In the fight against climate change, local authorities are increasingly turning to cross-sectoral data sharing as a game-changing strategy.
This collaborative approach empowers cities and communities to harness a wealth of data from diverse sources, enabling them to pinpoint emission hotspots, tailor policies for maximum impact, and allocate resources wisely.
Data can also strengthen climate resilience by engaging local communities and facilitating real-time progress tracking.
“Accurate data is crucial in understanding and addressing the complex challenges related to climate change, and the specific local contexts in which they are embedded. It also contributes to monitoring the solutions deployed to mitigate and adapt to climate change.” explains Justine Gangneux, Project Coordinator for the Data Spaces for Smart and Sustainable Cities and Communities preparatory action at Eurocities.”
Against this background, local authorities have become key actors in the search for solutions and innovative approaches to data sharing and use for the public interest. Municipalities play a crucial role, as creators, providers and users of data and of the infrastructures in which this information is created and integrated.
In recent years, more and more local data initiatives aimed at tackling climate change have emerged, spanning from urban planning to mobility, adaptation and energy management.
Such is the case of Porto’s CityCatalyst – the project put five demonstrators in place to showcase smart cities infrastructure and develop data standards and models, contributing to the efficient and integrated management of urban flows.
One of the demonstrators focussed on creating a data space for the private sector to receive detailed insights on energy consumption and develop data solutions with aggregated data from various sources, including private energy agencies and five Portuguese cities: Porto, Guimarães, Cascais, Famalicão and Aveiro.
In Latvia, Riga is also exploring data solutions such as visualisations, aggregation or analytics, as part of the Positive Energy District strategy. Driven by the national Energy Efficiency Law, the city is developing a project to monitor energy consumption based on building utility use data (heat, electricity, gas, or water), customer and billing data, and Internet of Things smart metre data from individual buildings.
The importance of cross-sectoral data sharing
As these examples show, it is not just public data that holds the key; private sector data, from utilities as energy or water, to telecoms, offers cities valuable insights in their efforts to tackle climate change.
“Public private data sharing is not straightforward,” acknowledges Gangneux. “Challenges such as uneven data quality and high costs of preparing data, lack of interoperability and common standards, concerns about legal compliance as well as perceived security, ethics and reputational risks need to be overcome.”
The role of data intermediaries has come to the fore in the past years. These intermediaries, ranging from data cooperatives, data commons, or trusted third parties, to personal information management systems, focus on creating social value and empowering people to manage their data.
Local leaders are innovating in this field. Helsinki, for example, is deploying a MyData operator system, using consent management mechanisms to enable users to share data in the context of a specific service and for a clear purpose. In Belgium, Flemish government agency Digital Flanders is experimenting with Solid, a decentralised way of storing information in personal data vaults.
A data space for smart and sustainable cities and communities
A broader vision has emerged on the European stage. The European Strategy for Data sets its sights on deploying common, interoperable data spaces to foster trust in data sharing and overcome organisational and technical barriers. These spaces are envisioned to provide secure and privacy-preserving infrastructures, grounded in European principles of data protection and technological sovereignty.
In a nutshell, a data space is an ecosystem governed by rules that allow secure and reliable data transactions among its users while ensuring trust and data control.
The goal is to establish a safe and unified marketplace for data, which can enhance the digital economy and promote the development of new products and services by various stakeholders, including businesses, civil society, and individuals.
One such data space, the Data Space for Sustainable and Smart Cities and Communities (DS4SSCC) aims to pursue the European Green Deal goals and support cities to drive a sustainable and just transition to climate neutrality by 2050.
The initiative does so through the creation of a common infrastructure with recommended standards and technology as well as clear governance mechanisms which will facilitate data sharing and foster trust between stakeholders. This, in turn, will enable cities and communities to exchange and access data from other sectors, including the private sector, to better understand local climate-related challenges in the domains of mobility, energy, food, climate adaptation and biodiversity and monitor the solutions deployed using cross-sectoral data.
Tools for transformative change
To support cities as they navigate the complex data landscape, the DS4SSCC preparatory action has developed the Data Cooperation Canvas. This tool, focused on specific use cases, aims to support municipalities and communities in their data sharing journey.
The Canvas encompasses various elements, including the value proposition of the data collaboration, partners and targetted customers, types of data exchanged, technical infrastructure, resources, and governance models. The scheme provides a structured approach to data collaboration, ensuring transparency, alignment, and effective communication among all those involved.
After Porto and Riga tested Canvas, key lessons have emerged from their experience. According to Justine Gangneaux, “cities recommend integrating tools like the Data Cooperation Canvas as soon as possible in the process to define the components of the collaboration in the early stages, establish partner motivations and business models upfront as well as identify and prioritise standards, infrastructure and technologies aligned with DS4SSCC.”
A roadmap for action
Building upon concrete use-cases from diverse local data ecosystems, the preparatory action for the DS4SSCC initiative has developed a comprehensive blueprint. The plan lays the foundation for a European data space for smart communities, aligning with European values and policies.
“The blueprint supports cities by providing a set of recommendations for technology and data standards,” says Gangneaux. “It does so by laying out the governance principles and mechanisms that need to be in place for data sharing, and by showcasing several specific use-cases that cities can get inspired by.”
The DS4SSCC blueprint includes three main elements. The first is a multi-stakeholder governance scheme, establishing foundational principles and the vision of the data space. It outlines the roles and responsibilities of participants, governance structures, and relevant legal frameworks.
Finally, the project proposes a roadmap and action plan towards a connected pan-European data space for smart and sustainable cities and communities.
As DS4SSCC progresses through local pilots, this blueprint will evolve and be further validated in different sectors and with different configurations of stakeholders.
The Data Cooperation Canvas, as well as the experiences from Riga and Porto, were presented at a capacity building session, as part of the Eurocities Digital Forum on 27-29 September 2023.
The meeting provided a short overview of the preparatory action for the Data Space for Smart and Sustainable Cities and Communities (DS4SSCC), which ended on 30 September 2023.