Data Analytics and the City
Improving the Veracity of Open and Real-Time Urban Data
Gavin McArdle, Researcher, National Centre for Geocomputation, Maynooth University, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, Ireland
Within the context of the smart city, data are an integral part of the digital economy and are used as input for decision making, policy formation, and to inform citizens, city managers and commercial organisations. Reflecting on our experience of developing real-world software applications which rely heavily on urban data, this article critically examines the veracity of such data (their authenticity and the extent to which they accurately (precision) and faithfully (fidelity, reliability) represent what they are meant to) and how it can be assessed in the absence of quality reports from data providers. While data quality needs to be considered at all aspects of the data lifecycle and in the development and use of applications, open data are often provided ‘as-is’ with no guarantees about their veracity, continuity or lineage (documentation that establishes provenance and fit for use). This allows data providers to share data with undocumented errors, absences, and biases. If left unchecked these data quality issues can propagate through multiple systems and lead to poor smart city applications and unreliable ‘evidence-based’ decisions. This leads to a danger that open government data portals will come to be seen as untrusted, unverified and uncurated data-dumps by users and critics. Drawing on our own experiences we highlight the process we used to detect and handle errors. This work highlights the necessary janitorial role carried out by data scientists and developers to ensure that data are cleaned, parsed, validated and transformed for use. This important process requires effort, knowledge, skill and time and is often hidden in the resulting application and is not shared with other data users. In this paper, we propose that rather than lose this knowledge, in the absence of data providers documenting them in metadata and user guides, data portals should provide a crowdsourcing mechanism to generate and record user observations and fixes for improving the quality of urban data and open government portals.
Blockchain City: Spatial, Social and Cognitive Ledgers
Chris Speed, Chair of Design Informatics, University of Edinburgh
City dashboards are typically representations of a city’s accounts, manifest according to values set by the stakeholders. The currency of the data within a dashboard is typically reduced to an assessment of the performance of services largely derived from quantitative sources. As a consequence, dashboards cannot describe many of the transactions that take place between people, nor can they make explicit the values that are brokered between the myriad of city occupants. Whilst such information displays may be useful for mayors to report on the performance of a local government, or use it to set targets that lead to penalties or bonuses, the city dwellers that are complicit in the production of data are not able to convert the information back into a currency that can inform their actions and transactions.
This paper explores the barriers that current representations of data present for building new currencies through which value may be mediated at the level of the city dweller. By reflecting on the potential of technologies such as a ‘block chain’, the paper asks: if you change the representation of value, can it change the values that you can represent?
The blockchain is a public ledger of all of the transactions that have ever taken place using the Bitcoin currency. The ledger is constantly growing in a linear manner as ‘blocks’ are completed through the recording of transactions. A copy of the blockchain exists not in one place like the transactions of a traditional bank, but across the network of nodes in the Bitcoin system. This decentralised framework offers not only a form of transparency to prevent fraud but also a potential platform through which different values can be represented.
This paper speculates on the implications for the city of the near future as services begin to adopt blockchain technology. The paper reflects on the activities of the technology startup community who have an understanding of the principles of blockchain technologies through their adoption of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Via studies of various applications of blockchain technology across these groups, the paper will examine how emerging practices could transform our existing conceptions of value and money. The paper foresees the opportunities for the blockchain to change the way that value flows across the city, and hence lead to new economic and social models for city services.
Beyond quantification: a role for citizen science
Muki Haklay, Professor of Geographic Information Science, Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, University College London
When approaching the issue of Smart Cities, there is a need to question the underlying assumptions at the basis of Smart Cities discourse, and especially to challenge the prevailing thought that only efficiency, costs and productivity are the most important values. We need to ensure that human and environmental values are taken into account in the design and implementation of systems that will influence the way cities operate and governed. While we can accept science as the least worst method to accumulate human knowledge about the natural world, and appreciate its power to explain and act in the world, we need to consider how it is applied within the city in a way that does leave space for cultural, environmental and religious values. The paper will argue that a specific form of collaborative science – citizen science and community science – are especially suitable for making smart cities meaningful and democratic.