• Smart Cities Week
  • Data Privacy
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Cities Are Innovating to Build Trust Around Their Smart City Data

Grant Samms
Nov 12, 2019

Connected City 4

Trust. This was a common answer at the recent Smart Cities Week in Washington, DC to the question, “what is your biggest challenge in implementing smart city projects?” It was the answer given by multiple municipal representatives at different times and in different sessions. Not project planning. Not capital expenses. Not vendor selection or approval processes.


Trust by residents that there is accountability in the planning process. Trust that data will be handled securely. Trust that the project will serve the best interests of the public. All the cities that spoke on the topic had found their own way of engendering trustworthiness and public buy-in for their smart city efforts. Among them, Montgomery County, Maryland found a way to build both trust and a stronger community by democratizing its data lake.

Transparent Waters in the Data Lake

Montgomery County, Maryland realized it faced a potential issue surrounding smart city data. In the wake of public discussions of data ownership, digital privacy, and some early rejections of other smart city efforts, Montgomery County recognized that even the appearance of data being hidden from the public eye could set the stage for conflict. 

To alleviate the situation, Montgomery County set up a suite of data tools known as CountyStat. The system centralizes all the county's data and makes it available to all employees, municipal personnel, and, most importantly, residents of Montgomery County. As the county expands its own data lake through smart city programs, the data is slated for aggregation on CountyStat. The result is that anyone interested in data on crime, congestion, schools, air quality, and other critical functions is free to view the data and make use of a suite of visualization tools, including GIS mapping.

Data Access Builds Stronger Communities

According to the county, the early effects of this transparency program have been positive. The system has been used to increase the efficiency of interagency data requests. More importantly, many of the county's nonprofit organizations have used the data for their own operations. Organizations doing everything from putting books in the hands of kids to redirecting potential food waste have used the CountyStat program.

Reports are also coming from the county that the tools offer a positive starting place for future smart city efforts that would necessarily generate data. As compared to smart city projects where the ownership model for data generated in public spaces has been criticized, the CountyStat platform casts data generation in a more democratic light. Once generated from the public, the data is free to be used by that same public.

Montgomery County representatives weren't the only ones concerned with public trust in smart cities implementations. Officials from around the worldWashington, DC; Victoria, Australia; Gaziantep, Turkey; and Gilbert, Arizonaall were concerned about ensuring public trust and buy-in for their smart city efforts. Data has become a contested issue: who owns it, who can use it, and who can profit from it. As public entities, municipalities are conscious of their need to use data in a transparent way. To enable this communication, there is a search for innovative tools that can lay the ground work for transparent and trustworthy smart city development.