Open Data, at the heart of local government strategy

4 minutes of reading

Seen as the new “black gold” of our society, data, and particularly the use of data, is central to the strategy of organisations, services and, more recently, local government.

Seen as the new “black gold” of our society, data, and particularly the use of data, is central to the strategy of organisations, services and, more recently, local government. The development of Smart Cities is the order of the day, intelligent towns that draw on new technologies to improve their urban services or to reduce costs. And this is why the issue of Open Data is becoming a hot topic for metropolitan areas. So what is Open Data? It entails a region’s digital data being made openly and freely available to all, one of its many benefits being to link together all the services provided by the town. Although this is an attractive concept in many respects, it does raise a great many questions, particularly from local citizens.

This was the topic of the latest Open Up Session organised by Bouygues Construction, a partner of the “DataCités” exploration project coordinated by the Lab OuiShare x Chronos. We meet with Xavier Lenoir, Head of IT Systems for Ville de Dijon, and Simon Saint-Georges, the officer in charge of energy data for Rennes Métropole, two local authorities involved in this study.

The exploration project led by Lab OuiShare x Chronos found that there was no single model for a Smart City, but rather a number of key principles to be adapted to suit different circumstances. What are the specific features of the metropolitan areas of Dijon and Rennes in terms of Open Data?

Xavier Lenoir: In Dijon, there were of course a number of initiatives already in place, but the issue of data really took on greater significance with our smart city project “OnDijon”. The basis of this project is to centralise the key functions of the urban environment within the metropolitan region as a whole, in order to modernise and better manage these functions: public lighting, traffic lights, video surveillance, access control, etc. And in this regard we have been able to measure the value of data, particularly in terms of understanding, analysing, even anticipating its uses, etc. Which naturally leads us on to developing a deliberate policy of data processing and open data, for the benefit of all.

Simon Saint-Georges: Rennes has been a pioneer city in the field of Open Data, which is the reason why our philosophy differs from that in Dijon. The region sees Data as a shared asset, and one that should be managed by a community of stakeholders. Although data governance is at the heart of our strategy, it is not provided by the local authority alone; we are working to set up a system of open governance involving data producers, civil society, local authorities and experts.

Data is also at the heart of a number of controversies, due largely to recent scandals affecting tech giants such as Facebook. How is the topic of Open Data perceived by private individuals?

Xavier Lenoir: For a local authority, it is stating the obvious to say that a data policy should be developed for – and together with – individual citizens, within a reciprocal relationship based on trust. This is particularly relevant at local level where links with citizens are stronger. The inhabitants here in our region have not expressed concern but naturally they seek reassurances that their rights are protected in the long term. This is why we are building strong and transparent governance within this metropolitan area, focussed on retaining control of the data it collects. Strong governance, also open for sharing with relevant structures within the region: public entities, private entities, associations, etc.

The recently adopted GDPR legislation sets out a new legal framework for data use. What are the impacts for metropolitan areas?

Simon Saint-Georges: This legislation is a step in the right direction. The impact is felt mainly by privately-owned companies, as many local authorities already have the recommended arrangements in place, and also the majority of open data is not related to personal data. It has the double benefit of raising public awareness on data-related issues, above and beyond personal data protection, and of increasing vigilance on the part of all stakeholders. In Rennes, we have already appointed a Data Protection Officer (DPO). Their role will be to ensure that we are compliant with data management legislation.

In short, Open Data is an opportunity for our communities where it is used wisely. All projects must place the users as the main focus of study if we are to ensure that the solutions put in place are real and long lasting. A focus which continues to be of prime importance for both Rennes and Dijon. For Dijon, this is a central aspect of the OnDijon project developed in partnership with Bouygues Energies & Services, Citelum (EDF), Suez and Capgemini. The Boston Smart City Playbook, a collaborative guide drafted by the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics specialising in this particular field, even has a whole chapter dedicated to this topic: “Let’s talk about the stuff that makes those things useful and usable ”.