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Jun 18, 2021
In Bogota, Colombia, authorities are getting citizens involved in the green redesign of a major thoroughfare to improve mobility and reduce traffic bottlenecks, using an open-source online platform. In Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, city officials are using anonymized, privacy-protected, real-time intelligence on the flows of people through urban neighborhoods, streets, parks, restaurants, and shops to guide their economic recovery strategy. And in India, city governments have partnered with a healthtech company on remote monitoring of COVID-19 patients at home, helping to reduce the burden on overwhelmed healthcare infrastructure.
As cities look to realize a future vision of green, resilient, and inclusive urban infrastructure, citizen-centered digital services and solutions are more important than ever. Mobile applications for residents and visitors keep people informed and help with daily activities, from planning trips to choosing schools. Infratech—smart solutions embedded in urban infrastructure from garbage bins to roads to utility meters—generate real-time data on performance and operating conditions that optimizes city services. In turn, the data feeds into analytics to improve infrastructure and services planning. This helps cities reduce costs, mitigate environmental impacts, and advance sustainability goals such as decarbonization and urban mobility. Bottom line: smart technologies make cities run better.
Increasingly, cities are sharing some of the non-personal data generated by these smart technologies with stakeholders, including businesses and the public. This enables a heightened level of engagement that empowers communities by allowing them to weigh in on issues that directly impact them. Such data transparency builds trust and leads to transformative urban development. It can catalyze crowd-sourced innovation on urban challenges like equalizing service provision to ensure that no one is left behind. And it strengthens digital supply chains, opening doors for youth entrepreneurial engagement, new economic activity, and private sector investment. For example, Transport for London’s open data initiative attracted many application developers, who designed more than 600 mobility apps with real-time transport information based on the open datasets. From an annual spend of about £1million, the initiative generates annual economic benefits and savings of up to £130 million for travelers.
IFC is helping client cities design and launch open data programs. It’s part of our new suite of services to assist cities in becoming Smart Cities 4.0—an emerging city model that leverages the collective power of engaged and digitally connected citizens to enhance the quality of urban life and ensure sustainable urban development. The Smart Cities 4.0 research shows that cites that are embracing this model—putting people at the center of their transition to a green and digitally connected urban infrastructure—have a stronger return on their technology investments.
IFC has significant experience in the cities space. We’ve invested and mobilized over $9 billion in more than 280 projects in municipal infrastructure since 2014. With this new advisory service, we’re supporting client cities in building open data programs that can accelerate engagement while delivering returns on investments. The approach combines municipal and private sector investments and advisory services. It also involves forging strategic partnerships with cities around the world to address pressing urban needs with private sector participation. For example, IFC has supported Izmir—Turkey’s third largest city and a key IFC city partner—in developing an open data strategy and roadmap. This engagement led to the launch of the city’s open data portal. We worked with the Izmir government team, creating a framework to measure progress, and building the skills they needed to implement the strategy.
Of course, there are risks associated with deploying an open data approach, from data privacy and security to ensuring uptake by data users and collaboration within the municipality on data release. Careful preparation and groundwork are key—including putting in place data policy frameworks—to ensure that issues are addressed, and risks are mitigated.
From our experience to date, we’ve learned a few things that are critical for a successful open data initiative, such as ensuring that user needs are considered when datasets are prioritized for release. In addition, leadership buy-in and mayoral endorsement are key to effective municipal collaboration on data release. So, too, is a robust results measurement system to track progress, which will strengthen accountability. A strong communications campaign combined with a user engagement plan will ensure the data is put to good use.
Cities are at an inflection point today, as the world re-emerges from the pandemic with a newfound understanding of how fundamental digital connectivity is and everything that it can enable. It’s an opportunity to go big. Open data platforms can help, putting people—and trust—at the center of technological advancement that can transform development and citizens’ livelihoods. It’s also an opportunity for cities to solve for newly arising challenges, such as mounting demand and responsibility for high-quality municipal service delivery at a time of COVID-impacted declines in municipal revenues.
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