Anthony Townsend at the Institute for the Future and his research team has produced a fascinating report for the Rockefeller Foundation on the intersection of increasing urbanization and increasing data/information flow from ICTs. “Civic Laboratories: The Future of Cities, Information, and Inclusion” asks the central question of whether the flood of data about urban citizens can be leveraged to provide for more inclusive and transparent ways to benefit all equitably? Or not.
I would encourage readers to pay attention to both the content of the report and also the skillful way in which the concepts are presented and analyzed. The report presents a typology of future cities that includes: technologies of inclusion, drivers of change and the scale of impact, as well as the key tensions and implications. From the report:
“Over the next decade, cities will continue to grow larger at a rapid pace. At the same time, new technologies will unlock massive streams of data about cities and their residents. As these forces collide, they will turn every city into a unique civic laboratory— a place where technology is adapted in novel ways to meet local needs. This ten-year forecast map charts the important intersections between urbanization and digitalization that will shape this global urban experiment, and the key tensions that will arise.
The explosive growth of cities is an economic opportunity with the potential to lift billions out of poverty. Yet the speed of change and lack of proper foresight has led to a swarm of urban problems—poor housing conditions, inadequate education and health care, and racial and
ethnic inequalities. The coming decade holds an opportunity to harness information to improve government services, alleviate poverty and inequality, and empower the poor.
Some key uncertainties are coming into view:
• What economic opportunities will urban information provide to excluded groups?
• What new exclusions might arise from new kinds of data about the city and its citizens?
• How will communities leverage urban information to improve service delivery, transparency, and citizen engagement?
As information technology spreads beyond the desktop into every corner of city dweller’s lives, it will provide a new set of tools for poor and excluded groups to reengineer their relationship with government, the built environment, and each other.
Funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Institute for the Future has identified this challenge—harnessing data for development and inclusion—as a critical cross-sectoral urban issue for the next decade and beyond. Integrating designed solutions from industry and government with the tremendous innovative potential of an engaged citizenry will be a powerful tool to address this challenge.”
See below for a link to a FastCompany article on the report and to download the report.