Smart cities: shifting our social and cultural attitudes to information sharing.


 Stuart Bolton, Engagement  Manager
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing 




Kathryn Ward Kathryn Ward, Engagement Manager 
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing 



How are places like New York and Peterborough linked?  Well apart from being cities, there doesn’t seem to be any obvious connections… or does there?

As part of our work on information sharing, the concept of Smart Cities has come into focus. And was the subject of one of our recent academic seminars.  Smart Cities, as a concept, is not that far away from the original town planning vision and incorporates ideas on how communities and citizens may operate in the future harnessing technology, data and digital advances, with information sharing sitting at its heart.

Original planning visions for our growing and expanding cities started off with the use of data from sources like transport information and traffic cameras to support the development of a more efficient  physical environment .  This has moved on quickly to the use of data and information from various other sources, like social media and health data, to deliver and develop services and physical environments that will help us to grow and be sustainable.  So, Smart Cities can be about information sharing, but more importantly how this information is shared?

At the Centre, we are only too aware of how much information there is out there and that services want to share and use this to improve outcomes, but often come up against a range of barriers. Both the public and private sector collect a lot of different types of information and with the need for efficiencies this information is being increasingly used collaboratively to make improvements and reduce budgets.  Take Peterborough, for example, which is using an open data model to improve services. Anyone can download a whole range of data sets made available freely from a range of sources online. These include data relating to older people’s housing, which is not only useful if you are looking for this type of housing – being able to assess where the best facilities are located, but is also enabling commissioners to target specific services based on health needs so older people can access services where they live, which in turn influences requirements, and consequently maximises budgets.

There are many perspectives on the use of data and information to shape the development of our local environment, which raises the question:  “who decides what data I need?”  This can be looked at through an infrastructure perspective – allowing people to take and use data innovatively and improve their environment. However, this is not necessarily about information sharing but only the use of data. What is more useful, is understanding how the data is shared between people and services. However, this does show the importance of how you bring people along on your journey of making changes and how they help to evolve models of data and information sharing. We know this at the Centre, as the relationships between people is key to the successful implementation of information sharing.

At the recent seminar, Eddie Copeland, the Head of Technology Policy at the Policy Exchange described how in New York City (NYC) the development of the massively connected smart city is being driven through information sharing across local government with the NYC Government Office being the primary consumer of information.  Examples of information sharing across government departments include developing a pro-active approach to the illegal conversion of apartments and preventing the resulting social and environmental problems that arise from this, including tackling the need to respond to the 18,000 calls per year from the public.  Other examples of information sharing approaches have enabled forecasting on the impacts of policy decisions, such as how introducing a new green waste recycling service would impact on local traffic and also identifying buildings at risk of fire to guide prevention work.  The key to securing buy-in and involvement from the array of different government departments to release this information has been working with people and services that are willing and committed to information sharing. Then demonstrating the success, which in turn has meant others who were not sharing information start to come on board – so it is about winning hearts and minds through demonstrating the benefits.

Trevor Gibson, the Smart City Leadership Manager for Peterborough also spoke at the seminar and described Peterborough’s vision of a Smart City as “a place where people talk and leaders understand the issues and agree on the solutions”.   Peterborough has placed people’s needs at the core of its approach and describes how a Smart City relies on Smart People – leaders, champions, service users and citizens.  Through information sharing across a connected city they are developing and agreeing shared agendas, existing models of service delivery are being challenged and innovative and creative solutions are being produced.  Peterborough is also developing other innovative ways to use data which includes the brainwave portal. This is an on-line matching service that identifies city challenges with a community of entrepreneurs and innovators, who want to make the city a better place for people to live, work and thrive.

Smart City development is here to stay and what the public and services need are improved access and much better information sharing enabling local decisions and services to be made that really impact on how local people can see an actual benefit from information sharing on their own environment.  So what New York and Peterborough share is an understanding that information sharing across people in local places really does help to impact on outcomes, leading to more efficient transport networks, schools, improved health outcomes and relevant and useful information sharing.