Using a Command Center to Fuel Innovation | Big Bold Cities

Using a Command Center to Fuel Innovation

The Smart City Unit and the New Open-Government Mindset

Smart City Lounge. Smart City Jakarta.

three colored squaresUsing a Command Center to Fuel Innovation


The Jakarta Smart City (JSC) initiative, anchored by a sleek ‘Smart City Lounge’ with a massive digital display, performs typical functions of aggregating and displaying data about city services. But unlike a typical command center, JSC is a tool conceived and designed around open government—including access to information, citizen engagement and accountability—with an experimental, fail-fast approach. It mashes up open data from city work units with crowd-sourced citizen data. It is voracious about grabbing new data streams as they become available. It displays information about officials’ complaint response rates. And the mega-dashboard itself anchors a public facility where developers and start-ups can be exposed to governing problems and propose solutions.

Democratic Challenge

City leaders the world over are scrambling to improve, expand and modernize core public services as urban populations grow and change. Many believe that better data is crucial in order to identify problems, enable rapid response, and inform policy. As a result, sophisticated data-management systems displayed in ‘control room’ or ‘command center’ dashboards are cropping up in more and more cities. However, they are often disconnected from mechanisms for transparency, accountability and citizen engagement, raising concerns about growing state surveillance and control.

How’d They Do It?

Indonesians have a much-hyped love of smartphones and social media, and the country has emerged over the last several years as a leading laboratory for public-service crowdsourcing apps. In 2011, even before the U.K.’s seminal FixMyStreet platform went global, the Indonesian government launched a national platform for online citizen reporting called LAPOR!. Indonesians jumped on the private traffic-reporting app Waze en masse, building one of the largest user bases in the world. In 2014, researchers at the University of Wollongong partnered with the Jakarta Emergency Management Agency to build Peta Jakarta, a tool for mapping flood-related tweets in the city. (That project has been absorbed into Peta Bencana, a regional open-source platform geared toward emergency and disaster response more broadly.)

Amid this proliferation of tools, the Jakarta government saw a need to create one platform that would integrate and publish internal and external data sources. So in December 2014, then-governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama launched the Jakarta Smart City (JSC) data platform. The JSC initiative seeks to integrate crowdsourced data from LAPOR!, Peta Jakarta, Waze and Twitter with city data sources like CCTV cameras and departmental records newly opened under a 2014 regulation. The resulting map of Jakarta activity can be viewed here

But in launching the Jakarta Smart City platform, the city also added two more tools to the toolbox: the city-developed CROP app (which was replaced by Citizens Relation Management, or CRM, in 2017) for government officials to track and report their progress against complaints, and the commercial complaint-reporting app Qlue, geared toward citizens. (The city uses Google Enterprise, which facilitates integration of Google-owned or Google-powered tools like Waze and Qlue.) (CROP stands for Cepat Respon Opini Publik, or ‘Rapid Response to Public Opinion’)

The city built a new administrative unit, the Jakarta Smart City Technical Executive Unit, to coordinate implementation and push the bureaucracy to close the loop between open data, citizen reporting and service improvements. “We cannot have a faster response without having better capacity to listen,” JSC Unit Chief Setiaji said in 2016. “Without this capacity and willingness to listen, people will not participate. We have statistical data that indicates only 30 percent of complaints are followed up. But we need time, probably, to have significant improvement.” Under Setiaji’s leadership, the JSC speaks the government-as-a-platform language that has animated so much open-government activism in the internet age.

Finally, the city displays its data mega-dashboard in a new public space, City Hall’s ’Smart City Lounge,’ which includes co-working desks and is home to an annual hackathon, #HackJak, which seeks to bridge the city’s technology and urban-planning communities. “Smart people is the focus,” a planning official said. “How can we empower people to access the other pillars [of a smart city]? This is what we would like to envision through the Smart City program.” Open Data Lab Jakarta's Innovation and Engagement Manager, Antya Widita, echoed this sentiment, saying that he prefers the concept of ‘open city’ to ‘smart city.’ “If you talk about ‘smart city,’ you just relate it to technology,” Widita said. “It’s not entirely wrong, because it’s smart to use technology to monitor the city. But the openness is missing, the engagement of citizens is missing.”

All of this is still a work in progress, as the Centre for Innovation Policy and Governance (CIPG) noted in a seminal 2016 report on the city’s open data effort. Challenges include ensuring that official data from all work units is high quality and is being shared; integrating CROP into Jakarta Smart City; and providing a smooth, well-branded user interface (for both the public and for city workers) that obscures the complexity of the data tools behind the scenes.

How’s It Going?

Signalling (and Instituting) a New Way of Doing Business

Researchers from the Centre for Innovation Policy and Governance (CIPG,) while noting challenges and unfinished work yet ahead, concluded that Jakarta Smart City created a new model for communication between citizens and their government. “It was good and comprehensively done,” former CIPG Operational Director Dinita Andriani Putri said in 2016. “Because it was backed up by regulation. It obligated every work unit to open its data, [specified] what kind of data, [and] requires all work units to manage their data properly.”


More data, more problems?

The city demonstrated a commitment to open government and its directives have been ambitious. But managing new and complex data streams is challenging, and it presents novel issues in everything from navigating ownership and sharing of the data, exercising quality control, building staff capacity, and ensuring that key city departments are actually using the data for analysis, planning and internal reporting. The JSC did not set out to collect and integrate data for its own sake; the purpose was to increase the city’s responsiveness and serve citizens better -- and the impact on that front is still unclear.

Uptake Inside City Hall

Several observers noted the challenge of converting data into usable, policy-oriented information once it’s open and available—a common refrain among open-data advocates the world over. “[Qlue is] raising citizen participation and providing new tools for evaluating public officials’ work,” CIPG’s Putri said. “The main problem is the data management inside. They don’t really focus on data management, on how they can use this data from citizens.”

Platform Integration

There is clearly a tradeoff between offering citizens multiple avenues for lodging complaints versus providing and marketing a clear and user-friendly point of entry. Despite efforts to create and market an integrated portal, many citizens still preferred to use Twitter or email to contact the city.

Expansion into surveillance 

In December 2016, police operating in South Jakarta released an app, integrated with Qlue, to invite citizens in that area to report drug abuse -- an effort by the narcotics unit to “step up our game and involve the public.” This is a fundamental, and potentially controversial, departure from the model of Qlue and Jakarta Smart City as a way to open up city government, hold city workers accountable and partner with citizens on improving city services.

Who Else Is Trying This

Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States

As a city focused on growth, economic opportunity and achieving its goals, Minneapolis officials are tracking more than 1,250 metrics and key performance indicators to help ensure it is on pace with its goals and the expectations of citizens. From repairing potholes on city streets, to improving transit systems, expediting snow removal, or ensuring a safer city, Minneapolis’ Intelligent Operations Center is at the foundation of the city’s strategy for improving efficacy and efficiency of its operations. Developed with IBM, Minneapolis uses analytics that can model various “what-if” scenarios related to crime, traffic, economic development and more.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro’s pioneering Rio Operations Center (COR) is a multimillion dollar facility in Cidade Nova that brings together an unprecedented number of government departments and agencies from across the municipality – 30 in total – and, in so doing, has helped to slash incident response times by an impressive 25 – 30 percent. Built in 2010 by IBM, the Operation System monitors Rio’s utilities, traffic, and emergency systems. It provides a holistic overview of all of the cities movements at any given moment, with live feeds streamed from 450 cameras and three helicopters. Integrating with thirty city agencies, the center uses analytical models to predict traffic patterns and emergency situations. It can even predict heavy rains up to 48 hours in advance, anticipating flash floods and mudslides ahead of time.

Some analysts have criticized Rio’s approach for perpetuating some forms of inequality, being opaque, and not being should be rooted in civic participation and complement sound planning ideals. The operations center is surrounded by tall gates and parking lots and doesn’t have a website for the public to access, and the project is largely focused on “very short-term” projects.