The Role of Data and Evidence-based Design in Urban Planning and Development

Nairobi, 18 February 2021 – “As human beings we often make decisions that are totally irrational, not optimal and not based on scientific evidence at all”, began Victoria Delbridge’s presentation, joining the webinar from South Africa. Delbridge, head of the International Growth Centre’s ‘Cities that Work’ initiative – a programme that strives to bridge the gap between economic research and policy – began the capacity building session by outlining the principles of evidence-based design in order to avoid “incredibly harmful, long-term impact.”

Using examples from her work in Cape Town as well as other projects elsewhere in the world, she highlighted the significance of overcoming bias and widening policy options through evidence-based decision-making by local leadership. Delbridge emphasised the criticality of this: “Decisions taken in a city council today will affect the trajectory of that city for a long time to come.”

From population density to traffic on infrastructure, cities are filled with data. As data collection, storage, and processing options rise, so do new opportunities to use it in urban planning and development. Three experts discussed these opportunities in a capacity building session, delivered as part of the UK’s Prosperity Fund Global Future Cities Programme.

The session included more than 300 registered attendees, the majority of whom represented the 19 cities engaged in the Global Future Cities Programme. This session, along with others in the series, were designed to support participants carry back new knowledge and ideas to their respective urban development projects. By supporting civil and community leaders to strengthen skills and share knowledge, the aim is to ensure sustainable urban development beyond the execution of the 30 projects supported by the Programme.

Chris Cooper of the British Standards Institute built upon Delbridge’s introduction by covering the logistics of data security and privacy, the role of smart city standards, and importance of citizen-centric design. In referencing the smart city operating model or ISO37106, the management system for sustainable development of communities, Cooper stressed the importance of cross-collaboration and how the model provides the framework for this.

The third and final speaker, Nathan Pierce of Smart London, presented a case study of the use of data in urban planning in London. Along with several examples of aspects of, and programmes developed around, data within the Greater London Authority (GLA), he discussed the London Datastore. Pierce described the London Datastore as GLA’s “crown jewel” when it comes to data and data services, as their prime resource for selecting and assessing data from the area. London Datastore recently turned 10 years old and plans for redesigning it for the next 10 years are currently underway. GLA believes that London Datastore is the oldest open datastore platform in the world, now incorporating 6,000 datasets and receiving more than 60,000 visitors every month.

A discussion of the presenters’ material followed the presentations, as participants reflected on the role of data in their own cities.

This session on evidence-based planning and the effective use of data was the fourth in a Thematic Programme series led by the UK Built Environment Advisory Group. Together with UN-Habitat delivering other capacity development components, they are strategic partners of the Global Future Cities Programme, directed by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.

A recording of the session can be found here

To engage in global conversation on sustainable urban projects, join the Global Future Cities Programme’s Community Forum.



Data Systems