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The Mayor of London The London Assembly

Engaging Londoners in Open Data

Some people have described data as the new oil.  A precious resource that fuels growth and innovation (let’s just hope it doesn’t have so many downsides…).

For the great global cities such as London, data certainly has the potential to unlock fundamental progress.  If data can record our human actions and our physical environment, and organise that information so that it can make sense for us, surely we have the most important asset possible in steering a better course?  And better still, if that data is exponentially growing, because we are able to collect more, and bodies such as the London Datastore are making it organised and open, then that must be a huge boost for the cities concerned?

Yes, but…

Open data is already a great tool for better city management – look at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Analytics or the Boston New Urban Mechanics.  And here in London the Datastore is at the core of an ecosystem encompassing the GLA, the Boroughs, NGOs, numerous providers of infrastructure, systems, services and technology.  But someone is missing.  That’s right, the citizen

To fill this gap we created Urbs Media, to help empower millions of Londoners by making data easily accessible to them.  Some people (like me!) love mining through numbers and looking at beautiful visualisations.  Most don’t.  So we use the most open, accessible, understandable and actionable method known to mankind – we write stories.  For us, data is a democratic resource to help citizens know and understand their city, and to make it a better place.  Our business, Urbs Media, is about transferring the knowledge contained in data to the people who need to use it. is our prototype channel – it is 90% based on London Datastore releases, which we work through in a pretty systematic way, looking for stories and insights that will interest and engage Londoners. We combine data analytics with the old-fashioned journalistic skills of story-telling to create a new type of news and information resource for people, and one with hard numbers as its source.  We want a future where citizens are screaming for more open data; where the demand on bodies such as the Datastore is from the people, and city management is linking this with existing digital engagement like Talk London.

This month, we’ve started testing the site through social media.  The first surprise was (with no search presence) so many people found us – we quickly reached tens of thousands of Londoners.  The second surprise was the profile of these Londoners; they were predominantly from the 50% of the city who were not born and bred here, but who have moved to London, most from a different country.  In hindsight this isn’t surprising at all – people who make a conscious decision to move their lives have a natural curiosity and practical necessity to understand the city that those who have been here longer might take for granted.  They are looking at London through fresh, enthusiastic and ambitious eyes, and they are finding our data-driven content vital in feeding their thirst for knowledge and understanding.  They are using Datastore-sourced information to build better London lives.

So a promising and intriguing start for us, but it’s just a beginning.  Over the summer we’re ramping up the site before looking across the globe for new markets where our model might work.  We’ll let you know how we get on…

Alan Renwick

CEO, Urbs Media