Connecting DECODE to Barcelona City Council data infrastructure

Oleguer Sagarra, Javier Rodriguez, Pau Balcells
Thursday 23rd August 2018

We are very excited to announce that we have advanced yet another step into our journey committed to building tools that enable the creation of a City Data Commons, that is, to empower citizens to decide how they share data in a granular way. As of July 31st, the BCNNow platform powered by DECODE technology is effectively connected to the largest publicly owned data infrastructure deployed in the city of Barcelona: the CityOS.

The CityOS is a big data infrastructure, based on open-source technologies (in accordance to the new City Council software policy) that is currently being put to production. Day in day out new datasets coming from the different databases around city council departments are integrated to this harmonized platform. Such a technological deployment is meant to be a central piece on the data strategy of the city, allowing the newly created Barcelona Data Analytics Office to access, manage and combine a large variety of datasets to address city problems leveraging the computing power and machine learning capabilities of the tool.

Even though this new step looks like just making a few more datasets available to browse in the user experience of the dashboard, there is much more than that lying below the surface. For those living in the city and involved with data in general and with public institutions in particular, this is an exciting milestone that bridges two unique projects (DECODE and CityOS). By providing tools that allow people to collectively decide how publicly owned data is used and shared, for what use and with whom, we are paving the way to a  future where data is shared as an infrastructure instead of a commodity to be bought or sold.

The technical details can be found here, but in plain terms, the bulk of the work done by the Barcelona City Council and Eurecat on this field, has been to surpass countless challenges to connect the BCNNow to publicly owned data that, at the moment, has not been made open, and thus allow for its treatment in combination with the other datasets already available through the Open Data BCN portal. What is more, this step may allow data-crunching public resources for publicly beneficial uses of data using DECODE technology to be made available in the future.

Such a general goal is aligned with the Barcelona Data Commons policy, which aims at considering data a shared infrastructure to be used to tackle city challenges. Our job at DECODE is to try and lay down the economic, social and technological means towards that end, and the connection we announce today, albeit a small step, is a significant one to fulfill this vision.

This milestone marks the end of the first phase of development of the BCNNow tool (as described in our development plans (I and II), which was devoted to building a public dashboard that can be used effectively to browse, relate and explore open datasets from different private and public sources and share custom visualizations of those datasets.

From now on, our teams will focus on evolving the platform to include a personalized experience to the citizens participating on the two pilots that we will shortly start deploying in Barcelona: one related to Barcelona’s open democracy portal and the other one working in the Internet of Things (IoT) field through our pilot partners DECIDIM and the MakingSense community respectively. This experience is aimed at allowing the users to add a layer of granularity to the sharing permissions they add to their datasets via privacy enhancing technologies. Our intention is at the same time to raise public awareness over the uses of data in our society and encourage a debate with leading actors around these issues. A big event is planned, during the Barcelona Open City Biennale to promote this debate (more info available soon).

We don’t know what the future might hold in store for us but, at least for the citizens of Barcelona (and any other city willing to adopt our open-source, freely available software), it looks a bit more open now with regards to data sovereignty. Stay tuned for more news on developments of our pilots, due to start on October this year!