Heralding A Culture Of Openness With Standardised Data

By institutionalizing a culture of data in India cities, there will be an immediate increase in transparency, accountability, informed investments and increased citizen engagement.


In the digital age, data is the starting point for decision-makers to find gaps and design sustainable solutions to all major social, economic, and environmental challenges. In the Indian context, city data is essential for city planning and in support of the government’s Smart Cities Mission, geared towards building 100 smart cities.

Despite envisioning the most futuristic developmental programmes in recent history, India lacks globally standardised, comparable and independently verified city data to create smart, sustainable, resilient, prosperous and inclusive cities of the future. As India’s urban population is projected to grow from 410 million in 2014 to 800 million by 2050, this data is needed urgently. It is estimated that by 2030, 77 cities in India will have a population of more than 1 million (40 per cent increase); 23 per cent of the global middle class will be from India; and India’s Urban GDP will be about 7.5 trillion and will contribute 75 per cent of India’s total GDP.

In short, India’s growth story will come from, and be helmed by the people of her cities.

To accommodate such a vast population base and ensure improvements in citizens’ quality of life, governments should ensure that large development programmes such as Smart Cities, 500 AMRUT cities, HRIDAY, Housing for all by 2022, etc. are implemented effectively, supported by an efficient and effective mechanism for data reporting. A new partnership between Tata Trusts and the World Council on City Data (WCCD), ISO 37120 – the first international standard for cities – is helping to address this data deficit, with three new Indian cities (Pune, Surat & Jamshedpur) now ISO certified by WCCD. It defines and establishes methodologies for a set of 100 indicators to steer and measure the performance of city services and quality of life.

From creating new smart cities from the ground up, such as the 1500 acre Songdo, South Korea, to adding smarter technologies to highly modern and well serviced cities like Austin, Texas, there are multiple Smart City precedents. India’s highly populated urban hubs are being transitioned to Smart Cities by injecting large investment to support basic infrastructural planning, enhanced with better ICT.

The challenge is immense in India. Many of the cities in the Smart Cities Mission are already built, they are densely populated and require infrastructure to be upgraded and built in the existing urban fabric. Here, both a need and an opportunity exist to introduce a culture of data into these cities to help them more effectively and efficiently build towards a renewed urban future. Standardised, verified and globally comparable city data is needed immediately, to help inform the cities infrastructure investment budgets. The currently estimate of the national infrastructure budget is Rs 3,96,135 crore up by 10 per cent over FY17 revised estimate. Standardised data is essential as larger investments are introduced into cities. However, in most Indian cities, data is collected by various stakeholders and entities in a decentralised manner, which makes benchmarking and planning challenging.

The good news is that municipal commissioners in different cities across the country are willing to explore ways of streamlining data for delivering public services. If available in one place, standardised and comparable city data on key city systems like number of households, number of slum dwellers, power outages, life expectancy, and emergency response capabilities, among others, can help decision-makers in planning.

Open, comparable, standardised and certified city data can help citizens engage with city governments as they tackle a changing solutions architecture, while working to increase investment attractiveness. For example, The Open Government Data Portal of the Surat Municipal Corporation was launched on 23rd October, 2016. The website aims to provide the data residing with the various departments and sections of the Surat Municipal Corporation. The data available on the Open Data Portal of Surat can be accessed by anyone across the globe. A similar effort is underway in Pune, whose open data portal was launched on October 2nd 2016 to help understand the city better and enable solutions for speedy development. The steel city of Jamshedpur, while being an industrial township, is attracting private players to set up a smart ecosystem based on the Internet of Things (IoT).

By institutionalizing a culture of data in India cities, there will be an immediate increase in transparency, accountability, informed investments and increased citizen engagement. Over time, this new culture of city data will help in creating sustainable, resilient, prosperous and inclusive cities of the future, all of which are essential to making cities ‘smart’ in the true sense of the term.

(The author Dr. Patricia McCarney is the President and CEO of the Toronto-based World Council on City Data and Poornima Dore leads the Data Driven Governance thematic vertical at the Tata Trusts, India)

This article was published in BW Businessworld issue dated '' with cover story titled 'Cities On the Move'

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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