Citynetics in the South: A Blueprint for a City Data Commons

As procurers of all the civic tech that surrounds us, municipal authorities today find themselves in a unique position — they have become the custodians of personal and aggregate data generated by the world’s largest human concentrations. Rich or poor, large or small, democratic, autocratic, or otherwise, cities — mostly in the Global South — are spending vast sums of public money on ephemeral systems — both software and hardware. Vast troves of data will be generated by the residents of these cities for years to come, and with the present data governance regime quietly privatized, this data will belong to a few, mainly Western companies that own the datasets and infrastructure.

This paper proposes an evolution of this model of foreign data extraction with a situated, cybernetic system resting upon a federated commons for data generated in the city, a City Data Commons, governed by citizens at the local level, the municipal level, and the trans-municipal, diplomatic level of collaboration with neighbor cities. The objective of this paper is to analyze how this new, commons-based governance model for digital infrastructure, which we call Citynetics, could slow and subvert the trend of data extraction, instituting and sustaining a power balance in which the scales tip towards, not away from, citizens.

This paper is part of IT for Change's 'Unskewing the Data Value Chain' project.

Read the paper here.

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