To turn data-driven governance from dream to reality, smart cities have taken a leaf out of the corporate playbook. Each of the 100 smart cities is in the process of appointing a chief data officer (or CDO). The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has asked each municipality to build its own “data cell”, appoint departmental “data champions”, and push for “data alliances” under the Smart Cities Mission’s “Data Maturity Assessment Framework”. All these efforts are aimed at improving governance by understanding data and patterns at the city level.
Almost all cities have submitted their self-assessments to the ministry and over Rs 13,000-crore worth of IT and digitisation tenders have been put out so far. When they are up and running, these projects will funnel 2,000 to 6,000 terabytes (TB) of data into the cities’ Integrated Control and Command Centres from CCTV cameras, traffic systems, and water flow sensors, among others.
There are hurdles, of course. For one, cities need a data policy without which CDO will find it hard to push through. Moreover, mapping data and using it in governance is uncharted territory for most, including some CDOs. As things stand, lateral entry for the CDO’s position, too, is not allowed.
While those involved say that the ministry placed pressure on CDOs to populate an open data portal with a goalpost of 50 data sets from each city, Smart Cities Mission Director Kunal Kumar says he wants to avoid purpose-less data collection. “Data not just for the sake of data,” he says, giving examples of disease prevention in slums and hospital patient management.
Yet, CDOs still do perceive data as a potential asset. Nagpur’s Shubhangi Gadhave, the only CDO who managed to submit a city data policy on deadline, studied the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy as well as data policies of Helsinki, Barcelona, and New York City. She says: “Earlier, we made decisions without any base — education or health. The future will be digital governance and data.”