For America’s New Mayors, a Chance to Lead with Data

Article by Zachary Markovits and Molly Daniell:”While the presidential race drew much of the nation’s attention this year, voters also chose leaders in 346 mayoral elections, as well as many more city and county commission and council races, reshaping the character of government leadership from coast to coast.

These newly elected and re-elected leaders will enter office facing an unprecedented set of challenges: a worsening pandemic, weakened local economies, budget shortfalls and a reckoning over how government policies have contributed to racial injustice. To help their communities “build back better”—in the words of the new President-elect—these leaders will need not just more federal support, but also a strategy that is data-driven in order to protect their residents and ensure that resources are invested where they are needed most.

For America’s new mayors, it’s a chance to show the public what effective leadership looks like after a chaotic federal response to Covid-19—and no response can be fully effective without putting data at the center of how leaders make decisions.

Throughout 2020, we’ve been documenting the key steps that local leaders can take to advance a culture of data-informed decision-making. Here are five lessons that can help guide these new leaders as they seek to meet this moment of national crisis:

1. Articulate a vision

The voice of the chief executive is galvanizing and unlike any other in city hall. That’s why the vision for data-driven government must be articulated from the top. From the moment they are sworn in, mayors have the opportunity to lean forward and use their authority to communicate to the whole administration, council members and city employees about the shift to using data to drive policymaking.

Consider Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti who, upon coming into office, spearheaded an internal review process culminating in this memo to all general managers stressing the need for a culture of both continuous learning and performance. In this memo, he creates urgency, articulates precisely what will change and how it will affect the success of the organization as well as build a data-driven culture….(More)”.

Smart urban governance: an alternative to technocratic “smartness”

Paper by Huaxiong Jiang, Stan Geertman & Patrick Witte: “This paper argues for a specific urban planning perspective on smart governance that we call “smart urban governance,” which represents a move away from the technocratic way of governing cities often found in smart cities. A framework on smart urban governance is proposed on the basis of three intertwined key components, namely spatial, institutional, and technological components. To test the applicability of the framework, we conducted an international questionnaire survey on smart city projects. We then identified and discursively analyzed two smart city projects—Smart Nation Singapore and Helsinki Smart City—to illustrate how this framework works in practice. The questionnaire survey revealed that smart urban governance varies remarkably: As urban issues differ in different contexts, the governance modes and relevant ICT functionalities applied also differ considerably. Moreover, the case analysis indicates that a focus on substantive urban challenges helps to define appropriate modes of governance and develop dedicated technologies that can contribute to solving specific smart city challenges. The analyses of both cases highlight the importance of context (cultural, political, economic, etc.) in analyzing interactions between the components. In this, smart urban governance promotes a sociotechnical way of governing cities in the “smart” era by starting with the urban issue at stake, promoting demand-driven governance modes, and shaping technological intelligence more socially, given the specific context….(More)”.

Transparency in Local Governments: Patterns and Practices of Twenty-first Century

Paper by Redeemer Dornudo Yao Krah and Gerard Mertens: “The study is a systematic literature review that assembles scientific knowledge in local government transparency in the twenty-first Century. The study finds a remarkable growth in research on local government transparency in the first nineteen years, particularly in Europe and North America. Social, economic, political, and institutional factors are found to account for this trend. In vogue among local governments is the use of information technology to enhance transparency. The pressure to become transparent largely comes from the passage of Freedom of Information Laws and open data initiatives of governments….(More)”.

Open data in public libraries: Gauging activities and supporting ambitions

Paper by Kaitlin Fender Throgmorton, Bree Norlander and Carole L. Palmer: “As the open data movement grows, public libraries must assess if and how to invest resources in this new service area. This paper reports on a recent survey on open data in public libraries across Washington state, conducted by the Open Data Literacy project (ODL) in collaboration with the Washington State Library. Results document interests and activity in open data across small, medium, and large libraries in relation to traditional library services and priorities. Libraries are particularly active in open data through reference services and are beginning to release their own library data to the public. While capacity and resource challenges hinder progress for some, many libraries, large and small, are making progress on new initiatives, including strategic collaborations with local government agencies. Overall, the level and range of activity suggest that Washington state public libraries of all sizes recognize the value of open data for their communities, with a groundswell of libraries moving beyond ambition to action as they develop new services through evolution and innovation….(More)”.

Co-Production of Public Services and Outcomes

Book by Elke Loeffler: “This book examines user and community co-production of public services and outcomes, currently one of the most discussed topics in the field of public management and policy. It considers co-production in a wide range of public services, with particular emphasis on health, social care and community safety, illustrated through international case studies in many of the chapters. This book draws on both quantitative and qualitative empirical research studies on co-production, and on the Governance International database of more than 70 international co-production case studies, most of which have been republished by the OECD. Academically rigorous and systematically evidence-based, the book incorporates many insights which have arisen from the extensive range of research projects and executive training programmes in co-production undertaken by the author. Written in a style which is easy and enjoyable to read, the book gives readers, both academics and practitioners, the opportunity to develop a creative understanding of the essence and implications of co-production….(More)”.

Airbnb’s Data ‘Portal’ Promises a Better Relationship With Cities

Article by Patrick Sisson: “When startups go public, a big part of the process is opening up their books and being more transparent about their business model. With global short-term rental giant Airbnb moving towards its own IPO, the company has introduced a new product that seeks to address recent safety concerns and answer the data-sharing requests that critics have long claimed make the company a less-than-perfect partner for local leaders. 

The Airbnb City Portal, which launched on Wednesday as a pilot program with 15 global cities and tourism agencies, aims to provide municipal staff with more efficient access to data about listings, including whether or not they’re complying with local laws. Each city, including Buffalo, San Francisco and Seattle, will have access to a new data dashboard as well as a dedicated staffer at Airbnb. Like so many of its sharing economy and Silicon Valley peers, Airbnb has had a contentious, and evolving, relationship with municipalities and local government ever since launching (an especially fraught situation in Europe, as an EU court just ruled in favor of city regulations of the site). 

At a time when so many tech platforms are wrestling, often unsuccessfully, with the need to moderate the behavior of bad actors who use the site, Airbnb’s City Portal is an attempt to “productize” how the home-sharing site works with local government, says Chris Lehane, Airbnb’s senior vice president for global policy and communications. It’s a more useful framework to access information and report violations, he says. And it delivers on the platform’s long-term goals around sharing data, paying taxes and working with cities on regulation. He frames the move as part of a balancing act around the security and safety responsibilities of local governments and a private global company.

The dashboard will also be useful for local tourism officials: It will provide visitor information, including city of origin and demographic information, that helps bureaus better target their advertising and marketing campaigns….(More)”

Exploring Urban Form Through Openstreetmap Data: A Visual Introduction

Chapter by Geoff Boeing in Book edited by Justin B. Hollander and Ann Sussman: “This chapter introduces OpenStreetMap—a crowd-sourced, worldwide mapping project and geospatial data repository—to illustrate its usefulness in quickly and easily analyzing and visualizing planning and design outcomes in the built environment. It demonstrates the OSMnx toolkit for automatically downloading, modeling, analyzing, and visualizing spatial big data from OpenStreetMap. We explore patterns and configurations in street networks and buildings around the world computationally through visualization methods—including figure-ground diagrams and polar histograms—that help compress urban complexity into comprehensible artifacts that reflect the human experience of the built environment. Ubiquitous urban data and computation can open up new urban form analyses from both quantitative and qualitative perspectives….(More)”.

Urban Platforms and the Future City

Book by Mike HodsonJulia KasmireAndrew McMeekinJohn G. Stehlinand Kevin Ward: “This title takes the broadest possible scope to interrogate the emergence of “platform urbanism”, examining how it transforms urban infrastructure, governance, knowledge production, and everyday life, and brings together leading scholars and early-career researchers from across five continents and multiple disciplines.

The volume advances theoretical debates at the leading edge of the intersection between urbanism, governance, and the digital economy, by drawing on a range of empirically detailed cases from which to theorize the multiplicity of forms that platform urbanism takes. It draws international comparisons between urban platforms across sites, with attention to the leading edges of theory and practice and explores the potential for a renewal of civic life, engagement, and participatory governance through “platform cooperativism” and related movements. A breadth of tangible and diverse examples of platform urbanism provides critical insights to scholars examining the interface of digital technologies and urban infrastructure, urban governance, urban knowledge production, and everyday urban life.

The book will be invaluable on a range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, as well as for academics and researchers in these fields, including anthropology, geography, innovation studies, politics, public policy, science and technology studies, sociology, sustainable development, urban planning, and urban studies. It will also appeal to an engaged, academia-adjacent readership, including city and regional planners, policymakers, and third-sector researchers in the realms of citizen engagement, industrial strategy, regeneration, sustainable development, and transport….(More)”.

How smart cities are boosting citizen engagement

Article by  Joe Appleton: “…many governments are implementing new and exciting ideas to try and boost citizen engagement and overcome the obstacles that prevent citizen involvement. Here are a few examples of how cities are engaging with citizens in the 21st century.


The city of San Francisco has been working hard to improve resident participation. To help solve city-wide problems, the city created a program called Civic Bridge. Civic Bridge is a platform that can be used to bring together residents and volunteers from the private sector with city staff. This allows city hall to work closely with private sector professionals to solve public challenges.

By enlisting the help of hundreds of otherwise unreachable residents, solutions to city problems such as homelessness, access to healthcare, and other social issues, fast and effective results could be produced.

Civy is another program that has been designed to put city officials directly in touch with residents. Civy is a cloud-based platform that gives citizens a voice, in a confidential environment, that allows citizens to add their thoughts and opinions on citywide projects, helping officials make better-informed decisions.


Physically traveling to a city hall can be an immense barrier to citizen participation. However, some innovative cities are taking steps to bring city hall into resident’s homes. To do this, they are enlisting help from platforms such as CitizenLab. CitizenLab was first launched in 2016, and it has proven itself to be a practical medium for many European cities. The platform boosts citizen engagement by sending data directly to members of the public via a user-friendly mobile interface. Officials can see the results from surveys and questionnaires in real-time, and use the data collected to make decisions based on real citizen insights.

Civocracy is a similar digital platform that has been designed to promote citizen participation, champion collaborative governance projects, and improve city hall efficiency. It focuses on direct communication between residents and officials, giving citizen’s a platform to discuss projects and allow officials to get ideas from the public. This service is currently being used in Amsterdam, Nice, Potsdam, Brussels, Lyon, and many other European cities.

Platforms like these are essential for removing the obstacles that many citizens face when interacting with city governments. As a result, cities can enjoy a more citizen-centric form of smart government.


There’s more to citizen engagement than giving and receiving feedback for ideas and projects. To boost participation, some cities have really embraced 21st century trends. 

For example, two cities in the UK (London and Plymouth) have been experimenting with crowdfunding for potential city projects. Proposals for urban projects are listed on popular crowdfunding websites, in an open and transparent manner, allowing residents and investors to directly contribute funds to projects and initiatives that they’re interested in. In some cases, the local authorities will support winning proposals by matching the raised funds.

Crowdfunding can be used as a platform for citizens to show off their own ideas and initiatives, and highlight any potential problems in the community. The service can be used for a wide range of applications, from restoring derelict buildings to installing social health programs.

Allowing citizens to show their approval with their personal funding is one way to boost participation, however, there should be other ways to attract attention and allow citizens to voice their opinions too. Maptionnaire is one such way. 

Maptionnaire is an online tool that creates a virtual map of a city, where residents can freely offer their advice, opinions, and feelings about areas of the city or specific projects. Users can simply leave comments that can explicitly inform city officials about their feelings. 

This is a great tool that can provide widely representative data about city plans. The platform can also take votes about certain projects and garner fast results. Since it can be accessed remotely, it also allows for citizens to say what they want, without feeling intimidated by a crowd or swayed by popular opinion.


Encouraging public feedback is one way to boost participation, but some local authorities are going a step further by directly asking citizens for solutions. By allowing citizens to formulate their own solutions and give them the tools to realize those solutions, interest in city governance can grow exponentially.

For example, Lublin is the first city in Poland to adopt an initiative called the Green Citizen’s Budget. This participatory budget scheme welcomed residents to put forward ideas to improve urban greenery, and allocated a budget of PLN 2 million (450.000 €) and teamed residents up with technical experts to help realize those plans.

Turning to citizens for inspiration is a popular way of generating new ideas and seeing fresh perspectives. The city of Sydney and the New South Wales government in Australia has recently launched an innovative competition that presents an opportunity for citizens to submit daring proposals to solve public space problems….(More)”.

Conducting City Diplomacy: A Survey of International Engagement in 47 Cities

Paper by Anna Kosovac, Kris Hartley, Michele Acuto, and Darcy Gunning: “The impact of global challenges such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic manifests most acutely in urban settings, rendering cities essential players on the global stage.

In the 2018 report Toward City Diplomacy, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs presented findings from a survey of 27 cities on the capacity of local governments around the world to network internationally—and the perceived barriers to that engagement. The report found that cities “need to invest in resources, expertise, and capacity to manage their relationships and responsibilities to conduct city diplomacy effectively.”

In our new survey of 47 cities, we find that advice to still ring true. City officials broadly recognize the importance of engaging internationally but lack the necessary formal diplomacy training and resources for conducting that engagement to maximum effect. Nevertheless, cities maintain a strong commitment to global agendas, and international frameworks are increasingly influential in municipal affairs. For example, more than half of survey respondents said they track their city’s performance against the metrics of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Furthermore, we found that cities and their leaders are confident in their capacity to tackle global challenges. For instance, the majority of survey respondents said that city governments have greater potential for impact on climate change mitigation than their national government counterparts do, especially when acting collaboratively through city networks and multilateral urban programs.

The individual stories of five cities whose officials participated in the study offer lessons for a variety of challenges and approaches to city diplomacy. Based on the survey results, we discuss the three primary obstacles cities must overcome in order to strengthen the role of city diplomacy globally: inadequate funding and resources for international engagement, insufficient training in city diplomacy, and the failure of national and multilateral bodies to fully recognize and formalize city engagement in diplomacy.

We conclude with a framework for ensuring that city-diplomacy efforts are systematic and institutionalized rather than reliant on the personalities and connections of powerful city leaders. This capacity-building strategy can help cities leverage international coordination, information sharing, and intersectoral collaboration to address the complex and interconnected problems that will characterize the 21st century….(More)”.