seen Rio lead the charge in really delving into the analysis of our data to inform those longer term strategic infrastructure decisions.

KO: Are you tracking trends in data aggregation and finding some consistencies with different cities? You’re in 55 cities now.

PF: Definitely, what we find to be one of the biggest problems to integrating data is that frequently the data sources are very fragmented. Many times cities don’t even know where the road closure data is or who has the most accurate data. We find that our partnership is frequently the impetus to aggregate those fragmented data streams and actually develop a data standard so that the different data can talk to each other. Data from one agency can talk to another agency and our government partners can start to explore additional public-private partnerships as well.

KO: What are the advantages of working with a Chief Digital Officer or a Chief Innovation Officer in a city? This is a relatively new role, what are the advantages in being able to go directly to one source?

PF: The biggest advantage is having someone to work with who has a willingness to innovate and who understands that data can be useful to real-time decisions and who has the authority to push through existing bureaucratic structure to actually implement this partnership. We approach our government partners saying we have free, publicly available user data to give you, in real-time. And having a Chief Digital Officer or a Chief Innovation Officer to interface with means that [the city is] actually willing to experiment with that data.

KO: What’s been your biggest surprise through this journey of two years of using Waze? What have you benefited the most from, were there some surprises?

PP: There was a case where we took down a viaduct in an area, it was a big project that would have a significant impact on the mobility of citizens and we were able to analyze the data from Waze how it was before and how it was after. The day after the viaduct was taken down people started going to social media to complain but we could see on the map on the data analysis that traffic was the same because we gave alternative routes. We could see that our strategy was working.

The development of Waze’s Connected Citizens program in Rio de Janeiro is a blueprint for a successful public-private partnership. From this model we can distill the key ingredients for success in any public-private endeavor:

· A commitment to innovation and new ideas, often under the guidance of one central position like a Chief Digital Officer, makes cities appealing partners for private companies.

· Private partners find value in the information cities have access to, and they can help add value to it. In exchange for access, a company’s technology can provide the platform for the city to analyze information and use it to inform real-time decision making and long-term planning that improves people’s lives.

· Developing a pilot partnership can reveal priority areas for improvement in the public sector. A successful public-private partnership can be the unifying call to action for streamlining government processes, in this case creating a data standard, that better position a city for future partnerships and greater impact.

Article a creative collaboration with Shaina Horowitz

About the Author: Katherine Oliver has long recognized the potential for media and technology to redefine the ways we communicate and foster the economic development of cities, citizens, and businesses. Guided by decades of experience in the private sector — where she launched and then managed Bloomberg LP’s international TV and radio operations — and the public sector — where for 12 years she served under Mayor Michael Bloomberg as New York City’s Commissioner of Media and Entertainment — Katherine is a founding principal of Bloomberg Associates, a New York-based consulting firm, through which she provides media and technology consulting services to cities worldwide.

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