Digital platforms such as Airbnb, Blablarcar, Citymapper, Uber and Waze have disrupted the modes of operation of traditional urban service actors. The various private and public stakeholders therefore need to invent new modalities of exchange around data.
What public-private cooperation in the data age? In recent years, new relationships between the public and private sectors have emerged around urban data. What forms do these relationships take? What role does the data play in these exchanges? What values and status does it take? What are the stakes for the actors involved? These questions were at the center of the study “DataCités” conducted by the lab Chronos-OuiShare, with the support, in particular, of La Fabrique de la Cité, the full conclusions of which are available here.
The starting point is known: local authorities and their delegates of urban services (mobility, energy, housing, etc.) today see their modes of operation disturbed by the arrival of digital actors. By successfully exploiting data and ICTs, they are able to complement and compete with existing services by offering new added value to their users. The impact of these platforms on the city is significant and may even be contrary to the strategy desired by the local authority, requiring it to intervene (rerouting of traffic by Waze on unsuitable roads, excessive rents driven by the arrival of Airbnb, strong pressure on the prices of rides caused by Uber). In spite of their growing influence, these data-services – Citymapper, Strava, Uber, Blablacar and Waze – do not, for the time being, need to comply with the legal frameworks usually governing the relations and exchanges of data between local authorities and public service operators.
However, the great urban revolution promised by these data-services is not yet on the agenda. The mere control of data is not enough to really transform the complex system of the city. And local authorities remain a core player, whether through their control of public space and roads, their regulatory power or their strategic role. A certain loyalty of local authorities to their historical partners also restricts the reach of the data-service operators.
However, these new actors have accelerated the need to think and act on the issue of urban data. For local authorities, the challenge is to innovate, to improve the efficiency of their services and increase the attractiveness of their territory thanks to these new technologies. But they also aim at preserving the interest of their territory and imposing their long-term vision to digital players who have a head start. On the other hand, private data-services seek either a short-term financial gain, an improvement in their image or quality of service, a local field of experimentation or to gain a new strategic asset.
In this context, how can models of exchange and governance be designed that allow us to offer opportunities to private actors while responding to public policy issues? In the line of the works of Simon Chignard and Louis Bényayer, that there exist three values for the data through these new public-private interactions. First the data can be exploited as raw material, to sell and buy. It can also be a lever or a gain of opportunity, that is, a tool for deciding and acting otherwise. Finally, data also plays a strategic role, giving an advantage to its holder. In this context, the public and private actors involved naturally seek, by playing on these three levels, to preserve their respective interests, which shapes the modalities of exchange between them.
Different models of public-private relations are thus experimented, based on these multiple roles data can play. Strava sells its mobility data directly to local authorities via the Strava Metro service. Waze initiates free, win-win data exchanges with local stakeholders through the Connected Citizen program. Some cities do not hesitate to impose conditions, sometimes very strict, on the activity of these platforms. In Austin, this even caused the withdrawal of Uber which considered the new rules too strict to its taste. Since 2016, the Eurorégion Nouvelle Aquitaine-Euskadi-Navarre has developed a shared mobility data registry which consists of pooling the data of all local private and public players in order to control and share the use of data. For a low cost, the actors thus benefit from privileged access to local data. In brief some exchanges are rather dictated by the private sector, which relies on its legitimacy and the added value of the service provided, through the sale or exchange of data. Others are rather in the hands of the public sector through shared data registries or the setting up of rules and conditions of activity for the data-services. No model stands out for the moment and most of them are experimental. Moreover, all have advantages and disadvantages, their success depending on the context, the territory, the actors involved, etc.
However, some elements seem to be decisive for the evolution of these public-private relations. The capacity of cities to build competence, train their staff and adapt to technological change will be essential to the balance of forces in public-private exchanges. With more experiments being carried out and traditional actors of the sector sharpening their strategies, the emergence of viable and proven business models will clarify the value and the status of data – in contrast with the current uncertainty around the profitability of data-services. New regulation defining clearly what is data of general interest will also be essential. By specifying the data that will constitute this common asset, the actors who will contribute to it and the obligations to which they will be subjected, it will shape the relations between public and private players. Finally as data-services will become an increasing part of urban services, making them accessible to every territory will become a key question.