A new open access paper – ‘Knowing and governing cities through urban indicators, city benchmarking and real-time dashboards’ – based on research from the Programmable City project has just been published in the journal Regional Studies, Regional Science. Below is the abstract. Click here to download the full PDF. The paper forms an anchor to a small forum on the topic, with responses from Mike Batty, Matt Wilson, and Meg Holden & Sara Moreno Pires.
Since the mid-1990s a plethora of indicator projects have been developed and adopted by cities seeking to measure and monitor various aspects of urban systems. These have been accompanied by city benchmarking endeavours that seek to compare intra- and inter-urban performance. More recently, the data underpinning such projects have started to become more open to citizens, more real-time in nature generated through sensors and locative/social media, and displayed via interactive visualisations and dashboards that can be accessed via the internet. In this paper, we examine such initiatives arguing that they advance a narrowly conceived but powerful realist epistemology – the city as visualised facts – that is reshaping how managers and citizens come to know and govern cities. We set out how and to what ends indicator, benchmarking and dashboard initiatives are being employed by cities. We argue that whilst these initiatives often seek to make urban processes and performance more transparent and to improve decision making, they are also underpinned by a naive instrumental rationality, are open to manipulation by vested interests, and suffer from often unacknowledged methodological and technical issues. Drawing on our own experience of working on indicator and dashboard projects, we argue for a conceptual re-imaging of such projects as data assemblages – complex, politically-infused, socio-technical systems that, rather than reflecting cities, actively frame and produce them.