AI Is Here. Is Your City’s Data Governance Policy Ready?

Data and analytics are the technical fuel of smart cities. From air quality sensors to surveillance cameras, municipal leaders are deploying smart city technology to collect and analyze data with the hope of enhancing city service delivery. Some cities do this from a well-articulated, centralized Smart City Plan that carefully lays out the municipality’s vision, mission, and intention. These plans serve as a roadmap, a blueprint, and a guide to direct smart city deployment. Other cities choose a more bottom-up approach and rely on point-solutions and/or pilot projects that are often the result of a specific department trying to address a specific solution.

No matter the pathway, the reality is that today cities are flush with data-collecting devices; however what is often missing is a systemic approach on how that collected data is managed, analyzed, and shared. In response, global organizations are ramping up initiatives to support cities as they become smarter. The What Works Cities program has bolstered data management efforts for 62 cities since 2017 and recently welcomed Carlsbad, California, and Charleston, South Carolina to their roster. The World Economic Forum and Connected Places Catapult launched Data for the City of Tomorrow: Developing the Capabilities and Capacity to Guide Better Urban Futures offering 6 pillars and 12 recommendations to “help inform suitable data governance structures.” 

One of the most impressive guides originates from MetroLab which recently published the Model Data Governance Policy & Practice Guide for Cities and Counties. They begin with standardizing the nomenclature with a section dedicated to “Definitions and Data Classifications.” With the basics set, they then provide the foundational principles, an overview of cybersecurity and data integrity, then follow with a helpful and thorough overview of data sharing agreements and data use rights. The final section includes a helpful “how to” designed to put knowledge into practice. This guide is thoughtful, comprehensive, and will serve as a foundational blueprint to any municipality (large or small) that has implemented smart city technology. 

As headlines about data-hungry AI algorithms proliferate, consumers, citizens, and residents alike are becoming increasingly aware of how much data is being collected on their personal activities, both online and in the cities where they are active. If cities are deploying data-collecting technology, they must be proactive about setting clear policies about how that data is managed. This requires a proactive approach. The great news is that there are many guides, such as MetroLab’s Model Data Governance Policy & Practice Guide for Cities and Counties to support the data governance journey. 

Look to these resources for knowledge and support. In addition, Smart Cities Connect will always dedicate panels populated with experts on these topics and more at our upcoming events including Fall 2024 (November 28-30) in Washington, D.C. Come with your questions, ideas, and best practices for other city leaders to follow!