5 ways cities can use data to drive outcomes for citizens

Written by Florence Broderick.

The buzz around Big Data may have moved to Cryptocurrencies and Artificial Intelligence in 2017, but it doesn’t change the fact that the potential of data for many organizations in the public sector is still unrealized. 80% of the data generated by connected devices (such as smartphones, wearables or vehicles) has a location element, yet only 10% of it is being used in decision-making.

A growing number of forward-thinking cities such as New York, Amsterdam and London are appointing Chief Digital or Data officers to harness the power of technology (and its data exhaust) to drive better governance and urban services. However, moving from small scale innovation projects to break free from the handcuffs of legacy and electoral cycles is no mean feat.

Working at one of the world’s leading Location Intelligence software companies (CARTO), I’ve seen some incredible use cases defined by cities who are able to recognize the ROI hidden in the data generated by their citizens. Here are five compelling examples from across the globe which can help to drastically improve governance and urban services:

1) Milan: crowdsourcing sustainable mobility insights

An Italian start-up called WeCity is working with local governments to encourage citizens to leave their cars at home and use public transport or bicycles instead. Their mobile app allows

cyclists in major cities, such as Milan and Rome, to rate roads by safety, crowdsourcing information to calculate an Urban Cyclability Index. In turn, this provides insights to local traffic authorities and planning departments to define new bus routes, build cycle lanes or pedestrianize certain streets.

2) New York: planning against climate change

The Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency is implementing a $20bn resiliency program called OneNYC, aiming to reduce the risk that climate change poses to the city. As well as investing in planning and policy studies, the project also uses data about extreme weather conditions, rising sea levels and floodplains to predict how the city’s topography will change over time — enabling officials to make data-driven decisions about infrastructure and construction.

3) New Delhi: predicting the future of policing

This Delhi crime map brings together data on population, socioeconomic status, reported crimes and police personnel across the city to calculate a crime index. Although this is a citizen initiative, it provides unique insights for planning new police station locations as well as guiding police officer deployment.

4) Boston: cleaning up the city with Open Data

Analyze Boston is the City of Boston’s Open Data hub, and by sharing data sets publicly on their website, hundreds of projects emerge each month from citizens providing new insights to decision-makers. A great example of this is Trash City, which uses code enforcement violations, 311 service requests and crime reports to demonstrate the impact of student “moving week”. It’s not always easy for cities to plan waste management, but projects like this help to inspire local governments to use more data when planning waste collection routes, additional policing and cleaning services.

5) London: gauging tourist sentiment with Airbnb data

Businesses in cities such as London, Paris and Barcelona rely on their local governments to ensure that tourism is thriving. Measuring the economic impact of local and foreign visitors and understanding their behaviour has become much easier with transactional data from banks and mobile event data from telecommunications companies becoming more accessible. Airbnb is also playing its part by sharing data via their Inside Airbnb platform. In this example, Beñat Arregi has analyzed neighborhood rating data across the city of London, which could help to influence decisions around where to place BIDs, festivals or events.

These are just 5 examples of thousands of projects in cities all over the world — but they clearly show the potential of data as a driver for smarter decision-making, whether it comes from inside our local governments or directly from citizens themselves via Open Data projects.

The fact that everything is now “sensorized” and we as humans are constantly connected is a game changer — not just allowing local governments to analyze what happened in the past, but also to predict what will happen in the future. Whether it’s overpopulation, climate change or public safety — data can answer some of the most difficult questions, it’s just about putting it in the hands of the right people.

Florence Broderick leads Solutions Marketing at CARTO, a Location Intelligence company headquartered in New York and backed by Accel and Salesforce. She previously worked for 4 years at Telefónica, attending two One Young World Summits in Ireland and Canada to discuss her work in Data for Social Good at LUCA — the telco’s specialist Big Data unit.