Municipal Data Governance: An Analysis of Brazilian and European Practices

By Luca Belli, Danilo Doneda


Over the last decade, the “Smart City” formula has become a true marketing mantra, gaining momentum not only in the business environment, but also in academic circles and among policymakers. The formula is utilised to describe cities that, on the one hand, are increasingly penetrated and ubiquitously monitored by information and communication technologies (ICTs) and, on the other, are struggling to restructure their economy and governance based on data usage.

The possibility of using increasingly growing and diverse data sets, including personal and non-personal data, to stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship and to organize the life of city dwellers has drawn the attention of a heterogeneous group of entities that collect and process data for purposes such as planning, regulating, or making sense of urbanization process in developed and developing countries. In such a context, the opportunities generated by the use of open data and the diffusion of technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data analytics are stimulating a radical transformation in municipal governance. In this perspective, the use of data within the so-called Smart Cities is supposed to provide not only a much more sophisticated, broader and finer understanding of the city functioning, but also allows predicting and managing urban dynamics more efficiently and effectively, and in real time.

Given the role that Smart Cities systems will play – and are already playing – in the definition of urban governance and public policy, as well as the impact that Smart City services will have on a steadily increasing number of individuals, there is an urgent need to determine how public managers and private companies are defining and implementing such systems and services. This includes the consultative processes used to develop Smart City policies, the governance of urban IoT and Big Data systems, the analysis of the privacy and security implications of the forms of governance adopted for citizens, and the impact assessment of Smart City strategies on the functioning of urban centers.

Notably, while the mere data collection and processing seem to be considered by some Smart City proponents as a sufficient condition to acknowledge the city smartness, it seems necessary to wonder if the introduction of such databased tools is going to support or supplant the existing municipal governance processes. Indeed, while data collection and processing has the potential to enhance and strengthen municipal governance, it also risks automating biased decision-making and discriminatory provision of public services, thus disempowering city-dwellers.

In this perspective, the first section of this article will examine the key elements and conceptions of Smart City strategies. Subsequently, the second part of this text will explore some regulatory and governance dimensions of Smart Cities, with a particular focus on the challenges raised by the protection of personal data. We will utilize the case study of the city of Rio de Janeiro to illustrate such challenges in the Brazilian context, while stressing how such challenges may present themselves in all cities lacking clear legal smart city framework, with particular regard to data protection. This section will highlight the existence of legal gaps that may allow abusive exploitation of data and social and economic discrimination. Thirdly, this article will analyze the good practices of two successful examples of Smart City governance experimentation, the cities of Barcelona and Lyon, to distil some suggestions for Ethical Municipal Governance.

The purpose of this article is to identify unsolved challenges and emerging models that may offer solutions for innovative and ethical governance for the organization and implementation of efficient smart city services, while ensuring the protection of city-dwellers rights. The cases analysed will be used to illustrate successes and failures in the organization and provision of smart cities in order to compare some of the existing models, putting forwardrecommendations on Ethical Municipal Governance. Thus, this chapter will address the smart cities complexities by identifying solutions likely to maximize individuals’ control over their personal data, as well as cybersecurity and transparency, while strengthening democratic processes at the municipal level.

Keywords: Personal Data; Municipal Governance; Ethics; Smart Cities.

*This abstract is also available in portuguese.

Source: Revista Direito da Cidade