The timing is ripe to have this discussion, because we are entering an unprecedented period in history in terms of our ability to learn about human behaviour, cities and urban ecology, through non-traditional observation methodologies. The proliferation of data and the ability to make sense of it, whether collected by governments or private entities via IoT sensors, citizen data or social media platforms, will create new opportunities to understand our cities, their residents and the urban processes that drive them, which is at the heart of the smart city premise.
Fortunately (or unfortunately) the amount of data collected and held by government will continue to grow, as will an increasing amount of data from outside government. We need to develop a 'data culture' when it comes to cities. Understanding how to use that data as a resource is the reason every business and government department needs to work towards developing data frameworks and strategies concurrently with any smart city strategies and elements they are adopting.
Beyond just culture, the delivery of comprehensive smart city data programs will require diverse skill sets, including city science, technological, research, statistical, analytical and interpretive skills, and creativity — as well as an understanding of the underlying city environment, ecosystem and the nature of data outputs expected. These skill sets are unlikely to be found in any one person, and this means that collaborative teams of specialists are likely to need to be assembled to allow cities to achieve optimal results from their data analysis efforts.
So how do you build a data culture? It’s been said that culture eats strategy for lunch. But what about when you have a strategy and the right culture? Data-driven culture and strategy is more likely to create an entrepreneurial mindset and spirit of investigation, testing and problem solving, with data as the backbone of this culture.
Whilst not necessarily having the answers on this data culture question, to me this is a question and challenge we need to explore and solve, before the ‘bright lights and shiny things’ of the smart city space attract our attention and we forget to circle back to develop this data culture. Because I fear we could end up with the smart light bulbs but not ‘data power’ to run them.
After all, what could possibly be smarter than using the data collected from smart city things to make the city even smarter in its raw unadulterated form, and focus on making cities just great places again, and then letting technology then push the city operating platform further again?
So, the challenge for us all, is to lead the evolution of a data culture within our organisations. To push them to think about the adoption of data strategies, that run in parallel with any smart city initiatives and lastly to ensure we don’t skip out on data in lieu of sexy attractive autonomous things, that might just take our money, our data and move on without making our cities better places.
Chris Isles, is the Executive Director for Planning at Place Design Group. Chris is a trusted advisor to the Australian government at all levels and private developers alike, and leads Urban Planning internationally across 10 offices throughout Australia, China and South East Asia.
Chris works at the intersection of planning, urban design, commercial viability and data science with his driving energy being the progression and recognition of the critical role that planners have in the cities of the future.
Awarded Australian Planner of the Year 2015/16, and current member of the World Cities Summit Young Leaders Program, Chris is recognised for his work exploring and facilitating the relationships between commercial feasibility, big data, crowd sourcing and new technology uses within planning and cities. His focus is guided by the global imperative for the planning profession to respond, and keep ahead of the global urbanisation trend to ensure that the future of cities for people is not lost during rapid urbanisation.