MA Thesis - Governing the urban data commons

By Caspar Kleiner

This study examines what kind of methods for an equitable governance of spatial behavioural data in European cities exist and proposes a framework for classifying these methods. For this, the study consists of a scoping review that aims at understanding the scope of the topic data as a commons in cities, as well as selected interviews among city representatives and and public interest groups or scholars in four European cities pursuing an equitable data governance (Amsterdam, Barcelona, Porto and Vienna).

Cities are increasingly relying on data-driven decision-making in urban development issues. Data used in such applications derives from diverse sources with varying methods of gathering, dissemination, and availabilities, for example, through city-owned sensor networks, citizen sensing projects or through purchasing from external data sources. Often, cities cooperate with private businesses that gather, manage, and capitalise on this data. These businesses have control over the data and not only use it for the optimisation of urban development but also as a resource to generate economic value through the data and to influence the behaviour of people in cities. This means an enclosure and potential misuse of the resource data; it becomes inaccessible to the citizens that generated the data in the first place. Control over this data and how it is being generated leads to control over how the cities evolve. Thus, questions of data ownership and stewardship arise. The data subjects, or citizens that move around in a city, and the city governments risk that the urban development decisions are taken out of a political discussion into the control of private businesses and their interests.

As a counter-narrative to this trend often called surveillance capitalism and the exploitation of the good data, the notion of data as a commons is arising in multiple cities in Europe. As such the circumstances of data production, the distribution of the resource, and the uses of the resource need to be controlled and maintained through a political discussion. For this governance of the good urban data, specific methods and measures are necessary to maintain the good as a common pool resource. However, there appears to be no overview of what types of methods exist pursuing this goal.

Source: mediaTUM - Media and Publication Server
Author: Caspar Kleiner, Student Technische Universität München