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The Internet of meaningful things, by Rudy de Waele

We’re still in the early days of data collection;  most city councils are still in the quantitative data analysis phase

The Internet of meaningful things, by Rudy de Waele

Any modern city taking itself seriously today needs a chief technology/innovation/digital officer with a vision of the city of the future. They need to understand the technological trends that will impact their cities the coming 5-10 years and even further away. Data collection is one of the latest tools to better understand the moves and needs of citizens and to better understand the dynamics of local businesses. City governments need to engage with citizens in acts of co-creation in order to make their vision a reality.


Cities often don’t work like that as they are the sum of organic growing, inconsistent planning and bad architectural choices using the wrong materials. However, when we think of the potential with data and citizens generating organic data, there’s hope for improvement for any city in the world. Many major cities recognise the opportunity however to improve urban life with data analytics, and are exploring how to use information technologies to develop smarter services and a more sustainable footprint.


We’re still in the early days of data collection; most city councils are still in the quantitative data analysis phase, using data to measure pollution levels, traffic congestions or to improve efficient heating in buildings. It is a very clear way of how you can, just by investigating the data, find out things that otherwise would not be uncovered. For citizens, the importance is not about the numbers but what those numbers mean to them.


Since 2014, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has collected this kind of data and made comparisons across 34 countries using nine criteria, with open data available for researchers and citizens. They include access to services, civic engagement, environment, individual income, employment and education.


Professor Roberto Masiero, from IUAV University in Venice, explains in the OECD annual report, on measuring the quality of life in cities: "It’s not about how long cycle paths are, but rather what they mean to people. This can refer to issues of child safety, to cultural aspects and to how people use the public areas available to them. The focus is not how much we are smart, but how."


Extracting meaning out of that data is not an obvious thing when looking at some of the recent smart city case studies.


Gerard Grech, CEO at Tech City UK, explains in this article, how waves of digitally astute cities like Singapore, Panama, Seoul and Tallinn are setting the pace and created spaces for digital disruption, opening data sets and convening citizens to challenge the digital architecture of the city and engage in direct democratic dialogue with officials: “The more that we get into the mind-set of a city-as-a-platform, the easier it is to set virtual terms of service between citizen and city.”


People living in the cities of Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Newcastle & Gateshead and York will benefit from a new research and innovation initiative that puts them in the driving seat to help improve their cities’ health, wellbeing and prosperity as they face up to challenges of modern urban living.


Ger Baron, CTO of the City of Amsterdam says that analytics don’t have to be focused on big data to help cities be smarter: “The analytics can use small data, as long as it points toward better ways to help citizens.”


Technology is not smart. It becomes smart when there’s a real interaction and collaboration between governance, citizens and private sectors. Governance need to think about the usefulness of citizens-, workers- and tourist services and put citizens in the driving seat, using open data to create fluid real-time data streams as cities are in constant movement and progress. A smart city is above all inclusive, meaning the ability and opportunity for everyone to be an active citizen.



Rudy de Waele is a futurist, innovation strategist, keynote speaker, content curator and author. He assists global brands and startups with cutting edge open innovation strategy using new methodologies to re-invent and transform business. He is also an ambassador and strategic advisor to SmartCitiesWorld.



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