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Interaction | March 2017

Data helps cities chalk out priorities

Matthew Lynch, Vice President, Global Partnerships & Initiatives at World Council on City Data; Poornima Dore, Senior Manager, Programs on Data Driven Governance, Tata Trusts.

Please explain us how Tata Trusts is involved in the ´Data-Driven Governance´ project and what was the idea behind this?
Tata Trusts as an institution that is interested in the area of development and what kind of initiatives in those areas where system strengthening can be done. We have identified ´data driven governance´ as one such area. How data and technology can be used by government departments, by members of parliament (MPs), by important decision makers to actually influence or to deliver better on public services, which many of these institutions are mandated to. Open data story is something which the corporate sector is harnessing quite a bit. But in the public sector it is yet to be fully maximised. So our effort has been to work closely with some of these players and to see how can we help them build their systems. It was in this context that we have partnered with World Council for City Data (WCCD). WCCD has come up with ISO indicators to capture data capabilities of cities. We have partnered with them to see if Indian cities can get ISO certified.

You are starting smart cities and you will be expanding it to other areas as well?
We are looking at city data. We are not necessarily limiting ourselves to smart cities. Smart cities have already started off on the process of reporting information, but there is a possibility for other cities to be a part of it. Pune, Surat and Jamshedpur are on our list of three cities. Jamshedpur is not on the list of smart cities today, because it is not technically a municipal corporation. But, they have the kind of systems and they have been running their own utilities for quite some time. They have been capturing their own data, which helps them to be effective. We are open to cities which are seriously interested in this.

What has been the international experience of smart cities, how are they transformed the whole urban living?
I think I would focus my answer on the role that data gives, which is the focus of our organisation. Ultimately, smart cities are looked at using data to help you drive decision making and better outcomes. And data plays a very important role in all of that process. So, we see that transformation is the role of data both in helping to understand what city´s challenges are, and helping chalk out priorities in municipal administration. Then things are implemented, they start to drive real change, demonstrating progress and success.

What is your experience in this process?
The previous organisation I worked for 8 years to build the ISO standard, in association with 250 cities around the world. So, that way, key indicators were identified and how they should be measured. That information was put into the ISO standard (ISO 37120), which is the standard which WCCD helps to implement. Since 2014, when the standard was published, WCCD has been working to get cities to apply the standard and certifying their data and putting it on open data.

How many cities across the world have applied for this certification?
At the moment 14. We will add 3 more Indian cities that are certified under this programme. There is another large group of cities that are in the process of having their data certified. The number is growing very rapidly.

Actually how many data points under how many broad subjects have you evolved the standard?
There are a 100 indicators covering social, environmental, economic performance and most indicators are organised under 7-8 things, which are important for cities. So, health, education, energy, environment, water, waste, economy, public safety and so on...

What is the critical importance of power sector in urban infrastructure?
Obviously energy is fundamental to sustainable development. It supports quality of life, basic services for citizens and also enables economic development. So, the power sector obviously plays an important role, and particularly in urban centres.

In India, how did your work progress and what are the performance parameters you are working on?
We have already worked with three cities and collected the basic parameters that are part of this data. So there are things like energy use, energy use per capita, percentage of renewable energy, energy mix, electricity mix, public sector, building energy used per square metre, interruptions, average number of interruptions and average length of interruptions of energy supply. So they are fairly high level parameters that give perspective of the energy system within the city.

What sort of private sector involvement is necessary to change the pace of automation in smart cities in India?
The change has to begin within the municipality itself. It is not something which an external player can create or build or develop. I think that today it is a little person driven. So if municipal commissioner is very enthusiastic about technology and data, and shows something needs to be done, then the administration also takes it seriously. Hopefully through smart city programme and other initiatives of the government, I am hopeful that this culture slowly gets institutionalised where reporting of information and tracking of projects are speeded up. So, simple day to day civic things, which people have to interface municipality, are slowly going digital. And once it is digital, to track it and move fast on it and know where things are pending the entire cycle is contingent on this whole platform being robust. What we can do is create these kinds of forums where cities are talking to each other, where cities that have used it are able to share that this is what worked fast for me.

The top CEO of the country has taken personal interest in Smart Cities. How do you see it will pan out in the next 15 or 20 years, from the current standpoint?
The fact that the country is looking at urbanisation seriously is something which has happened more actively in the last 10 years which is where earlier there was a JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission). There have been different experiences of success and failure... and now, there is ´smart cities´. Before that whole focus was rural. Globally if you look at how countries have developed as they are becoming more developed they are becoming more urbanised. We are also moving in the same direction. A lot of focus needs to happen not just in metros but also in tier 2 and tier 3 cities and in census towns which are rapidly going to get populated and become ready to become cities and our planning needs to ensure that they are also slowly getting equipped and have those kind of facilities.

- BS Srinivasalu Reddy

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