Viewpoints

Three ways sharing data is advancing cities

by American City & County Contributor
May 01, 2017

By Kevin Ebi, Smart Cities Council

Data and the effective use of it is what makes a city a smart city, but that doesn’t mean that all of the data needs to be your data. Or that you even need to be the one to find the best and highest use for it.

From inspiring the public to participate and make use of open data to sharing data and insights with cities that are in similar situations, here are three powerful data-sharing ideas that are worth considering.
 

1. Share with like-minded cities
Smart cities don’t go it alone. In fact, whatever your situation, you probably aren’t alone. It’s quite likely other cities are trying to solve very similar problems. One way to craft smarter solutions is to pool your data resources.

That’s the idea behind the Research Data Exchange, an initiative of the U.S. Transportation Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office. The exchange is a repository that currently holds more than 180 data sets on various facets of transportation. The idea is to provide a solid base — built upon standardized language — that helps cities and states find solutions to their common problems.

The more substantial base of data can also inspire and fuel third-party research, bringing solutions to the market faster.

The office is also coordinating work on several shared infrastructure pilot projects. Connected vehicles and smart infrastructure design are among the themes.
 

2. Develop an open data policy
When it comes to open data, there’s a fine balance between supplying enough data so that developers can actually do something meaningful and too much data to cause citizens to worry about privacy. Seattle, which has made great strides in maximizing the use of its open data, says much of its success resulted from its drive to create an open data policy first.

Seattle teamed up with experts at the University of Washington to craft the first draft and then made sure the community had ample opportunity to comment before it was finalized. To further reduce privacy risk, open data champions within the city examine data sets before they are released. It also worked with the Future of Privacy Forum to identify and close other privacy gaps.
 

3. Focus on ease-of-use
Data is only useful if people can access it, and that’s an area where Boston has focused its efforts. The city recently re-launched its Analyze Boston portal, redesigned to make the data sets more easily accessible and more relevant to everyday life. The revamp came after an extended beta process to get useful feedback from the people who it hoped would use it.

Hackathons are a common tool that cities use to generate interest in data and Boston is running its own in conjunction with the release of the new site: the Analyze Boston Data Challenge. Boston is trying to rally open data developers around five themes, including reducing emissions, lowering fire risk and making data local.

While it seems every city tries to run a hackathon, it’s not your only option. Seattle provides another idea worth stealing. It launched an Open Data Breakfast of Champions, a monthly meeting that brought together city employees and open data champions to inspire interest and share best practices.
 

Kevin Ebi is the managing editor of the Smart Cities Council, which helps cities use technology to become more livable, workable and sustainable. Register for the Council’s Smart Cities Week Silicon Valley, May 8-10 in Santa Clara, CA.

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