The potential for big data to have a positive impact on the way in which cities function and the quality of life of their citizens is beginning to transform from feeling intuitive, to being backed up by practical evidence. However, there are a number of debates still raging over how powerful software and coding technology ought to be best leveraged, and the associated risks, perhaps the most common of which is the issue of privacy and security.

A recent report released by McKinsey & Co estimated that open data represents a $3 trillion per year opportunity for cities and businesses.

Meanwhile, concurrent to the concerns over privacy, and somewhat separate from the business opportunity, the open data movement has been gaining momentum as a way to create better services.

There are a growing collection of examples where startups are taking advantage of government-provided data to both function as a business and also provide a quality service for citizens. Plume Labs, a Paris-based startup runs a mobile app, which provides information on city air quality. London-based “CityMapper” provide a travel app using a wide-range of data to help commuters to get from one place to another in the easiest and most efficient way possible.

In the U.S., an organisation called “Code for America” provides coding support for cities. Founded in Oakland and San Francisco, they’ve been involved in a range of activities, including an analysis of the Oakland city budget, enabling better decisions, using sophisticated software programmes.

The debates about the accessibility of data will continue to rage on, and perhaps they should. Information should not be opened up before serious conversations have been had or in a way that could be deemed irresponsible, and a balance needs to be identified between enabling positive services and enhancing citizen’s lives, and also protecting and ensuring security where necessary. On the other hand, the opportunities of open big data are already being exploited and there’s clear evidence that the impacts they have can be positive. Code for America, Plume Labs and CityMapper are just a few of the many examples of that.

Source: Open data movement grows, pushing cities toward resilience

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