Will this trend migrate to other countries? The UK wants cities to do better with their data

Tue, 2016-01-05 12:02 -- Doug Peeples


After learning that how it had been collecting and analyzing the country's economic statistics was inaccurate and failed to present an adequate representation of the economy, the UK government took steps to correct the problem.

But it also decided to ask cities to collaborate by providing the government with data from their day-to-day operations. In the story below, you'll read about an interesting government-led project designed to help cities improve the practices and technologies they use to collect data and how they prioritize and evaluate it. Ideally, cities will get better data to guide policy decisions and the government gets higher quality data for its own needs. -- Jesse Berst

When the UK government asked a former Bank of England official to assess the country’s economic statistics, he found them lacking. In his recently completed interim report Sir Charlie Bean, former deputy governor of the bank, discovered the government’s statistics weren't accurately reflecting the effects of today's digital technology.

In other words, the data wasn't helping much. In an effort to improve its data collection and analysis, the government's innovation agency, Innovate UK, is working with the Future Cities Catapult center to help smart cities gather and accurately analyze more and better data. The outcome of the project is expected to be that, with better and more useful data in hand, city policymakers will be better able to ensure their cities are safe, clean, efficient and growing economically.

The overall goal of the Catapult project and its London innovation center is to show how data and new ways of modeling it can help those policymakers more accurately set their priorities and anticipate how their decisions will affect their cities, according to an article in The Guardian. The basic mission of the Future Cities Catapult is to assist with turning research into real products and services.

In Bean's report, he recommended one way to vastly improve economic statistics is for the UK to take advantage of the vast quantities of data collected by cities in their routine daily operations, such as amounts of household waste and the cities' social care needs, to better focus policymaker's attention and investments.

Great idea, but there are challenges…
Cities in the UK face the same issues cities do elsewhere: limited budgets and environmental problems. So the concept of better data leading to better decisions and their numerous benefits would be welcome. What the Future Cities Catapult and Innovate UK will need to do first, however, is deal with four very real challenges:

  • Data quantity. The amount of available data is staggering and growing all the time in today's digital world.
  • Data quality. Some types of information are, of course, more valuable and reliable than others.
  • Data accessibility. Collecting the necessary data is why Bean recommended taking advantage of the data generated by cities' day-to-day operations.
  • How to best use the data. This is the most important of the four challenges identified -- and the most difficult to resolve.

As the project has determined, that resolution -- how to best use the data -- will take investment in training and minds open to innovation. Not to mention cities willing to sign on and join in a collaboration with the British government.

Related articles:
How to get your citizens to work on time (your traffic analytics are letting you down)
Why GE wants your healthcare information (in the cloud)
Need a cure for what ails your city? Data is the best medicine

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.