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Our team has been working with representatives from the City of Coventry – soon to be the UK City of Culture 2021 – to explore how data is being used in their city, how this affects citizens, and to uncover new opportunities. Consultant James Maddison shares some thoughts from the workshop. 

If you’ve been following our open cities work in 2020, you’ll know that towards the end of 2019, we tested our first open cities workshop with Bristol Connected City. In the workshop, we helped participants to examine a number of city-wide projects. We helped stakeholders who might not interact with each other on a regular basis to have conversations about how data is used and shared across the city, and talked through the ethical implications of data use in their projects.

In order to get the best value from data, cities need to build strong data infrastructure – the people, processes and technology that support the collection, access, use and sharing of data. This is why we created the open cities workshop.

Taking the open cities workshop online with the City of Coventry

We had planned to deliver more of our open cities workshops face-to-face like we did in Bristol, but COVID-19 forced us to reconsider our approach to delivery and so we’ve taken the workshop online.

The first couple of months of lockdown, therefore, were spent developing an online version. We started by testing out online tools that could be used to replicate the experience of using the Data Ecosystem Map and the Data Ethics Canvas, as well as conferencing tools which could be used to recreate the atmosphere and format of the in-person training. Once we had settled on Jamboard and Zoom, we spent more time running through the delivery of the workshop with our colleagues, to identify any significant changes that would need to be made to our current approach.

'The ODI Open Cities workshop is a thought provoking, engaging and inspiring session. It helps explain the tools, techniques and considerations associated with becoming a truly Open City. The session has kick-started our plans for a Data Strategy for the City and spurred us on further to continue pushing hard on our Digital and Open agenda’ – participant from Coventry City Council

Once we felt the workshop was ready to be tested with an online audience, we reconnected  with Paul Ward and Adam Simmonds, some of our contacts from Coventry City Council’s ICT department, who we had engaged with as part of our Open Cities project, to see if they would be interested in participating in the workshop. This seemed to be perfectly timed for Coventry, who have been working on a number of city-wide data initiatives as part of their Digital Coventry strategy such as:

We worked through these examples with teams from across the City Council, including the ICT and Digital team, Information Governance team, Insights team and City of Culture 2021 team; as well as wider city stakeholders, such as West Midlands Fire Service; Coventry & Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership and representatives from local universities.

'Phenomenal workshop that kept everyone engaged and excited. Really thought provoking, lots to think about for our Data Strategy' – participant from Coventry City Council

Mapping out the data ecosystem

As with our Bristol workshop we worked through the ODI’s Data Ecosystem Mapping tool.

Specific points which were highlighted in the presentation of the maps included:

  • Mapping entire city ecosystems would take a huge amount of time, so project specific ecosystems are a useful way to explore stakeholder interactions. However, city data ecosystems are made up of a lot of moving parts, not just those that come to mind immediately when thinking about a particular project
  • Data standardisation is really important for helping stakeholders to work together effectively
  • There is always a tension between the level of anonymisation in data and keeping the detail of the dataset as complete as possible
  • Having people with the right skills in your project data ecosystem is really important for being able to use data to maximum effect
  • Having too much data can cause issues with knowing where to start. This is especially difficult if the data lives in multiple places, A single source for data across council teams could be a useful tool
  • Audience participation would be really useful during a Data Ecosystem Mapping session
  • There could be more engagement between different stakeholders, rather than one organisation acting as a focal point

Thinking about data ethics

We followed on with our Introduction to Data Ethics training session and a practical exercise using the Data Ethics Canvas. The following are interesting points the groups raised:

  • Citizen engagement when talking about impact of services or initiatives is extremely important. Making more information available publicly can help citizens to feel involved
  • We should focus on creating positive impact, but shouldn’t ignore the unintended nature of negative consequences
  • You should try and use the minimum required data in situations where there are potential privacy concerns
  • Demonstrating the value of using data can help to ease concerns around misuse of data
  • Setting up an ethics board might be a way of having regular discussions about ethics on a specific projects
  • What is considered ethical is not static - it constantly changes. People need to adapt to make sure that they keep up with the changes
  • Ethics should be integral to the day job, not just an occasional consideration
  • Having a city wide approach for ethics could be an interesting approach
  • Diversity of thought and people is an important consideration when thinking about how your project or service will affect others

For the last session of the day, the groups were asked to reflect on what had been discussed during the day, and to think about which aspects of the projects that they would keep the same, which aspects they would change completely, and whether there were aspects that they thought they could improve on. After some time for discussion, each team fed back to the wider group. For privacy reasons, responses to this exercise are not discussed in this blog.

‘Interesting, interactive workshop that helps bring city data leaders together.’ – participant from Coventry City Council

Next steps

We are extremely grateful to our friends at Coventry for taking the time to participate in this new version of our open cities workshop. As part of our campaign to encourage cities to adopt open approaches to data, we will be reaching out to more of our city contacts, to gauge interest in running this as a regular workshop for city authorities.

Get in contact

If you would be interested in us running a cities workshop, a data ecosystem mapping session or a data ethics training for your organisation, then please contact our cities team.