How Open Data Can Make a Positive Impact on Cities

How Open Data Can Make a Positive Impact on Cities

Cities are growing too fast. By 2050 80% of the world’s population will be living in them, and Exeter in the South West is no different. As the fastest growing city in the UK its current population of 124,000 is expected to increase by 40,000 within a decade. While there are many problems caused by rapid urbanisation Exeter is well-placed to find solutions.

Exeter’s geographic location makes it ideal for testing out renewable energy solutions, and its size perfect for validating more sustainable ways of transporting its population. I founded Exeter City Futures here as my first City transformational change programme aiming to make the city a more sustainable, better place to live.

But to find the solutions to the challenges Exeter faces data is needed – quality data and the technology and skills required to analyse it. Within the city’s data lies the key to unlocking all the answers needed for developing long-term solutions to tackle the issues related to urbanisation, and to avoid short-term thinking that will have negative consequences for the city and its population.

Exeter Data Mill

Exeter City Futures, working closely with Exeter City Council, has recently launched the Exeter Data Mill, an open platform for the city’s data.

The Exeter Data Mill supports the sharing of the city’s data with the aim of building an analytical city in which the city’s data is more open and available to deliver valuable insights into improving the quality of life in Exeter, along with maximising productivity. It brings together data from key stakeholders within the city, as part of their support for the vision of Exeter City Futures and its Partner Network, and makes it accessible to startups, citizens, and communities.

Exeter City Council have pre-loaded the data platform with real datasets including population change, recycling rates, greenhouse gas emissions and city centre footfall. The data has already revealed useful insights that highlight challenges which need to be solved, including a 3.5% drop in recycling rates between Q1 2016 and Q1 2017, and that carbon emissions have increased in the last year.

Creating impact in Exeter

As we begin to find the solutions, data will be essential for analysing the effects these solutions will have on the city as a whole. Making an improvement to one service, may have a negative impact on another. The only way of avoiding this potential conflict is to use data to make the right choices, data that can be used to accurately assess impact and which point to where the optimal solutions are. It’s important to us that we don’t improve one area at the expense of another.

Exeter City Futures, through its Exeter Velocities impact accelerator, has already supported one start-up which is creating impact on the challenges facing Exeter by optimising waste management using insights from data. binit is a platform that allows businesses to collectively purchase waste management services. It uses its insights to tailor solutions aimed at reducing waste and increasing the value of products and resources throughout their life cycle.

By optimising waste collection binit will both improve recycling rates in the city and reduce the number of heavy-load vehicles on our roads, which will help alleviate congestion and have a positive impact on carbon emissions. Making datasets about waste and carbon emissions available online mean that binit’s impact can be clearly tracked, and their service optimised further.

The Exeter Data Mill is making this possible in Exeter, and although it’s still in its early stages we’re encouraging citizens to get in touch, telling us what datasets they would like to see shared and what insights they’ve already identified.

By making Exeter an analytical city, and embracing initiatives like the Data Mill, Exeter City Futures will ensure that the city’s data is effectively used and its potential for creating positive impact is maximised – not just for today, and tomorrow, but for the foreseeable future as well.


Glenn Woodcock
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