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Play #4

Question Data

Print a PDF of Play 4: Question Data



Data is at the heart of smart cities, as data is what makes technology “smart.” They provide the computational values about the world that technology calculates and activates. The real-time analysis of smart city data can lead to better service provision and information accessibility; however, it can also lead to profiling and social isolation. Public sector and public-serving organizations need to ask why, how, and what of data before it is collected and interpreted. Robust and responsible data policies and protocols must be included in the development of smart technology infrastructure, and organizations should make these policies and protocols known to the publics they serve.


Data is often seen as a resource to be controlled, but the public sector’s responsibility is to steward this new data landscape with clear justifications. Nearly everything can be data-fied, but that does not mean it should be collected and stored. Government’s role should be to question the use of new datasets and to clearly communicate the values that justify their collection and analysis. The responsibility of data collection, management, and analysis within government is often left to understaffed “innovation and technology” offices or designated “smart city” staff. In reality, people's digital lives reach across government agencies. To provide more integrated and targeted services for publics, governments must also share and manage data across agencies. Data sharing involves data classification, standardization, and cross-departmental communication, while informed data sharing is even more difficult. This involves discussion about which data to share or make public, time spent on providing context to datasets, and attention to the gaps in data collection and analytics.

Action Ideas

  • Adopt a data culture of thinking critically about how, when, and why to collect and use data.
  • Find data about problems, not problems in the data you have.
  • Empower a civic technology jury to veto smart city technology proposals that don’t provide public value.
Play #5

Imagine The Possible