In their efforts to manage cities more effectively and efficiently, many local administrations are turning to “urban informatics”—the use of information and communications technology to better understand metropolitan needs, challenges, and opportunities. Recently, we conducted research, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, to determine which applications of urban informatics were being piloted around the world and what type of impact these efforts were having. We reviewed the published literature on the subject and interviewed more than 65 people in city government, academia, and the technology industry. Based on our analysis of 200 deployments, we have grouped these applications into three general categories:
- Using existing city data to improve service delivery;
- Building new data for better operational and planning decisions; and
- Increasing public engagement to improve problem solving.
This article describes each of these three categories and briefly discusses a few examples of each. Many of these exciting ideas are still in early stages, and city agencies have yet to turn them into systematic solutions.
Some high-priority actions for cities and their collaborators should include defining what a “healthy digital city” would look like, what initiatives would help, and how to measure success; creating workable standards to address issues such as open data and privacy; and reducing digital exclusion through targeted training and improved access so that all citizens can benefit from urban informatics. As administrators deploy new projects, it will be important for them to follow a few guiding principles: put the needs of citizens first, keep room for real-world interactions to complement urban informatics, and ensure that the public, private, and social sectors work together.