On May 14, 2019, Infrastructure Canada announced four winners of the Canadian Smart Cities Challenge. Each of the winners recognized that new models of governance might be required to address issues of privacy and civic engagement and control. Although short on details at this stage, the winners each believe that their projects will need to develop new governance models to address the challenges of data in smart cities.
Do public-private partnerships require giving up control?
The Town of Bridgewater wants to tackle “energy poverty” in its community with its $5 million ward. Energy poverty is the inability to meet basic energy and transportation needs. Although Bridgewater received the smallest award, it also asked a critical question: “How can the Town remain the decision maker about data usage in public-private partnerships or in data-driven projects that impact the common good?” Too often, the debate begins with a belief in the “inevitability” of the municipal authority having to give up control. Bridgewater doesn’t have the answer yet, but at least it is asking the question.
Is open data always the right approach?
The impact of open data on vulnerable populations was front-and-centre for the Nunavut Association of Municipalities who won $10 million. Nunavut noted that the Inuit are the most studied Indigenous peoples on earth; frequently without free and informed consent.
Nunavut’s proposal considers “Inuit data sovereignty” to be a critical part of privacy and data governance. The proposal involves the establishment of a new non-profit entity that would serve 25 participating hamlets to increase “the amount and accessibility of life promoting activities, resources and support systems like peer networks, educational initiatives and creative outlets”. A core feature of the proposal is the creation of a digital platform.
The proposal states that at a minimum, each community participating in the program would have control and oversight about how the data from the community is used. Part of the project will include a detailed framework “that outlines clear protocols with respect to indigenous intellectual property rights, which identify the consents required to access and use high-value cultural information.”
Is a “data utility” the answer for smart city governance?
The City of Guelph & Wellington County won a $10 million award. Guelph/Wellington proposes to become Canada’s first technology-enabled “circular foot economy”. One of Guelph/Wellington’s initiatives is establishing a “data utility”. The “data utility” would be operated as a public trust. The data utility would be underpinned by a data collaboration platform to provide access to the data. Guelph/Wellington is leaving all options on the table for whether a new institution is required to govern the data utility or whether it can be housed within existing trusted institutions.
Is digital governance of urban data a proper extension of municipal governance?
The grand prize of $50 million went to the City of Montreal. Montreal’s bid focused on mobility and access to fresh local food for vulnerable populations. Interestingly, Montreal expressly stated that it considers digital governance as an extension of municipal governance. However, Montreal recognizes new regulations might be required to embed principles of good data governance in operational models that service the public interest. The City will work with the Montreal Urban Innovation Laboratory, which will engage experts and the public to research new governance methods.
More than just technology
The Smart Cities Challenge may provide to be important not only for the technologies that are developed but also for regulatory experimentation that will accompany these initiatives. Each of the winners believe that new governance structures are required. All seem to believe that the choice of governance structure will need to be determined through a process of public engagement and iteration.