Leigh Dodds on rebuilding cities after the data fire

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Leigh Dodds, chief technology officer of Kasabi

Leigh Dodds

Leigh is talking about the foundations of digital cities. But he’s starting with Robert Hooke – an early member of the Royal Society – a natural philosopher, inventor, surveyor and architect. he had the hacker ethic. He was closely involved in the rebuilding of London after the great fire.  It was an organic city before the fire, a mix of tangled street and random building. The fire was seen as a chance to rebuild the city, after a terrible period of plague and fire. If their plans had gone ahead, it would have looked much more like Paris: big, wide boulevards. But there was a lack of funds to support the work and the relocations it would involve. Charles II called the rebuilding project to a halt, and moved to an iterative process based on legislated city standards.: width of streets, bricks for construction and so on. And it empowered Hooke to go and work with the community.

Now the fire is data. We have almost an embarrassment of riches in data available: but there’s more that could and should be opened up. We need some better infrastructure: ubiquitous wireless, better broadband. And local services need to become more timely and efficient. Data underpins all of that.

We’ve created lots of data hub – but he has a problem with them. They’re about governments publishing to a single community: developers. They need to be more multi-tenent. More organisations need to share their information through it, and more communities interact with the published data.  We need to make them more engaging places for the whole community.

A key aspect of a linked data approach is about giving everything unique identifiers: places buses, organisations, trains. Everything you want to describe. And they already have them – in propriety systems or behind paywalls. So it’s hard to combine data because of those barriers. A lot of the open data push is about open identifiers. Tim Berners-Lee is advocating a set of technologies, but the important thing is a common code. An URL for each thing is one approach. Context make sit easier to maintain and link data.

We need to encourage digital graffiti – if there’s a standard for identification, then the community can come along and start annotating it.

Data isn’t just data sets – it’s a useful piece of infrastructure we can build upon. And it’s an evolution of the role public authorities have always done: defining spaces, and building within it, digitally or physically.

An audience member asks about privacy concerns around personal data. Leigh replies that there’s an initiative around creating data hubs around yourself: managing your own data and who can access it.

Who should publish identifiers? Leigh suggests that whoever is mandated to create them, should own them and have responsibility for making sure they stay around and are sustainable.

Data quality? There’s been lots of examples of data quality being improved with lots of eyes on it. Maybe the solution is not to clean it before publication, but to publish and let collaborative cleaning happen. We’ll see an Open Street Maps type collaboration happen.

data hubslocal governmentopen datasemantic web

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.