What kind of city needs smart growth

Why does a city need a data strategy?

The city of Helsinki has a vision: it wants to become the most functional city in the world. In order to achieve this goal, it wants to create the best possible conditions for urban life for its residents and visitors. An important building block in order to do justice to this vision is the conception of a data strategy which describes a roadmap for the improvement of the data quality and structure as well as their use for the city. DAIN Studios was significantly involved in the conception of the data strategy for the city of Helsinki, which was created from September 2019 to February 2020.

According to Penguin’s Dictionary, a city is a human settlement. More specifically, a city is a permanent and densely populated place with administratively defined boundaries, the members of which work mainly on non-agricultural tasks. The density and size of the city generally allow a citizen of a city to meet most of their needs without leaving the city.

The population of the city of Helsinki in 1900 was 79,000. Fifty years later there were 369,000 and today over 650,000 people live in Helsinki. The administration of Helsinki 120 years ago is radically different from what it is today. Not only were the city's problems different, but also their extent. At the beginning of the 20th century, when Helsinki had less than 100,000 inhabitants, the mayor was theoretically only two steps away from any citizen through his network, provided he knew 300 of them. Today the mayor would have to have a network of 800 people to be networked in a similar way. But even then, it would be impossible to keep up with the pace of information addressed to the mayor, considering how fast the city is developing today.

As cities have grown, understanding the requirements and their complexity has become of paramount importance for effective urban planning and management. A decade or two ago, the city could estimate with great confidence how many school places or hospital beds would be needed this year and next, and how many cars would be on a given road. Today, the required capacity for schools depends heavily on many additional parameters, such as what type of housing is available when and where? What languages ​​do the families speak? And how high is the expected immigration in and from an area? When you look at more complex issues like social inclusion and carbon emissions, the dimensions grow even bigger.

These simple questions illustrate the situation in modern as opposed to old cities. In today's city, a simple survey to collect data is not enough because the scale of events is beyond what humans can handle. In addition to the manual entry of data into systems, cities are moving to sensor-based data acquisition, in which IOT sensors are used, which permanently and objectively record data. By combining sensor and system data, the city is able to analyze and understand relevant phenomena.

A similar analysis of the root causes, the scope of the questions and the volume of data prompted the City of Helsinki to initiate a data strategy project with the aim of raising its data and analytical skills to the level required in a modern city. Before we dive into data strategy, let's discuss the wider uses of data that a city can share, as well as some of the concerns related to data usage.


What makes a city a smart city?

A smart city is a city that uses different types of IOT sensors. This collects data, which in turn is used to gain insights that are used to efficiently manage assets, resources and services. This includes data collected from citizens, digital devices, and urban equipment that is processed and analyzed to monitor and manage the various services offered by the city. (Source: Wikipedia)

The Smart City concept was originally developed by IBM and Cisco in early 2010. The motivation for developing the concept may have been influenced by the need to market products, but the concept itself is valid and has been well received by local governments around the world. Today, more than a decade after its introduction, smart city technology is one of the growth areas for information and communication technology (ICT).

The smart city concept has been criticized because it is technology-centric. Due to the origin of the concept, it is seen as a solution to problems faced by city administrations. New technologies are brought to the local government and, in the best case scenario, used to rectify grievances and, in the worst case, invade the privacy of citizens. However, the idea behind the concept of the intelligent city, i.e. the use of sensors and data to analyze the well-being of a city and its citizens, is still valid and effective. What cities need to ensure is building trust and confidence. This can be achieved through a transparent implementation of the “Smart City” concepts and the use of a cooperation model for working with citizens.


On the way to becoming the most functional city in the world

Helsinki’s vision is to become the most functional city in the world. In pursuing this vision, it strives to create the best possible conditions for urban life for its residents and visitors. The city's strategic intent is to do things a little better every time, to make the lives of Helsinki residents easier and more enjoyable. Helsinki wants to improve its services on a daily basis and in order to improve the city needs to monitor its services and understand citizens' needs and preferences.

Cities usually use their primary services as the basis for their organizational structure. In Helsinki the main areas are: social services and health, education, leisure and urban development. These sectors are relatively independent with their own budgets, responsibilities and IT departments. The reporting structure is straightforward from the sector to the central office. This structure guarantees that budgeting and services are monitored, but gives the sectors enough freedom to carry out their services.

However, this structure means that the data produced and collected rarely leave their sectors. For example, health care is unable to see urban development data, education has no access to health data, and so on. When access to data is limited to sectors, it is not a problem in running or improving processes within a sector, but it becomes a problem when the city is managed holistically. The lack of key data for a sector in an analysis is comparable to navigating in the dark without radar.

Analyzing these questions usually results in the need to combine different parameters across sectors in order to get a complete picture. In order to make the city more functional and understand the phenomena at their core, the data collected from the operational sectors must be accessible to modern analytical methods. In order to be able to prioritize decisions, the city administration needs access to data-supported analyzes.

Apart from improving internal processes, the data collected by the city should also be available to its own network and be able to be used jointly. This applies to districts, universities and companies, for example. External actors can use the data to conduct research and develop services that complement the city administration's offerings.


And what about data protection?

The aim of the city as a service provider is to simplify and improve life for its residents by making its processes more functional. Many well-informed citizens become suspicious and question their city's intentions when it comes to having their data used. In order to be able to use the data of its citizens, the city must gain their trust and ensure that the data is only used within the framework of strict ethical guidelines and exclusively to make the city more functional - this requires a high degree of responsible action (data governance ).

The minimum standards for data protection are defined in EU directives such as the GDPR. We do not go into the details of this discussion here. For the city, however, it is essential that the data is managed using transparent, fair and secure procedures. These procedures must ensure that all aspects of data usage are considered before approvals are granted.

The EU directives deal with issues relating to individual, private data, but there is no technical or ethical standard for most of the data generated worldwide and its use.MyData is a term for various projects and initiatives aimed at overcoming this challenge by putting people at the center of their data. Cities potentially play an important role in supporting the MyData ideology if they support its principles:

  1. Individuals have access and control over their data and know that their privacy is protected.
  2. Data are easily accessible from a technical point of view and can be used in standardized formats.
  3. Favorable economic and political environment with shared infrastructure and decentralized administration.

The data strategy for the city of Helsinki

An important step towards Helsinki's goal of becoming the most functional city in the world is to create a data strategy that will address the above issues and establish a roadmap to improve the city's data use and capabilities.

Helsinki's data strategy was developed in winter 2019/20. As part of this process, the vision and goal were formulated in a bold declaration:

The data produced by the City of Helsinki will be the best and most widely used worldwide in 2025.

After a thorough analysis of the tasks of the sectors involved and the possibilities of their management, the strategy was summarized in these nine principles:

  1. The city has access to all the data it produces.
  2. Core city data, such as customer data, are only saved once.
  3. All data is accessible and machine-readable via an API.
  4. All data can be used internally across departments and sectors, unless this is prohibited by law.
  5. The city uses third party data and shares its own data with its own utilities as well as affiliates and outside agencies.
  6. Data application management speeds up and ensures the legal, ethical and shared use of data.
  7. Data and analysis platforms that can be used throughout the city support and accelerate the independent provision of services by the city departments.
  8. Data and analytical skills are developed with the city government needs and specific use cases in mind.
  9. Citizens can exercise control over the use of their data in accordance with the MyData principles.

The principles have been accepted by the city administration and the city is now pursuing its plan to implement the strategy based on the principles of the mission statement.

The aim is for the data to give city policymakers more tools to help them prioritize that citizens get better services based on the data and that the city's ecosystem is able to cope with to research shared data and to be able to use it innovatively. All of this is necessary to make Helsinki the most functional city in the world.