Good data: why we want it and what keeps us from having it


Living Labs Global will soon be announcing partner cities for its 2012 Showcase Award – a mechanism through which innovative solutions compete against each other to win the right to pilot in one of several global cities (see the 2011 Award categories).  Each partner city defines the specific challenge they face and specific solutions are then suggested. Without spoiling the announcement, I’ll note that several of our partner cities this round are concerned with better data.  What good does data do?  At the very least, it serves as the basis for good information – a synthesis of data that is meaningful to humans.  Good information can enable good decisions; at the very least, it enables informed decisions.  Good decisions, in this context, are those that are made with full knowledge of the nuances of a specific urban problem (e.g. not just that obesity rates are high, but that obesity rates are high among particular populations X, Y, and Z).  The power of the information is seen in the resulting focus of the solution on each nuance of the problem.

This round, our cities are focused on obesity, physical activity, tourism, food waste, energy, sustainability, housing, heritage, happiness, and health care, among other things.  I see three different barriers to better data among this group of categories:

  1. Access to private data by governments
  2. A lack of ability to monitor and/or synthesize certain data
  3. Loosely-defined concepts of interest (e.g. sustainability, happiness, heritage)

These three barriers (can you think of others?) will play a pivotal role in solutions designed to improve data, information, and decisions for our partner cities.  Keep an eye to our blog and Showcase to see what companies are coming up with.

- Terra Curtis

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