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Breaking the data deadlock

Cities have been at something of an impasse with their ability to innovate with data. Sarah Wray looks at how those taking action with bold new initiatives are paving the way for everyone to move ahead.


Who owns data? What’s it worth? Who has the right to trade it? Leading cities are finding practical ways to address these questions.

Many cities have been left too cautious to explore data’s full transformational potential. New initiatives are moving this ahead.

Data has never been so central to everyday life, and cities can’t forge ahead with tackling many of the challenges they face unless they put their data to work better. We’ve heard it so many times and seen glimmers of the potential.

At the same time, our relationship with data has never been so strained. Who owns it? What’s it worth? Who has the right to trade it? What happens to it after we hand it over? Does anyone really know?

It’s quite right that these questions should be asked but it leaves us at something of an impasse. It feels like we’ve been wringing our hands about the issue for some time and it has left cities too uncertain and (rightly) cautious to explore data’s full transformational potential.

This week, then, it’s refreshing to hear not only more visions and examples of data’s potential to improve our quality of life but also to see clear actions on pushing ahead with deploying it responsibly.

Guiding the course

New York City has hired its first Chief Privacy Officer. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that Laura Negrón will fill the new position, created to coordinate and promote responsible data-sharing practices.

Negrón will work across city agencies and offices to promote new city-wide protocols relating to the collection, disclosure and retention of data, including individually identifiable information. She will also provide guidance to agencies and streamline the new policies and procedures within a centralised office.

In control

In Singapore, a new blockchain-powered data-sharing model has been launched by DEX and PwC Singapore. The initiative is supported by the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) of Singapore, which will provide regulatory guidance and co-create new codes of practice to mitigate risks and ensure appropriate practices in data usage, handling and sharing.

The partners say that while vast amounts of data are generated each year, mass sharing of information has been hampered to date, largely due to concerns among data owners over trust and security. Their work could change that and provide takeaways for other cities.

Projects like Decode are also promising. This work is seeing cities such as Barcelona and Amsterdam piloting ways to put individuals in control of whether they keep their personal data private or share it for the public good.

There’s a way to go but it will be interesting to see now whether these initiatives will help us discover what data can really do.


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