How Big Data Can Help Local Economies Thrive

Tremendous benefits follow from having a highly specialized and localized economy. Knowledge spillover, easy access to a skilled talent pool, and a shortening of distance between producer and consumer creates a cycle that looks like this:

A region becomes world-renowned in a given industry talent is then drawn to that region top talent then produces the best productfurther establishing the region as world renowned etc.

Silicon Valley is just a recent example. In 2015, it was reported that the Silicon Valley innovation economy created 23 new billionaires that year alone. The state of California has more people worth 10 figures than any other *country* in the world, other than the US and China.

The more effectively cities leverage local resources, the more beneficial it is for the local economy. It’s also a direct way to improve the economy at a macro level — there’s a reason you’re supposed to put on your own oxygen mask on an airplane before helping anyone else. The best things cities can do, both for their local communities and the economy in general, is focus on becoming more self-sufficient.

And there are two words that can help get them there: Big Data.

How big data can help

We all generate a lot of data every day. With the rise of IoT, everything is becoming connected to the internet. If local government agencies can more effectively aggregate, analyze, share and act upon this data —then these insights can be used to empower and better serve the local community.

Unfortunately, governments often favor global corporations over small businesses and local citizens trying to make a living. But urban centers come alive when governing bodies care more intently about their constituents. Helena Norberg-Hodge, winner of the 2012 Goi Peace Prize, writes:

All around the world a movement is emerging for structural change — rebuilding local economies that provide truly meaningful work. Localisation is essentially a process of de-centralisation — shifting economic activity into the hands of millions of small- and medium-sized businesses instead of concentrating it in fewer and fewer mega-corporations. Localisation means communities would become more self-reliant — striking a balance between trade and local production by diversifying economic activity and shortening the distance between producers and consumers wherever possible.

This is extremely powerful. And if you’re not convinced about big data’s role in helping local economies thrive, recognize that Google and Facebook use data as their lifeblood. Google Search, YouTube, Gmail — all of these services offered for free, in exchange for your information.

Big data has tremendous value even if you don’t realize it.

Local municipalities need to start thinking of government as a service and all of the local citizenry as its user-base. Establishing new communications models between the real world and local governments will lead to massively improved services born out of new, actionable insight. This is what it means to have a true symbiotic relationship between technology and ecology.

Potential Benefits of Harnessing Big Data

  • Taxes could be lowered in exchange for public data contributions. Say it out loud: MY DATA HAS VALUE. Companies are profiting from it every. single. day. It’s about time that our local government used it to improve the lives of its taxpayers.
  • Small businesses could have better analytics on their consumers. How many people walk past this street on Sunday mornings? What is the most common age? How many are men vs. women? This will empower local businesses to make better decisions.
  • Public transportation systems could be revolutionized. We’re booking bus tickets on one website, hailing a cab for the final mile on another, and none of these services are talking to one another. In a well-connected city, these various apps and services are consolidated for the end user who wants one motion to get from point A to point B. And if we are going to put driverless cars on the road at scale, then we need intelligent cities that can process and act upon data in real-time.
  • Emergency services can be alerted and dispatched faster than ever. The smart alarm detects smoke, automatically notifies the fire department, a truck is dispatched with clear roads due to syncing traffic lights, etc.

These are just a handful of examples. If you decide to comment , I would love to see other examples of how big data can potentially improve your city. Here at, we are striving to move cities from being reactive to proactive. We believe that a service-focused government, one that can send and receive data from the world in real-time, ensures that the insight born from big data, produced by urban citizens, boomerangs back to local communities.