Why governing data is key for the future of cities

Article by Carlos Santiso and Marcelo Facchina: “Technology is changing city dwellers lives, as well as how urban centres evolve to meet their needs. The pandemic has accelerated this transformation, and the digital transition has generated an explosion of data, especially in cities. In this context, the ability of local governments to manage urban problems will be paramount for the recovery, and the pandemic has helped us better understand the missing elements we need to govern cities effectively. For instance, the World Bank’s World Development Report of 2021 underscored that a data infrastructure policy is one of the building blocks of a good data governance framework, both to foster the local data economy and promote digital inclusion.  

It is inconceivable not to consider cities as an integral part of the solution to challenges like tackling social exclusion, improving public services and reducing insecurity, among others. A key issue that has become increasingly prominent in city agendas is the good governance of data; that is how data is handled and for what purpose, its quality and integrity, as well as the privacy and security concerns related to its collection and use. In other words, city governments need to preserve people’s trust in the way they handle data to improve lives.

A modern local government cannot be sustained without good data governance, secure data infrastructure, and digital talent to extract public value from data. Data policy must therefore act as an enabler of transformation strategies, defining the scope, direction, responsibilities and procedures for the effective and responsible use of data for more responsive and resilient cities.

At the national level, “delivery units” have gained relevance as instruments for managing change in governments and driving the effective implementation of strategic priorities. These management models led by central government have proven to be effective instruments for achieving government targetspriority goals and major projects.

The model is even being expanded to subnational governments, like in the case of Colombia. Municipalities interact directly with citizens in providing public services, and innovations like the “delivery units”, can help improve citizen satisfaction with government services. In a recent study, we show how Latin American cities, for example Recife and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, have leveraged these innovations in public management as a strategic planning tool, building on the pioneering experience of New York. Another interesting case is Buenos Aires, in Argentina, where systematic monitoring of government commitments by the Compliance Management Unit achieved a significant decrease in murder rates (43%) and road accidents (33%) between 2015 and 2019.

The pivotal role of new technologies and the strategic use of data by municipal governments can also improve delivery of services, making them more accessible, agile, efficient and less costly. In another recent study, we look at the case of 12 cities around the world and in the region, including Boston, Seoul, London, Buenos Aires, Medellin, Mexico and Recife that are seeking to strengthen their strategic management with more intensive use of data to better meet the growing expectations of their citizens….(More)”.