‘We make better predictions than Google’

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Beyond Data Event - Bart Rosseau
The City of Ghent (Belgium) is looking for new applications for data, together with app-developers and businesses. Citizens also participate in creating smart applications. Bart Rosseau, Chief Data Officer at the city of Ghent: “We offer more apt information than Google, because we also take local public policy into account”. Rousseau is one of the speakers at the Smart & Safe City event which will take place in The Hague on the 7th and 8th of June. During this event he will be giving a bootcamp about Smart data, Technology and Cyber security.

Which projects stand out in the City of Ghent at the moment?

“Right now we are building apps for Ghent in the field of Sports and Physical Health. Especially for areas where our citizens don’t participate in sportive activities because of the lacks of access due to cultural differences or because citizens can’t identify themselves in the sportive activities on offer. We are looking at ways where we can link the developers with local civil societies and sports clubs. We are getting a lot of good feedback and output, which we will present at the event on 30 March.

Data projects add value, do you connect any funding or investments to it?

“Data has value and generating data costs money. Yet, we are not yet ready to connect funding to data. We are always searching for the answers to the question of how to express added value of the use of data to a value for society and businesses.”

How does your work compare to the work of Google?

“We learn from Google in a technical way: what are we doing? And we also see what we should not do. They make predictions and assumptions on the basis of historical data: so they don’t include policies. Google predicts the number of parking spots available on the basis of history, but they don’t include public policy or parking strategy of a local authority. Google offers a great canvas, and we can add the local algorithms and make the results more relevant.”

You are a co-ordinator. What does that involve – how do you co-ordinate a flock of birds?

“Great image! Birds communicate very closely to each other. When one swerves, others quickly follow. When co-ordinating, you have to keep in mind: data is not the final goal. We are committed to the City as a whole: livelihood, child-friendliness, economic capacity. This way we aim to link data to broader goals. In which areas do you impact most with this collective wisom? And in which domain do you need pioneering?
We work together with education and services to improve data-literacy. As a service provider we want to find available data and provide it in the best quality possible. Our role is that of a pilot. It is almost philosophical: what should we know about our city to make it grow how we agree the city should grow.”

In any democracy regimes can change suddenly and drastically. How do you take that into account?

“A crucial question is ‘ are we still happy with the data we provide the government, even when the relation between the citizen and government changes?’ Of course we make sure that our use of data falls in the remit of EU privacy ruling. At the end of the day our role as civil servants is that we support decision makers in their work. So if we want to use data, we have to explain the consequences of using data to the politicians.
Donald Trump showed how far politicians can go in their first day in office, by removing all data regarding climate change. Access to data can become difficult all of a sudden”.

What developments outside Ghent are you highly interested in?

“In Helsinki decision-making on financing and projects are public and accessible through an app. When a road is blocked due to construction or maintenance, one can see when the decision was made, what the costs of the project are: this is very valuable for re-use for the government, for traffic organizations and for B-to-B applications.
Barcelona is interesting because of the embedding of data management in all parts of the internal organization.
Eindhoven has an interesting project on city experience and lighting – linked to predictable data and interactive models. And in Roeselare the economic capacity of the shopping area is a key focus. It includes the question how the government can play a role and which role it can be. There are fewer developers, due to the small scale of the project, but the involvement is very high.
To me the bottom line is: data is not neutral. You choose the societal challenge for which you ultimately use data”.


The 7th edition of the large scale Smart & Safe City Event on 7 and 8 June offers smart and safe solutions for the city of the future. Meet 1,000 experts and colleagues: inspire each other and create new ideas. Learn from more than 30 practical cases and failures.
During this event Bart Bart Rosseau, Chief Data Officer at the city of Ghent will be giving a bootcamp about Smart data, Technology and Cyber security.

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