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Reclaiming the Smart City: Personal Data, Trust and the New Commons

This report is about why and how city governments are taking a more responsible approach to the collection and use of personal data.

Cities are becoming a major focal point in the personal data economy. In city governments, there is a clamour for data-informed approaches to everything from waste management and public transport through to policing and emergency response

This is a triumph for advocates of the better use of data in how we run cities. After years of making the case, there is now a general acceptance that social, economic and environmental pressures can be better responded to by harnessing data.

But as that argument is won, a fresh debate is bubbling up under the surface of the glossy prospectus of the smart city: who decides what we do with all this data, and how do we ensure that its generation and use does not result in discrimination, exclusion and the erosion of privacy for citizens?

This report brings together a range of case studies featuring cities which have pioneered innovative practices and policies around the responsible use of data about people. Our methods combined desk research and over 20 interviews with city administrators in a number of cities across the world.

Recommendations

Based on our case studies, we also compile a range of lessons that policymakers can use to build an alternative version to the smart city - one which promotes ethical data collection practices and responsible innovation with new technologies:

  1. Build consensus around clear ethical principles, and translate them into practical policies.
  2. Train public sector staff in how to assess the benefits and risks of smart technologies.
  3. Look outside the council for expertise and partnerships, including with other city governments.
  4. Find and articulate the benefits of privacy and digital ethics to multiple stakeholders
  5. Become a test-bed for new services that give people more privacy and control.
  6. Make time and resources available for genuine public engagement on the use of surveillance technologies.
  7. Build digital literacy and make complex or opaque systems more understandable and accountable.
  8. Find opportunities to involve citizens in the process of data collection and analysis from start to finish.

Authors

Theo Bass

Theo Bass

Theo Bass

Researcher, Government Innovation

Theo is a Researcher in the Policy and Research team

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Emma Sutherland

Emma Sutherland

Emma Sutherland

Assistant Programme Manager

Emma works in the Education team within the Innovation Programmes Unit.

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Tom Symons

Tom Symons

Tom Symons

Acting Head of Government Innovation

Tom is a Principal Researcher in the Policy and Research team at Nesta.

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