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People sit in a city park, looking at their phones.

June 18, 2018

Setting the stage for good data governance

By: Geoff Cape, Evergreen

Data has captured the imaginations of Canadians. Here at home and around the world, advances in information technology, networks, data analytics and artificial intelligence are fueling social and economic change.

Today, collecting and sharing data powers entire industries in ways that didn’t exist 20 years ago. This new reality means data management, privacy and security have emerged as a key public policy concern. While this transformation is creating new opportunities for prosperity, it is also generating unintended consequences, leading to digital divides and increasing inequality. 

A growing number of voices are raising concerns about technology and ‘smart cities’ contributing to social inequality and infringing on individual privacy rights. Leaders from across multiple sectors are realizing that a data-driven economy is not necessarily the driver of inclusive growth, and in fact, it may be exacerbating existing inequalities.

With this comes an urgent need for data governance in terms of policies, regulations, and standards to organize our complicated and evolving relationship with data. 

These processes are starting to take shape around the world – in Europe, for example, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is redefining the boundaries between government, technology companies and individuals.

A view of a city seen through someone's phone camera.

To date, Canada lacks a national policy governing how data is collected, stored and used. With over 85 per cent of our population living in cities, and recent developments such as the federal government’s $300M Smart Cities Challenge and Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs proposed district development in Toronto, the time is now to make decisive steps towards developing a national urban data governance strategy to ensure that the digital transformation benefits Canada, and all Canadians. 

The next steps require intentional leadership.

As one of its first priorities, Future Cities Canada has established the Future Cities Canada Urban Data and Governance Lab to inform a framework for a national urban data strategy.

This month, Evergreen, with a diverse and growing network of stakeholders, including the Centre for International Governance Innovation, MaRS, Open North, among others, are gathering to discuss and inform an urban data strategy that would maximize the benefits and minimize the risk of data and digital technologies for Canadians. Driven by our vision for inclusive, regenerative and prosperous cities, we are assembling leading experts in cities, business, policy, technology and the data-driven economy to develop clear, balanced and actionable recommendations to help inform emerging public policy.

These conversations are critical and it is imperative to bring to the table technology experts, legal and academic communities, private sector, NGOs and public sector policy makers to address the growing need for new rules to delineate data ownership, rights and responsibility and the necessary procedures to manage data now and into the future. 

Canada can be a global leader in how to establish good governance that balances the public good, accelerates innovation and drives economic development. Let’s make this happen - together.

Geoff Cape is the CEO and founder of Evergreen, a non-profit dedicated to making cities flourish. Evergreen is a founding member of Future Cities Canada.