The cities in the Smart City Innovation Framework Implementation have identified six types of value they can create by opening their data. How can this be effected…and how can it be measured? In this second of our 3 articles we look at more examples from the SCIFI cities and recommend some measurement methods, focusing on Citizen Participation and Improved Transparency.

Improved Transparency

The key facilitator of increasing transparency is ‘open by default’, which is the number 1 principle of the Open Data Charter, created in 2015 and signed by over 100 governments to date. This states that governments must justify the data they are keeping closed, for security or data protection reasons. 

Outstandingly relevant are the potentials and opportunities of additional transparency in government. Organisations increase transparency when they expect valuable external influences and are interested in a more intensive interlinking with their surroundings, without the risk of getting damaged. Open data offers free access to government data and information to all and thus it increases the transparency of cities. 

However, there are occasions on which simply being transparent, without an associated policy, can be less than helpful to citizens. Such an area is air quality. Releasing data on air quality in a city or region will inevitably attract (important) questions on how the relevant authority is dealing with air quality issues. Thus, the city must be ready to engage with developing an informed strategy at the same time as releasing the raw data. This will help citizens engage with the strategy.

The SCIFI Experience

The cities of Mechelen and Bruges collaborated on an air quality challenge. They defined part of the challenge as the necessity to close the loop between measuring air quality levels, implementing a scenario tool, executing the advised scenario in practice, and finally, measuring the air quality again to identify eventual impact. In this way, data was not ‘released into the wild’ without the city being able to respond.

How to Measure 

Value here can be assessed based on the use of datasets to inform policy. If policy is being created without data evidence, why is that? Is there no appropriate data, or do the processes not allow (because of time, or cost reasons) for data to be used? How much policy is made with data, and how much of that data is directly from the city itself? Can citizens view the data the policy is based on?

Future Outlook

The Open Data Charter has recognised that “opening up data in isolation is less effective than it can be if targeted at solving specific policy problems.” They call this “Publishing with Purpose.” Cities aiming to increase transparency should prioritise opening the datasets that will help them develop robust strategies and policies alongside other stakeholders. 

Increasing citizen participation 

At the heart of the value of increased citizen participation lies two truths: the first is that data is not valuable until it is used, and the second is that citizen engagement can create additional value and opportunities for all.

Social initiatives often fill important vacuums that the private market does not have the incentive to fill. These might be run by individuals, volunteer groups or campaigning groups, but essentially amplify the range of solutions available to address city challenges. 

‘The Bristol Approach’ is a framework for ensuring technologies and programmes for smart cities align with the needs and priorities of the people who use them. The project found that by enabling policy contributions from citizens, engaged citizens were satisfied that they could have impact, and discontented citizens tended to have a more positive attitude.  

Lastly, while citizens are the source of much data for the city, often this cannot be used due to privacy concerns.  Some kinds of data can only be used if citizens specifically and knowingly consent, and other types can only be collected by crowdsourcing the data or its being volunteered by citizens. The first implementation of the Bristol model was a project where citizens collected, shared and used data to address the problem of humidity in rented homes.

The SCIFI Experience

St Quentin ran a hugely successful pilot which looked at watering their green spaces in a more effective way, both financially and environmentally. But this challenge wasn’t on their initial list to focus on. It was only when they went back to present their long list of challenges to groups of citizens that they discovered more effective watering of public parks and playing fields was high up on the list of citizen concerns. By running this pilot using their data on weather and usage, the city was able to meet the needs of citizens. 

Bruges and Mechelen both engaged with their citizens to provide data to their cycling pilots. It’s important to note that most of this data was not appropriate as personal data. Therefore the only way the city was able to obtain and use this data, and remain GDPR compliant, was by engaging with citizens to gain consent. 

When Mechelen’s air quality pilot did not achieve what was hoped due to technical problems with sensors and data collection, the city was able to pivot towards working with a citizen group which used less technically advanced (and therefore easier to install and manage) sensors.

How to Measure 

There are a number of ways to identify this value. The first approach looks at increase, in  terms of numbers of citizens engaged and initiatives created. The second is to measure the reduction of total numbers of complaints, reduced controversy regarding policy implementation and other ‘negative’ engagement metrics.

Future Outlook 

Citizens can directly impact innovation based on data, but to do this citizen science has to be enabled. In the best case this means providing funding or space  for citizens to create their own projects. In city-led projects, ensuring citizen engagement should be a key and non-negotiable part of project design. When commercial businesses are involved, it’s important that citizens don’t just provide the data to business, without benefiting from it. An achievable approach would be to heighten the awareness of businesses of the role of citizens in creating, shaping and consuming their data-based innovations.

In the last article in this series, we’ll look at creating value through service improvement and economic benefit. 

If you’re interested in what we have to say, and learning more about our approach to smart cities, we’d like to hear from you. Contact us at   

Article written by Johanna Walker, researcher at the Web and Internet Science department at the  University of Southampton