On March 28, 2017, the Center for Data Innovation hosted its annual Data Innovation Day conference. This was the first year the conference was in Brussels. The theme of the event changes each year, and this year’s event focused on smart cities. Smart cities offer an exciting opportunity for data-driven urban development, particularly in Europe, which has some of the most liveable cities in the world. However, tricky policy questions about the regulation of smart city data, data sharing between government agencies, and long-term funding for digital infrastructure, remain unsolved. Panelists shared their ideas about the “killer app” for smart cities, the role of Internet of Things data in public transport, how personal data can improve public services, and overcoming investment challenges.
Most panelists, including policymakers, took the view that in general, access and control of smart city data is better managed through contractual agreements than through regulations. However, there were cases where some panelists argued that a lack of data sharing was socially harmful and could not be overcome without action from policymakers. These included the transport sector, where improved data sharing would allow third-party ticketing companies to find the most competitive price for customers, and the public sector, where departmental managers resist sharing data that could improve services, even when policy and regulation is not a barrier.
Another key takeaway from the panel debates was that governments at all tiers throughout the EU should open more data and share more data. Panelists strongly supported the idea of “open by default” for non-personal public sector data. There was also broad agreement that while leaders should not try to orchestrate singular grand plans for the development of smart cities from the top down, it is nevertheless important to have a strategy that links together independent projects that work, and to ensure each project has its own long-term business plan.
The event featured a keynote speech from Matthias Wieckmann, head of urban data in the Hamburg Senatskanzlerei. Wieckmann discussed Hamburg’s Digital City Coordination office, and emphasized the importance of encouraging and linking many independent smart city projects over central planning, to allow an economically viable smart cities market to emerge. There were also speeches by Hanna Niemi-Hugaerts from Helsinki’s smart city consortium, Forum Virium Helsinki, Anna Lvova of the analytics firm Habidatum, Albert Seubers from system integrator Atos, and Nikolaos Kontinakis from the European cities network EUROCITIES.
The Center for Data Innovation’s Nick Wallace closed the event, arguing that smart cities would depend on effective strategies for the Internet of Things and data management. He called on member states to develop national strategies for the Internet of Things, investment in public services and infrastructure, and EU-level coordination to ensure standards and interoperability across borders. Wallace also argued for the creation of chief data officers at both local and national levels to oversee the effective use of data in cities and public services, and for the European Council to convene national chief data officers regularly to support EU-wide data policy.