Urban Data Deal for Democracy

Jewgeni Roppel


Urban Data Deal for Democracy

How The New Hanse tries to tackle the question of private-public-people partnership in the digital age. What is the role of data in the digital age? What are prominent ways of governing data? How can we best use data for our common good?

In the digital age, power, value, identity, and many other things are distributed along other lines than in the pre-digital age – and data is the key factor, for building community, for creating insights and businesses, for the flow of information and the structure of democracy. But what data? And how can we put it to use in the best way, for our common good?

These questions are at the heart of the project The New Hanse, an initiative of THE NEW INSTITUTE and the City of Hamburg under the leadership of Francesca Bria – and they are initially explored and exemplified in the report “Urban Data Sharing for the Public Interest” that was produced in the context of this project: Data, as the author Andreas Pawelke points out, has a certain value per se – but the real value, be it monetary or societal, comes from the combination of data in any meaningful way.

But: “Practical applications, let alone institutionalized sharing arrangements, are rare, even at the city level where data plays an increasingly central role in areas such as traffic flow management, infrastructure design, and sustainable mobility planning”, as Pawelke points out in the introduction to the report. There is, he elaborates, no “tested, proven and easy-to-use approach to share data in cities among actors from the private, public and third sectors”.

This is the task that The New Hanse tries to tackle: The goal is to create policy blueprints for data sharing in the public interest in close cooperation with Hamburg’s Department for IT and Digitalisation of the Senate Chancellery, the Ministry for Transport and Mobility Transition and the Urban Data Platform – the use case is micromobility because it is both ideal to test the willingness of local private actors to cooperate and to showcase the use of data for the common good, in this case a more ecological form of urban transportation and planning.

Generally, there are different models for this exchange of data, from data commons to data cooperatives and data trusts to data collaboratives. They all aim, with a different logic and different consequences, to remove a binary consent mechanism between those who produce the data and those who use the data – by introducing data intermediaries or stewards which would solve the conflict of data collecting versus data control. In this sense, the way we as a polity decide to organize the ownership and governance of data points towards different models for both the economy and democracy, built around a new understanding of the commons.

In short: The legal, regulatory and governance questions around data ownership are a key factor for a functioning digital democracy. Issues of trust and fear need to be addressed, interest, public value, and profit are to be factored in, a more open and constructive relationship between the private and the public sector, and citizens’ awareness leads to a more responsive and inclusive form of governance.

The New Hanse is a first step in this direction, a European pilot project that points towards a new role for cities as laboratories for democratic and green innovation.

Georg Diez is the Editor-in-Chief at THE NEW INSTITUTE.

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