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The Mayor of London The London Assembly

Data for London – a City Data Strategy for a Smart City Future

In March this year, the GLA published “Data for London”.  In what we reckon to be a world first, this attempt to give shape and organisation to a complex city data economy sees City Hall move beyond open data.  Exploited to its full potential, data has the capacity to make London the smartest city in the world, a city in which world class digitised urban services are the norm. To illustrate the problem with maintaining the status quo, imagine the developer who sees a fragmented data picture for London, governed and indeed limited by the administrative boundaries that only have meaning for the units of government operating in the capital.  To not have access to a richer variety of data from new sources, and to not have access to harmonised data where it is needed is to stifle creativity at the micro-level, and limit economic competitiveness at the macro- or city-level.


Moving beyond Open Data and a Purposeful City Hall

So while London has a fine history of publishing open data, we believe more can be done to exploit the value of wider ‘city data’. Moving beyond open data means sharing and using city data more effectively. This will deliver improved public services, more efficient infrastructure, and wider data-led innovation. City data is more than just open data, but also private data, commercial data, sensor data, and crowd-sourced data.  We have defined it as follows1:

  • Open data: non-privacy-restricted and non-confidential data.
  • Private data: restricted and/or licensed data including permission, privacy, publication and distribution; as well as data that is presently held privately merely because it has not as yet been recognised to offer value.
  • Commercial data: licensed data including permission, charging for access, use and distribution.
  • Sensory data: open and/or restricted data collected by sensors, actuators and devices owned by public and private sector, and citizens.
  • Crowd-sourced data: data provided, collected and distributed by citizens through the use of digital technologies and social media.

We want City Hall to be more purposeful in how it identifies uses for this wider supply of city data from a more diverse set of data ‘owners’.  This should include not just government and ‘public services’, but private sector organisations (e.g. utilities, infrastructure providers, retailers, land developers), all of whom have a different range of considerations with regard to data and how it is shared, all of whom will have different motivations around how it is to be exploited.  Some partners will actively promote the strategy, some will provide services and tools, and some will be the direct users of city data.


Solving London’s challenges

“Data for London” is anchored in the big picture and the local planning on the ground. Worth £19bn, London’s tech market is the largest in Europe – and by 2020, we think that London’s smart cities market alone will be worth around £9bn. In ‘The Future of Smart’, the Smart London Board’s recent update to the original Smart London Plan, we set down our goals for how the tech sector is to support more than 10 million residents in 2036.

Published in March 2016, this is effectively our road map for promoting the use of digital infrastructure and data in London. It is focussed on three overarching work-streams:

  1. Engaging Londoners – using smart technology to enhance the range of ways that we involve and empower Londoners and businesses.
  2. Enabling good growth – harnessing data and digital technology to meet the growth challenges facing London’s infrastructure, environment, and transport systems.
  3. Working with businesses – leveraging opportunities for innovation and business growth.

We are pushing city data further in new ways and getting it right on the ground in Old Oak and Park Royal. This is our special development corporation where planning and land are directly controlled by the Mayor. The Smart Strategy commissioned from Hypercat is our plan to make it a world-leading location for the exploration and implementation of smart and data-driven technologies.  We believe that city data generated within Old Oak and Park Royal will support economic growth, enhance the environment and improve the quality of life for local people and visitors.  In an urban development project that will deliver 25,000 new homes and 65,000 new jobs, we think that this is a huge opportunity to show how London’s city data market can be the most advanced in the world.

City Data needs to be recognised as City Infrastructure

At its core, Data for London seeks to establish the most focussed and productive city data market in the world.  We want the capabilities, talents and capacity of all our city data partners to impact on our huge social, economic and service-based challenges.  To get to the point at which we are actively saving money in public services, incubating innovation in urban developments and communities, and driving economic growth, city data needs to be recognised as part of the capital’s infrastructure.

With this in mind, there are six themes of the data strategy, underpinned by straightforward, impactful priority actions that City Hall wants to take forward with partners:

  1. We want to build and operate an efficient City Data Market by making data available for better city services, city infrastructure, and economic impacts. Changing the organisational culture and capacity for open innovation is key in encouraging participation here.
  2. Better organisation of City Data is needed if it is to have impact in public service decision making, infrastructure investment decisions, and broader innovation. This will lead to the better management of city services and assets, and will also be more effective in creating a true ‘City as platform’ approach and new business models.
  3. The value of city data must be recognised across government, industry, and society. Value-based transactions, based on a shared understanding of monestisation, will be an important component of a well-functioning city data economy.
  4. Public acceptance. A city data market will only be accepted by the public if security, privacy and trust issues in relation to personal data are addressed.  Acceptance will lead to more data availability which drive creation of digital services and eventually their uptake.
  5. Active governance of a City Data Market is needed to meet strategic challenges and opportunities. This is vital if new business models that underpin data-driven products and ‘smart’ initiatives are to emerge and succeed.
  6. A technology road map is needed to establish for the GLA and the boroughs a world class city data infrastructure, based on open standards, flexible interfaces. Clear milestones are needed for all of the secure sharing of city data, a city operating platform capable of handling IoT data at volume and speed, and the broader aim of establishing city wide cloud-storage and the analytics potential it can support.

The future City Data Market

We want to make it abundantly clear that this City Hall does not have the expertise and indeed resources to tackle the issues – from data security to privacy to monetisation and harmonisation – thrown up by our City Data Strategy.  We doubt anyone does.  Finding those answers means adopting a collaborative and wholly open approach with business, academia and Londoners – anyone who possesses data talent.

We firmly believe though that we are taking a step in the right direction.  We are innovating by giving a deterministic focus on using city data to pursue (market) opportunities that equate to more than the demand we can induce through plain procurement. In a new definition of City Data, we are giving extra focus to what sort of data, and whose data should be used – either open if we can but in a secure shared environment if needs be – in pursuit of answering city challenges.

Our work on city data and ‘smart’ is changing the way that London’s government sees technology as part of the solution for the city’s challenges. There is a high likelihood that the new Mayor will appoint a Chief Digital Officer to promote new technology solutions and to make data work to maximum effect across the critical policy areas of housing, transport, cybercrime, and the environment.

After the strategy writing comes the implementation.  We therefore invite you to be part of what we believe to be one of the first exercises of its kind in a global city.  Help us to make a City Data Market that is capable of delivering benefit to all, that makes this sometimes ambiguous thing called smart real, to all of businesses, public services, and most importantly of all, to Londoners.

1 Larissa C. Romualdo-Suzuki, “Data as Infrastructure for Smart Cities”, PhD Thesis. University College London (2015). URL :