Build Community With Digital Data

Brian Lee-Archer

Being the leader of a community and making decisions to address social and economic challenges may feel like you’re a gambler rolling the dice. You know you have to place bets with no control over how the dice will fall.

The gambler analogy represents the uncertainty facing community decision-makers. Uncertainty is a function of multiple factors, many of which are outside their direct control, such as macroeconomic conditions.

Of the many worthy ideas on the table, which will lead to a return on investment in terms of liveability (social capital) and/or economic value?

Which will serve as a catalyst for a virtuous circle of community growth?

Developing sustainable and resilient communities is not a game of chance; innovative proposals often require bold investment decisions that carry risk. There is renewed focus in public policy making for risk mitigation through an evidence-based approach.

Evidence-based practice, as proposed by the Netherlands-based Center for Evidence-Based Management (CEBM), is that “good-quality decisions should be based on a combination of critical thinking and the best available evidence.”

Access to “the best available evidence,” while relative, is an underlying principle of evidence-based management.

Community leaders are adept at making do with evidence that satisfies the best-available test. However, they should aim to expand these sources of evidence to increase reliability. This is why all communities need better access to the rapidly growing repositories of digital data.

A solid evidence base, according to the CEBM, is a combination of data from internal and external sources (customer data, transactional data), scientific data (academic reports, field studies), stakeholder data (community, business consultation, impact analysis), and professional expertise (the personal experience of decision-makers and community leaders).

Digital data is an evidence source that’s exploding in terms of volume, veracity, and velocity. It’s challenging to sift through raw data to make it usable to generate business insight.

As billions of Internet of Things (IoT) devices are deployed, sensing any imaginable activity, this unprecedented scaling up of digital data production is difficult to comprehend, let alone prepare for, to derive value.

While a smart city lays out infrastructure to collect data, intelligent communities will develop the capability to make productive use of it. Realizing data’s value requires a robust technology platform to enable simplicity in integration and analysis across multiple sources.

It’s not practical for every community to make the large-scale technology investments that major cities can undertake. However, this should not deny them the opportunity to enhance the evidence base they have for community-level decision making.

There are already large amounts of digital data, with more coming through smart city infrastructure investments made by larger communities and higher levels of government.

Data is a community asset to be valued and shared

Not every community leader should have to be a data scientist nor a technology infrastructure specialist. Intelligent communities will find ways to access these high-order technology and business skills to turn data into simple insights to use as evidence.

  • Government agencies with accountability for community-wide development can turn digital data into insight in order to build capacity and capability within communities.
  • Provisioning community-level data-management infrastructure would be a major step forward towards empowering communities to enhance their evidence base for community-based decision making.
  • Data analysis skills combined with easy-to-use technology platforms to gain insight from digital data are prerequisites for transformation to an intelligent community.
  • Digital shared services provisioned by cities and other larger communities can enable smaller communities and community ecosystems.

Innovation leading to competitive advantage and resilience comes from the insight of community leaders. Governments could be well served by building capacity and capability within communities for this to happen.

For insight on one smart government in action, see How the Port of Hamburg Doubled Capacity with Digitization.

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Brian Lee-Archer

About Brian Lee-Archer

Brian Lee-Archer is director of the SAP Institute for Digital Government Global (SIDG). Launched in 2015, SIDG is a global think tank that aims to create value for government by leveraging digital capability to meet the needs of citizens and consumers of government services. In collaboration with government agencies, universities and partner organizations, SIDG facilitates innovation through digital technology for deeper policy insight and improved service delivery.