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Why Data Sharing Is Key to Building Smart City Success

Smart-city Opendatasoft.jpg

Collecting and sharing data internally and externally is key to building effective smart cities. Focusing on mobility and sensor use cases, this article explains the secrets of data-sharing success.

In an increasingly digital world, cities and municipalities must harness technology and data to become more efficient and to meet the changing needs of citizens and businesses. They need to be truly smart cities, whatever their size, driven by data to meet goals around sustainability, transparency and innovation.


While cities have always created large volumes of data from their operations, this is increasing exponentially through the rollout of sensor networks and the digitization of services. Being able to share this data across the organization and beyond is crucial to expanding collaboration with all stakeholders, optimizing resource use and underpinning evidence-based decision-making.

Ultimately, effective sharing of data should improve the quality of life for citizens, reinforcing trust in their city or municipal administration and attracting new residents and businesses to the area. Sharing data in formats that everyone can understand and benefit from drives data democratization and supports a more data-driven, open society.

For smart city data sharing to be effective it needs to meet four key criteria:

1. Protect privacy through robust data governance

Cities have always held personal data on citizens and businesses, when collecting property tax, processing permit applications or reporting police/fire incident data. Smart city applications, such as cameras, dramatically increase the types and volume of personal data that can be collected.

Cities therefore need to ensure that privacy is protected and that citizens understand and are happy with how data on them and their movements are collected, used and shared. Data needs to be protected from external threats, and sensitive information needs to be accessible only by those that require it for their roles and be used ethically. Ensuring this requires robust data governance and security policies that are clearly communicated internally and externally. Start by understanding any concerns that citizens may have and incorporate the right safeguards into your policies. Then, once policies and processes have been created, take the time to explain to audiences what data will be collected, how it will be stored and how any personal information will be removed to safeguard privacy. Use technologies such as data anonymization, consent management and the highest levels of security to reduce risk and increase reassurance levels.

2. Be interoperable and standards-based

Traditionally cities have operated in departmental silos, each with their own IT systems and data. This enabled employees to focus on their specific objectives, whether it was administering public parks or handling permit applications. However, for the real benefits of smart cities to be realized, data needs to be shared internally across the organization, as well as externally with partners, such as mobility providers, state/federal agencies, businesses or citizens.

Interoperability is crucial to achieving seamless data sharing between different systems and organizations. This requires careful planning and the introduction of recognized standards, such as open data formats and protocols to ensure data compatibility, all enforced through data governance processes. Data must flow easily rather than being siloed in individual IT systems. This requires the use of application programming interfaces (APIs) that automate data sharing, reducing manual administration while providing a full audit trail of how, when and where data is shared.

3. Be part of a data culture

Encouraging internal departments to share "their" data is a big change for many cities and municipalities. Employees may not immediately understand the benefits or may think that opening up their data will lead them to being micromanaged by senior leaders or people in other departments. It is therefore vital to create a data-driven culture across the organization, guided from the top. Leaders need to stress the benefits of data sharing, emphasizing the internal use cases that make the lives of employees easier, highlighting the opportunities for collaboration and innovation and focusing on how sharing enables a nimbler, more citizen-centric and transparent organization. For example, the town of Morrisville in North Carolina has installed smart trash cans that let authorities know when they need emptying, reducing the need for staff to regularly check them, saving time and increasing efficiency.

4. Enable external collaboration and partnerships

Sharing smart city data internally delivers major benefits in terms of efficiency. However, external data sharing enables much greater, more transformational change. It creates data-driven ecosystems that bring together public and private stakeholders to share and collaborate around smart city data. When sharing data externally or through open data, cities should put clear, recognized licensing and data-sharing agreements in place. This maximizes reuse while acknowledging where the data has been generated from.

For example, in Cary, N.C., town officials worked with health-care officials and educators to monitor opioid levels within the sewer system, using Internet of Things (IoT) sensors. This data provided a better gauge of where in the town action was needed, compared to simply monitoring overdose statistics, and has been used to better target interventions. The approach has also been adopted by other cities, both for opioids and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the city of Salinas in California the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace (CASP) program is successfully reducing youth and gang violence through data sharing. An initiative that brings together multiple community groups, it uses smart city data, such as on crime rates, socioeconomic information and school performance to structure the program, focus strategies and approaches, and monitor progress. The resulting data-driven program has reduced youth violence by over 60 percent in the last decade


Two of the biggest areas for smart city data sharing are around mobility and the use of IoT sensor networks. These address key urban issues such as congestion, air quality, effective public transport, sustainability, climate change and waste management.


Providing a range of effective transport options is crucial to attracting businesses, workers, citizens, consumers and tourists to urban areas. After all, no one wants to be stuck in traffic congestion, waste their time waiting for a bus that never arrives, feel unsafe as a pedestrian or spend hours searching for a parking space.

Sharing mobility data delivers a joined-up transport ecosystem across the city or municipality, involving government, businesses and transport providers. For example, intelligent traffic management systems can use camera data to monitor for potential congestion and reroute vehicles to avoid incidents. Data sharing between mobility providers, such as bus and rail companies, enables consumers to book an end-to-end journey through a single app, increasing public transport usage and encouraging people to leave their cars at home. For those driving into the city, intelligent parking systems can direct them to the nearest free parking space, shortening journeys and therefore reducing emissions. Ride-sharing services that link drivers and passengers also take cars off the roads by sharing data around journeys. Pedestrian sensors monitor areas for congestion and can be used to optimize flows across the city, with data used to show where infrastructure (such as crossings and sidewalks) need to be upgraded to maximize safety and improve journeys.

All of this reduces congestion, improves transportation efficiency, enhances overall urban mobility and improves the environment by lowering transport emissions.


IoT sensors are essential parts of smart city infrastructure, enabling real-time monitoring of the urban environment. Whether checking air quality, noise levels, energy consumption within buildings, water levels or even the presence of wildlife, they collect data that powers smart cities.

Analyzing and sharing sensor data enables cities to identify patterns, detect anomalies and proactively address issues before they become problems. For example, Morrisville uses flood and ground moisture sensors to trigger the automatic closure of soccer fields if they are too wet for play, with information automatically displayed on digital signs, its smart city dashboard as well as emailed to players and coaches.

Sensors produce huge volumes of real-time data. Cities have to turn this into useful information by collecting and making it available through a data-sharing platform, where it can be enriched with other data, visualized and shared in compelling ways. Data-sharing platforms, such as Opendatasoft, feed into deeper analytical tools, such as digital twins, which enable city planners to better understand the current environment and model future changes before they are made.


There are clear benefits from smart city data sharing for governments, businesses, citizens and the wider community. However, projects need to put in place the right technology framework to ensure that data is collected and available and is also easily found, accessed and used.


Technology such as IoT sensors and connectivity have dropped in price, making their adoption cost-effective. Cities therefore need to look at the next steps in the data journey – how do they centralize and enrich data from sensors and make it available for analysis and sharing? Often this requires investment in the wider data stack, putting in place a central data portal that acts as the foundation for sharing internally and externally. Organizations are increasingly looking to develop their portals to create data marketplaces, which bring the user-friendliness and ease of use of e-commerce platforms to finding, accessing and sharing data.

When looking for a data portal solution, ensure you choose one that can:

  • Connect all your data, from a wide range of business solutions, irrespective of whether it is stored on-premise or in the cloud with cloud solution and data solution 
  • Ensure quality through processors that format fields, correct common errors and ensure data consistency
  • Enrich your data by adding public data sets (such as census or state data) to increase usability
  • Enables seamless sharing of data with non-experts such as citizens and employees through data visualizations, data stories and interactive dashboards that are easy for end users to understand, manipulate and reshare, with data also available in multiple formats for downloads and via APIs. For example, the city of Long Beach in California provides a drill-down map of incidents reported through its 311 app, enabling users, such as citizens and local councilors, to see the status of every incident in their area.
  • Manage the data journey, showing where data sets are used in order to optimize performance and maximize sharing  

While not a new concept, smart cities are poised to enter a new era. The combination of increased data sharing, strong governance and new use cases, such as AI and digital twins, mean that the future of communities is to be increasingly digitized, citizen-centric and efficient. All of this enhances the urban environment, whatever the size of the community, steering decision-making and constantly improving the experience for everyone.

About Opendatasoft
Opendatasoft is a leading data sharing and visualization platform that empowers smart cities worldwide. With its innovative technology, Opendatasoft enables governments to gather, analyze, and distribute valuable data to improve urban planning, resource management, and citizen engagement. By fostering open data initiatives, Opendatasoft helps cities promote transparency, collaboration, and evidence-based decision-making, ultimately driving transformation into more sustainable, efficient, and livable spaces for their residents.