Moving towards data-driven society

Moving towards data-driven society

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In recent weeks, we have been hearing lot of news regarding data security, misuse of data and data generation itself. For example, recently, Facebook was in the eye of storm for allowing a political data firm to harvest private information from more than 50 million Facebook profiles without the social network’s alerting users. Voices have been raised about the possible misuse of government’s Aadhar data and alerting the government to take necessary precautionary measures. The government in a recent court hearing had accused Google and European Smart Card trying to derail its UIDAI project. All these incidents go to say the significance of data in our day-to-day life. Unknowingly, we daily generate voluminous data and proper analysis of the same can be of immense help to the government, business and the society at large. 

However, data is a double edged weapon. While it has umpteen uses, there is always a danger of it falling into wrong hands with resultant consequences. Data analytics has helped to win elections as well as lose them. Data analytics have helped to build fortunes for many while at the same time have become reasons for shutting down the business of those who are not so lucky. 

All said and done importance of data in today’s fast changing world cannot be ignored. Just like garbage, every day, we generate enormous amounts of information that can either be dumped as waste or reused to map of people’s interests, habits, and interactions. In fact, for urban planners these disparate datasets represent a goldmine of opportunity. So, it is up to us to treat it as garbage and dump it or see it as a goldmine and use it to improve our day-to-day life. When governments, universities, research centers, and innovation hubs work together to share information, they become true partners in the urban-planning process. Open data usage can also promote transparency and build trust in government decision-making and official policies.

In many countries, it has become a practice to first look at the statistics and do diagnostics before making an urban project. Many countries have started applying data for planning and come out with unbelievable results. We are living in a data-driven global economy: med-tech, fin-tech, increasingly now ‘gov-tech.’

Of course, the government need to have in place a strong legal frameworks to protect personal data. A proper data protocol system should be envisaged and implemented. There should be proper system in place to ensure that data is collected from all sections of the society including the populations that are cut off from technology. Above all, trustworthy platforms are needed to enable data sharing between agencies and municipalities without risk of sabotage.

Data collection cannot remain once in a decade exercise. It has to become full time job as its proper use can contribute to the improvement in quality of services leading to better liveability. Some cities in the world have a full-time census team that goes door-to-door to businesses in the city to create a periodical census of land use and employment. Those census reports capture a wide range of information, including the number of jobs in the city and changes in land use which is a valuable data to a spectrum of stakeholders, including government, private corporations, property developers and universities. Without such data we will be shooting in the dark and smart city concept will remain a pipedream for us. 

We are living in a global village in an electronic age where geographical distance is irrelevant and data is the universal language. One cannot ignore the significance standardized urban data driving the development of cities that are inclusive and sustainable, and that contribute to “smart” national development. Promoting the standardized urban data as a tool for sharing city-to-city solutions around the world, and as the basis for informed investments in city infrastructure by the government and private investors will be at the core of urban planning.  Evidence-based decision-making, informed by sound data will be the norm of urban planning in the coming days and India should be prepared for it both in terms of collection and analysis and its safety and security.

Generation of and access to huge volume of data calls for new philosophies, theories, and practices for analyzing the structures, economic development, and governance problems of urban life in a meaningful and systematical way, to better understand the new direction of the new urban landscape in context of this technological revolution.

Initially, there will be hurdles in collecting the data as people may be uncomfortable in parting with some information which they may think as invasion into their privacy. Awareness among the people need to be created and they need to be educated to make them comfortable with the idea of user-generated information circulating freely. The government, on its part, should also be aware of as to where to draw a line to protect citizens privacy and not to cross the same. Both the government and the citizens should know the difference between city intelligence and urban data. 

The government is aiming to create 100 smart cities under Smart City Mission. While it is important to create suitable physical infrastructure, it is equally important have proper resources and processes in place to capture and analyze the data and share it between the public and private sectors. Solution to most of our present-day problems ranging from poverty to climate change may be found here.