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June 04, 2009

The Intelligence Within

During the course of IBM’s Global Innovation Outlook on cities, we have held deep dives with as many as 30 people in a room, roundtables of smaller, more focused groups, and dozens of one-on-one interviews with urban experts. Throughout all of these conversations, two themes have been consistent: 1.) We need to find better ways to engage the citizens in the planning and development process, and 2.) We need to collect and combine the most valuable data to help support those processes.

Fortunately, there are all kinds of ways to tackle both problems simultaneously. In an earlier post on this blog, we discussed the many ways in which citizens are both consumers and producers of the data that city systems give off. How people are moving around the city, what kind of health services are they using, test scores in schools, and so on. These data are invaluable, but very raw. They require someone to make it useful or instructive.

Well it turns out citizens can handle that as well. Earlier this week we met with a group of transportation experts in Helsinki, Finland. In Helsinki, there is a Web site for commuters (or travelers of any kind, really) to show them their transportation option for various routes around the city. It’s a very convenient service that is catching on around the world.

But Helsinki officials have taken it a step further. They made the raw transportation data available to the general public. This open-source approach allows anyone to create an application based on the data. For example, they can develop optimized apps for different mobile devices, add in GPS capabilities, or integrate the information with other city systems. And those applications can be bought and sold or given away to anyone who finds them useful.

The point is that cities, with their limited budgets and onerous bureaucracies, don’t need to do everything themselves. There are throngs of city dwellers with the skill and motivation to pitch in, an invaluable resource that has gone largely untapped. And a lot of the data needed for these kinds of innovative applications are already being collected. As long as it doesn’t pose any security threats, it need only be handed over. That’s how a little transparency can go a long way.

June 4, 2009 | Permalink

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