#SmartCityTrends: Data needs a ‘banker'


Data needs accountability: here’s how it could happen! Fake news, “alternative facts” and filter bubbles – the data we consume and what we read and experience online shapes the way we view the world and the everyday decisions we make, big and small. If data is the new oil, why not start thinking about managing data in a professional way, as we already do for money, gold or stock options?*

Leading Cities, a non-profit organization working for cohesion in smart cities, is advocating for more accountability around the veracity and integrity of data that appears online. With its global network of world-class cities, Leading Cities has built bridges to share best practices, urban solutions and lessons learned among city leaders while breaking down barriers within cities by engaging each of the five sectors of the Quintuple-helix (Q-helix): Public, Private, Non-profit, Academia and Citizenry. Indeed, I love this concept! 

Recently, as Ambassador for TM Forum’s Smart City Forum, I had the pleasure to talk to Professor Joaquín Rodríguez of the Autonomous University of Barcelona and Leading Cities Co-ordinator, Barcelona about this idea.

The original video with the interview can be found on my YouTube channel:


“[Data] has two faces”, says Professor Rodriguez. “It’s a huge opportunity but it also represents huge risk – risks around social cohesion, democracy and more.”

He explains, “Through Leading Cities and in collaboration with other institutions we have been developing an idea about a public bank of data or a data broker. The idea is to imitate the idea of public banks. One of the biggest issues we are facing is about the quality of data. We have been working in order to guarantee fair access, quality and real data.” The idea is to create a public agency that makes people and businesses — Q-helix— accountable for the information and data they put online.


Who protects us from our protector?   

Rodriguez says, “Then the real challenge is…the idea of who protects us from our protector? This is a huge topic — when you create this kind of agency or public data bank you are giving the public administration huge power….Our idea is to create an independent institution through a public-private partnership with a totally independent board of directors.” He likens it to the way the BBC is run.


the anti rumors project was designed by the city of Barcelona with the goal of combatting negative and unfounded rumors


The idea draws in some ways on an existing initiative in Barcelona – the Anti Rumors project, which has been running since 2010. The campaign was designed by the City of Barcelona with the goal of combatting negative and unfounded rumors that have an adverse effect. The team works to identify negative and false rumors in the city and then share rigorous data and information to disprove them.

They might tackle something such as the idea that immigration is swamping the welfare or healthcare system, for example. This initiative has been interesting and successful, says Rodriguez but it can’t scale to match the “huge wave of data” we are now dealing with globally.


Keeping data honest 

There are more questions than answers right now in this emerging area but it will be fascinating to see how the idea he puts forward develops.

Rodriguez didn’t specify yet exactly what might underpin the work such a body would do and at the scale required but it’s clear technology will have a large role to play. A number of debates and initiatives are underway about how we might keep data honest – from the use of public blockchains to data analytics and artificial intelligence.


“developments in technology and society mean the time is right for data to become another utility in the city” (Carl Piva)


Carl Piva, Head of the Smart City Forum at TM Forum, outlines some of the work TM Forum is doing that could help move this significant issue along. He says, “Data offers huge opportunities to cities and citizens. Over the last decade, the concept of platform business models has been extremely successful in the private sector and cities are platforms that power the greatest marketplaces on earth. Leading cities are now coming to terms with how to create, curate and use data to the advantage of their citizens and businesses. Developments in technology and society mean the time is right for data to become another utility in the city.”

TM Forum is running collaborative work around enabling the economy of data in cities and making the idea of city as a platform a reality. A key part of this will be tackling challenges such as trust, data sovereignty and more.

“In our City as a Platform and Data Economy work-stream, we are trying to solve the problem of how open data can be used by the broader ecosystem,” adds Piva. “The challenges raised by Professor Rodriguez are important to solve.”



Member of the global advisory board of Leading Cities, Boston, and International Advisor for The World e-Governments Organization of Cities and Local Governments (WEGO), Seoul. Founder, board member and Senior consultant at Baumann Consultancy Network for Smart Cities projects and internationalization strategies, Italy. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

*This article was written in collaboration with Sarah Wray.

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