“You can’t have a smart city without open data”. So said ODI boss Gavin Starks at a recent ODI Connect event.

And he’s absolutely right. Talk of smart cities usually turns quickly to motion sensors on lampposts and tracking mobile phones. Those innovations are interesting and useful, but peripheral to the core of the challenge.

The biggest potential gains are around making better decisions about city management, whether that’s short-term operational decisions or longer-term planning and policy decisions. The way to achieve that is improved availability, discoverability and interoperability of data. Collect useful information, make it available, connect it together.

Not everything has to be open but a spine of core data must be. The Cabinet Office has been developing plans for a ‘National Information Infrastructure’. There is also a clear need for any city that wants to call itself smart to invest in a City Information Infrastructure.

That involves shared data standards (eg from W3C, OGC and BSI), openly available managed identifiers and reference data for places, assets and services.

With that in place you can start connecting up, visualising and analysing data on life in the city: demographics, economic activity, transport, environment and so on. That in turn informs those who need to make decisions on urban regeneration and infrastructure planning, attracting inward investment, optimising transport and logistics, responding to incidents and emergencies, improving and targeting service delivery. And it offers the potential to support a more active kind of local democracy and priority setting.

This is what the management boards of local governments need to be aware of and set in motion. Yes, look to new technology for energy saving; yes, be transparent about how money is spent - but the bigger picture is investing in data collection, management and analysis. A smart city is one that makes well-informed decisions.

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