New ISO standard gives cities common performance yardstick

Wed, 2014-05-21 06:00 -- Doug Cooley

Those tediously detailed documents called “ISO standards” set out requirements and technical specifications for everything from food packaging, to car ergonomics, to blood transfusion equipment. They help reassure consumers that products are safe, efficient and considerate of the environment.

Now the International Organization for Standards has announced an ISO standard that applies strictly to city performance. The document -- known as ISO 37120:2014 -- establishes a set of open data indicators to measure the delivery of city services and quality of life. It defines common methodologies that cities can use to measure their performance in areas such as energy, environment, finance, emergency response, governance, health, recreation, safety, solid waste, telecommunications, transportation, urban planning, wastewater, water, sanitation and more.

The standard was unveiled at the recent Global Cities Summit, which was organized by University of Toronto’s Global City Indicators Facility (GCIF), one of the organizations involved in the standard’s development.  As the first ISO standard for city indicators, it is expected to provide cities officials and urban researchers with a standardized approach to city metrics and a global framework for third-party verification of data.

Some of the benefits envisioned for ISO 37120:2014 include:

  • More effective governance and delivery of services
  • International benchmarks and targets
  • Local benchmarking and planning
  • Informed decision-making for policy makers and city managers
  • Leverage for funding by cities
  • Framework for sustainability planning
  • Transparency and open data for investment attractiveness
  • Comparable data for city decision-making and insight

In conjunction with the standard’s unveiling, the World Council of City Data was launched with a group of international cities initially agreeing to pilot the ISO standard.

“The creation of the World Council on City Data is a pivotal next step in building a reliable foundation of globally standardized data that will assist cities in building core knowledge for city decision-making, and enable comparative insight and global benchmarking,” GCIF director Patricia McCarney said in a University of Toronto press release. “In a world where city data is exploding and big data is escalating, we are now moving forward in building the WCCD as an open data platform on global city metrics.”