Digitalisation / Data Dissemination and Communication
Case Studies
Policy Areas


Once cities collect and process data, the next step is to share the information with end-users, be it internally (within government) or externally (to the public).

This practice of data dissemination and communication involves publishing information via multiple channels to reach different target audiences.

Depending on the objectives at hand, such audiences may be technical (academics, government agencies, subject matter experts, business users) or non-technical (citizens, community organisations, media, politicians). Each of these stakeholders are therefore likely to have different preferences over how data should be shared and presented.

Technical audiences may often be interested in the original, raw data – from which they can construct their own analysis – while non-technical users may be interested in focal results, simplified language and stories to explain key findings.  For any smart city initiative it is critical that governments tailor their approaches to sharing data with each of these different end-users in mind.


Data sharing within government should theoretically be simple, but in practice it is often insufficient for a number of reasons – be it an unwillingness to take on additional administrative responsibilities, a lack of awareness around the benefits of collaboration, ethical and privacy implications related to sharing data, or issues of interoperability between department systems.

Most commonly, city departments simply operate in siloes, they collect and process data for their own purposes, with little knowledge of other department needs. Examples of this might include data from smart water meters collected by utilities companies, or GPS traffic data collected by the transport authority. Such information has clear benefits for other departments beyond their immediate use-cases, for example, water and weather forecast data made available to the disaster control centre, or traffic data to the police and emergency services.

Enforcing data sharing can often be challenging without legal and regulatory mandates, so it is vital that cities form a strong leadership and culture to encourage a collaborative approach. Investing in the required infrastructure is also critical. In many cases, this could simply be a machine-to-machine transfer from one department to another, but to truly embed a culture of collaboration, cities might also consider establishing centralised data portals or intranet services with as much open access rights across all government departments as possible.

Research institutions and civil society

One of the key advantages of sharing data with academia and civil society is that city governments can leverage their research expertise to answer policy questions where the municipality may not have the knowledge or resources to do so in-house. This can save the cost of hiring internal data scientists and free up time to dedicate municipal resources to other matters.

At the same time, research institutions gain the data they need to advance their knowledge base, and may also have other complementary datasets that can help to untangle more interesting or complex policy issues from the original information. Research institutions can also be a critical source of training and capacity building for governments, as well as accelerators for new ideas and technologies that can benefit wider smart city operations.

Private sector

The public sector can make its data available to private companies so they can design and compete on providing low-cost municipal services. At the same time, there is often a large supply of unlocked value in third party, private sector data that can be very useful and cost-effective for policymakers if leveraged effectively, rather than governments recreating it themselves. Standard approaches for public-private data sharing might include procurement contracts – whereby one party pays the other for its data – or for example, in-kind licensing agreements, where companies like Uber pay for their right to operate in cities by making their data on road traffic and routing available to the city.

Open data initiatives

The principle of open data initiatives is to make information freely available to all city stakeholders to use and republish.

The key goals of this process are to promote transparent and accountable leadership, to encourage wider participation in decision-making, and to create a reliable system of data dissemination where citizens are active participants.

With such systems in place, research institutions can study the quality of past policy choices, private companies can develop applications to meet gaps in service delivery, and even citizens can interact with government to raise complaints or ideas to improve municipal services.

Open data initiatives are increasingly being adopted by cities across the world. However, to do so it is important that cities pay attention to certain principles – for instance, ensuring that all data are easily accessible, timely, inter-operable, anonymised, sufficient, non-discriminatory and non-proprietary. Without these, open data initiatives may fail; either they struggle to generate sufficient attention and demand, the process of sharing data becomes overly cumbersome and time-consuming, or the initiative doesn’t adhere to relevant legal and regulatory standards.

Resource Implications and Key Requirements

Understanding user needs[i]

It is critical that municipalities solicit feedback from city stakeholders early on during the development of data sharing initiatives. Agencies responsible for disseminating data should then look to continuously seek users’ feedback so they can better understand users’ needs and wants. By doing so, municipal agencies can eliminate unfeasible ideas and dedicate resources to developing services and tools that are both in demand and accessible to end-users.

Legal and regulatory standards

What data can be shared and how best to do so is fundamental and should be identified at the early stages of the data life cycle. Official guidelines help government staff decide how data can be opened legally and disseminated to the general public through proper channels. For instance, Dubai established the rules of governance of data dissemination and exchange[ii] to ensure a clear methodology to enhance transparency and optimise the use of government data. Similarly, in the EU, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has been put in place to ensure privacy issues are closely considered when collecting and sharing sensitive information.[iii]

Resources must also be put towards ensuring inclusion when designing and communicating data products (for example, ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities or elderly citizens with limited technology experience). In the United Kingdom, the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulation was put in place in 2018 to ensure that any website or mobile app was designed to make it accessible to as many people as possible – including those with impaired vision, mobility difficulties, cognitive impairments or learning disabilities, and deafness or impaired hearing.[iv]


The costs of data dissemination are likely to depend on the scale of outreach and the systems used by government. Traditional forms of manual transfer are obviously extremely low cost, while more advanced systems, such as internal data portals or cloud-based open data initiatives, are likely to require significantly more resources.

Systems development is also likely to require going beyond just the storage and transmission infrastructure, but into the construction of wider services to information sharing such as webpages, mobile apps, intelligent displays and other technologies. These investments mainly rely on the government budget, with the potential for some maintenance costs to be shared by the participants of the system, especially the private sector.

However, it is important to recognise the huge commercial value in unleashing civic data, and how encouraging wider stakeholders to use it may create new revenue streams for the government.  In Chicago, for instance, open data has allowed developers to create apps that improve the quality of city life and create a more vigorous ecosystem for new business models and fiscal revenues.[v] In the United Kingdom, not all public data are free, and commercial rates are applied to data that require considerable analysis and refinement, thus allowing the government to generate revenue from its investments in data. [vi]

New systems can also generate tremendous value to the government by cutting costs. For instance, cloud-based servers can substantially reduce the costs of data damage and loss by providing distributed data storage that is supported by a dispersed network of computers. Because cloud data are not stored centrally in one building, they are also less vulnerable to potential hazards such as fire or natural disasters, which have been known to destroy the data centres of municipalities in the past. With the cloud, if one server goes down, others in the network can support the overall system.

Human resources

Both technical and legal experts are needed to develop and maintain data dissemination infrastructure and to ensure these channels comply with the legal requirements. The extent of these resource needs can often be quite substantial as they require collaboration across both national and local levels for standard setting. In instances where legal change is challenging and time consuming, it is especially relevant to instil strong leadership at the municipal level to maintain momentum with the data dissemination process.

Potential Private Sector Participation

A successful data dissemination and communication procedure is likely to involve collaboration between local authorities and various private sector stakeholders, such as technology providers, telecoms companies, software developers and subject matter experts. Technology providers can help with both the infrastructure for data collection – such as sensor-based technologies – as well as the user interfaces for communicating data. The timeliness and quality of information transmission is bound to be subject to the current services the local telecoms companies can provide, while other developers can help to ensure data sharing platforms evolve with the end-user in mind.

Although such collaborations are likely to increase the workload of city staff, there are huge gains to be made from the communication of civic data.

Implementation Obstacles and Possible Solutions

The demand for information has been trending upwards. Over the past decade the cost of sensors has lowered, and storage capabilities have improved, enabling uninterrupted collection and storage of more granular data. This growing amount of data has spurred civic interest in using, processing and analysing data. Hence, the traditional forms shaping policies have shifted to now incorporate a wider set of researchers, businesses and citizens in the process.

This growing demand and unleashing of data can naturally lead to growing enquiries from end-users, and more stress on the human resources of the city government. Gradually building up the staff’s in-house capacity and providing training is an important way to facilitate this process, but governments should also consider where they can leverage the expertise and resource base of wider civil society.

A solid digital infrastructure can also play a vital role in reducing costs and ensuring greater efficiencies in timeliness and transmission of information.

Considering errors may occur at various stages in data collection, analysis and processing, upgrading government data systems with new technologies – such as automated identification processes – can have a large impact on lowering costly errors and improving policy procedures.

Cities must therefore carefully weigh the potential benefits of new data dissemination technologies with the costs of putting them in place, but it is likely that unlocking the value of civic data for the wider public can have a major impact on the economic potential of cities.


[i] UNECE (2017) “Workshop on Statistical Data Dissemination and Communication”. Available at:

[ii] Smart Dubai (2015) “Law No. (26) of 2015. Regulating. Data Dissemination and Exchange in the Emirate of Dubai”. Available at:

[iii] GDPR.EU (n.d.) “General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).” Available at: (accessed : June 2021)

[iv] GOV.UK (n.d.) “Understanding accessibility requirements for public sector bodies”. Available at: (accessed : June 2021)

[v] Sean Thornton (2013) “Open Data in Chicago: a comprehensive history.” Available at:

[vi] Public Data Group (2014) “The Public Data Group: supporting the National Information Infrastructure Statement on Open Data.” Available at: