Small data brings big changes to smart cities

Interoperability to boost creativity

Ms Coral noted that through an open data policy, they hoped to boost the creativity of Angelenos and relieve problems bought by economic downturn and climate change. The key to success of this vision is collaboration between different government departments, civil organizations and systems. In short, interoperability is crucial.

To promote collaboration between multiple parties, it is important to have a standard of data format. In other words, it’s important  to embrace application programming interfaces (APIs). In this case, data can be downloaded in program readable format like Keyhole Makeup Language (KML) and Shapefile (.shp).

Another critical success factor is flexibility, which is often not the strength in governments. She quoted an example of data flow process. The initial plan was to require each government department to input its data into the GeoHub, but they later discovered it is more effective to connect the systems from different departments. It allows data to directly extracted from the source to GeoHub and better facilitate the exchange of information among departments.

Enabling legislation

Apart from enabling the collaboration between government departments and public engagement, the GeoHub provides data as the foundation for decision-making and legislation processes.

According to Ms Coral, the GeoHub allows the introduction of the Mayor's Dashboard. It indicates a collection of updated public concern items in Los Angeles, including unemployment rate, new jobs, average days of street pothole repair, public service hotline response time, crime rate, reserve fund balance, etc. The GeoHub and its related open data policy allow the City of LA to rank the highest in the number of open data applications in the United States.

By opening this data to everyone, the City of LA’s Mayor Eric Garcetti said he hopes to “make city operations more efficient, stimulate partnerships between the city and the community, and give residents a greater controlling stake in government.”

In Hong Kong, SCC proposed earlier that government services should be "digital by default,” meaning to release data and make it available for download as APIs. 

At the same time, the government should set up specifications for the recording of public data, as well as guidelines for processing data to ensure privacy. It is also necessary for the government to review relevant legislations and formulate an implementation timetable. A high-level government body, perhaps a Chief Data Officer role like Ms Coral, is therefore required to coordinate these major tasks.

Ms Coral spent two weeks in Singapore early this year to exchange experiences of open data strategy with the Singapore government. They explored issues like effectively engage citizens’ participation to achieve the best result of using this public data. Though the Singapore government has set up a dedicated open data portal, the country continues to introduce new technologies and approach, open data in particular, and learn from foreign experiences.

I hope that our government will also speed up and actively resolve the problem of open data in order to promote the healthy development of smart city in Hong Kong.

Winne Tang is the Honorary Professor, Department of Computer Science, The University of Hong Kong. She is also the founder of the Smart City Consortium.