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5 Ways the Chicago-London Data Alliance Will Bolster Data Sharing, Collaboration

At the end of September, the mayors of Chicago and London signed a memorandum of understanding committing the two cities to working together on a number of data-based projects.

When London Mayor Sadiq Khan visited Chicago for the first time on an overseas trade mission in September, he and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel had more to talk about than economics. Though Chicago-based companies invest and expand into London more than any other global city, according to London & Partners, Khan’s nonprofit business development company, the two cities also have a keen interest in the benefits and challenges of open data.

Following their meeting, Kahn and Emanuel signed the Chicago-London City Data Alliance, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) committing the two cities to working together on a number of data-based projects. Through the MOU, the cities agreed to develop a joint working group that will include city officials, members of the academic community, private-sector representatives and nonprofit organizations to focus on the development of a broad range of urban technologies.

“The agreement commits both cities to pursue real work based on all the great ideas generated by mayor Khan’s visit,” said Chicago CIO Brenna Berman, adding that once formed, the working group will collaborate in the following five key areas: 

1. City data technology deployment, including co-development of open source products and services. 

Both cities have existing open source projects and solutions to build on, said Berman. For the city of Chicago, that includes projects like the Open Grid Data Portal and the Underground Infrastructure Mapping project. In London, it includes projects like the Schools Atlas, the London Urban Operating Platform, the Witan City Modeling Service and the Olympic Park Smart Sustainable District project. Through the alliance, the cities will consider replicating each other’s existing successful projects, as well as build new collaborative open data projects. 

2. City data challenges 

The cities plan to organize publicly run data science exercises to generate solutions from public and civic volunteers. While both cities have hosted such projects before, they hope that conducting joint challenges will generate more participation and more innovative solutions. 

3. Data policy and strategy

The two cities plan to jointly develop policies in critical new areas such as emerging business models, data sharing, data privacy and cybersecurity, economic development and public service design. 

“There are a lot of issues that are emerging for cities, especially as technologies around big data are evolving,” Berman said. “Working together to design policies and strategies with another city like London will allow us to be more effective when it comes to policy development.”

4. Capacity and skill set building 

Chicago and London will also work together to design and deliver practical tools that promote city services through better data strategy, interoperability and data architectures (including things like open standards and analytics, governance, and business models). 

“The focus is really on better technology preparedness both for our city staff," Berman said, such as how do we make city government employees more data savvy and data-ready, because we know that will improve government service delivery? "And also, what kind of capacity can we create among our residents, to make them more savvy in how they interact with the government?”

5. Economic development 

Finally, the cities will consider how to create economic development strategies built around their shared values, with a focus on developing shared data-driven initiatives designed to create greater economic growth. 

The next step in the alliance, according to Berman, is to name the working group and come up with a near-term quick-win plan to get the alliance rolling. 

Berman said the Chicago-London City Data Alliance is part of the Chicago’s overall strategy to increase the work it does through partnerships with other cities and organizations.

“The big problems cities face today aren’t going to be addressed within their own borders anymore,” she said. “We’ve proven time and again that we do better work when we partner with our communities, with universities, with innovative consortium, etc. The agreement with London is another example where we’re going to be able to do better, more innovative work in this case with another global city.”

Justine Brown is an award-winning veteran journalist who specializes in technology and education. Email her at