The city of Barcelona wants to give citizens greater control over how government agencies and businesses use their data and information.

This year, the city will be running a pilot of a “Blockchain-based decentralised data infrastructure for citizens to own their data”, Francesca Bria, Chief Technology and Digital Innovation Officer, tells GovInsider. With the platform, Barcelona wants to make it “very clear that the citizens are the one that decides how their data should be shared, with whom and on what basis,” Bria says.

The €5 million (~US$5.6 million) project, called DECODE, will involve pilots in Barcelona and Amsterdam. Bria, who was speaking at the Innovation Growth Lab 2017 Global Conference in Barcelona last week, shares with GovInsider how Barcelona is giving citizens data sovereignty through this project; providing open access to technologies; and fostering a digital economy.

Your data, your rules

The platform allows citizens to share only what they are comfortable and willing to share. “It’s about what data they want to donate,” Bria says. “People will put a lot of personal data: what they like, what they don’t like, location data, their political views, social media data,” she believes.

Citizens are now “much more aware” of the value that their data holds, Bria says, and because of that, they may willingly donate data to the city “to improve mobility, to improve education, to improve services.”

On the flipside, Bria points out that “maybe [citizens] are not so keen” for their data to fall into the hands of insurance or advertising companies, for use in unintended ways. She is herself a strong advocate for open access and digital rights.

The platform is to ensure that “[citizens] are in control, not the government, so this remains citizen-owned data”, according to Bria.


“It’s about what data they want to donate.”

Data commons

To make this type of citizen data sharing possible, Bria’s team is coming up with a new licensing model called ‘data commons’—“a little bit like the creative commons for the copyright world,” she says.

These licences will allow citizens to control by whom and how their personal data is used, but also “share them for the common good”. Local communities, startups and innovators would be able to use this citizen data—with appropriate privacy protections in place—to build apps and services for the city.

Bria’s team is now working on expanding the types of data collected for the platform. “Many people in Barcelona are creating their own IoT infrastructure to measure pollution, measure noise quality, measure lots of different things but they put them in their homes,” she says. “We are also going into the route of experimenting with health data here in Barcelona, which is more sensitive.”

Tackling high housing prices

Besides the citizen data pilot, Barcelona is big on using data to solve problems. “We are working towards a data-driven approach to decision-making,” Bria says.


“We are working towards a data-driven approach to decision-making.”

The city is using big data to address rising housing prices, a major challenge in Barcelona. “The increase of tourism and the impact of new business models like the one of Airbnb” have increased prices for short-term rent, she says. This has created “a problem when it comes to affordable housing,” Bria explains.

The city is “starting to use similar technologies to the one that the sharing economy platforms use” to map vacant spots which could be used to build social housing. On top of that, it is analysing data from smart meters and land occupation to learn more about illegal apartments on the short-term market, according to Bria.

With these insights, the city is working on a platform for citizens which displays an “average price index”. Citizens have a better understanding of the price distribution of houses in Barcelona “to get them to compare how much they should be able to pay, to make more affordable living,” Bria explains. She adds that other European cities such as Berlin and Paris have similar initiatives.

In another instance, the city has sensors in its infrastructure as part of Sentilo, the city’s large-scale sensor network.

Data from the sensors is helping the city optimise waste collection. “Sentilo is designed to gather data from the bins for waste management, which has increased a lot of effectiveness in the way we monitor the transport, divide the type of garbage collection we do,” Bria says. This is moving the city “towards efficiency and sustainability”.

The city can also use data to optimise water consumption in a similar way, she adds, “and also to optimise the infrastructure management”.

Barcelona’s digital transformation

Bria has been busy in her first year since being nominated digital innovation chief by Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau Ballano. Together with input from the technology community, academic institutions and citizens, she published the Digital City Roadmap transformation plan last October. It details how Barcelona will “rethink the concept of the smart city from the ground up” from now until 2020. For “changing government and digital service delivery” alone, the city has set aside €80 million (~$US89.6 million) for 2017-2019.

The city’s approach is to put “citizens first, and then after, what kind of technology do we need”. Briefly, so far, the city has “smashed siloes” to move towards agile service delivery and procurement, and transitioned to open source software, architecture, and standards.

Barcelona is also engaging citizens to co-create policies through “participatory democracy”. Citizens have a platform to “provide ideas, debate issues, vote on things” and even decide how the city budget should be allocated, according to Bria.

And Bria’s own role as digital chief is a new one for Barcelona’s government, as part of its push towards digital transformation. “The government understood that digital technologies and ICT are not only one sector—it’s basically transforming every sector of the economy and society, and highly transforming government,” Bria says.


“Digital technologies and ICT are not only one sector—it’s basically transforming every sector and highly transforming government.”

As Barcelona undertakes its smart city journey over the next few years, it will be interesting to see how citizens’ interactions with data, infrastructure and the government will evolve.

Image by Medialab PradoCC BY 2.0