18.01.2013, 12:38
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David Munn is Head of information and communication technology for the Greater London Authority and a proponent of using open source technology and opening up data to citizens. Recently he participated in the “Open Data and the General Agenda” session of Moscow Urban Forum.

— What is the role of new technologies in city management? Are there any new working methods you implement?

— I suppose our focus – at the Greater London Authority has been to ensure that people can find out what is happening in the city and what they need to be able to thrive in it. This includes letting them know what we are doing – through publishing comprehensive information on web-sites, web-casting meetings so people can see decision making and scrutiny in practice as well providing information about the running of public services that are relevant to people trying to go about their daily lives. Smart-phones applications now tell you when your train or bus is due to arrive, where road works may disrupt your journey and where the nearest public toilet is.
The big changes I’ve noticed over recent years has been the growth in numbers of people using mobile devices – which has generated demand for new content on the move and the growth in social media meaning that huge quantities of information is now posted on-line from individuals. This provides us with greater opportunities to find out what people are thinking and involve them in the development of new ideas. We’ve tried to use this to ask citizens their thoughts on policies we are developing and have asked them to contribute their own ideas – facilitated through interactive web-services. The desire is to move from just “telling” people what we are doing to encouraging them to collaborate and participate.
Technology also has a wider role in supporting a thriving and vibrant city. Infrastructure needs to exist to allow economic growth for businesses (high speed, high capacity, resilient data services) and to support individuals. Wireless networking is available almost everywhere and 4G mobile communication is being rolled out – the revolution that is personal, mobile computing is really just beginning and we need to plan our services to meet the requirements of these demanding, “tech-savvy” citizens.

— Moscow differs from London in terms of its government openness. How could we gain more transparency in decision making (assuming that the authorities are not so keen on making their work more open)? What are the challenges that both cities share?

— I think this has to require a genuine desire to involve individuals in the work of government. Openness builds trust in government but also assists in delivering more efficient government. We’ve taken the view that given that public data is paid for by the public – the presumption should be that they should be able to see it and potentially use it. This is why we have open meetings that are web-cast and we look for ways for involving people in policy development. I’d also like to think that government performs best when it is being transparent. Individuals can see how the money they contribute to fund services is actually being spent. Corruption is discouraged and best practice is encouraged. Government and Citizens should have a relationship that is built on trust and understanding — that is what “openness” should aspire to build.
One of the other things we have done – that I think was a positive step – was the involvement of the “development community” in the creation of the London Datastore (our web-site site that includes a range of public data regarding London). We asked them about the information that they would like to see – and potentially use to create applications that could then be of use to citizens. We’ve now seen lots of new systems that have been developed (both commercially led and citizen led) – that use public data in innovative ways without requiring public funding. Creating new services that are able to assist individuals without incurring costs has to be positive.