Francesca Bria, Chief Technology and Digital Innovation Officer, Barcelona City Council, Spain

By Nurfilzah Rohaidi

Women in GovTech 2018 Special Report.

How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.

I am the Digital Commissioner of Barcelona City. My role is to make sure that technology and data will serve the people. I launched and implemented the Barcelona Digital City Plan, a plan co-created through participation from citizens, tech communities, makers, tech companies and researchers – in other words, the main players in our new digital ecosystem.

The core of our Digital Plan is to rethink the smart city, to go beyond its technological aspects by putting citizens’ needs and their digital rights first. We are implementing innovative projects that can help solve urban challenges, such as access to affordable housing, energy transition and participatory urban planning for a sustainable, green city.

What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2018?

We have promoted a strong digitalisation process across the City Hall, focusing Barcelona on a transition towards technological sovereignty that allows the municipal government and citizens to decide their own priorities, direction and ethical use of technological innovations with a clear social impact and public return. That’s why we created an open source policy toolkit to implement ethical standards in public administrations: This is a free software platform so it can be reused and shared by other cities.

We have also worked a lot on data sovereignty and our ability to use data to transform the city for the better – through the use of our open source sensor platform Sentilo and the urban data analytics platform CityOS that allows to better manage public services such as improving energy, water, traffic and waste management. The data collected are a common good that belong to the citizens of Barcelona and are published on our open data portal so they can be accessible in a secure and anonymised way for local entrepreneurs, developers and citizens themselves.

Another exciting project I am now leading is DECODE, the largest EU project using blockchains for data sovereignty in Europe, so that citizens can take back control over their personal information and decide what data they want to keep private, what data they want to share, with whom and on what terms.

Finally, we are devoting lots of energy to promoting participatory democracy through the use of our digital platform, and we are promoting STEAM Barcelona – a city-wide programme for digital skills and empowerment that is focused in particular on the empowerment of women in tech. To promote gender equality in the technology sector, we are promoting projects such as ‘Girls for Change’, data and women hackathons, and a challenge to pilot solutions that reduce the gender gap. A digital revolution must also be a feminist revolution.

”A digital revolution must also be a feminist revolution.”


If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2018, what would it be?

A smart city needs to be built from the ground up with citizens. We should not start from the technology, but from what people really need and then use technology and data to serve our citizens. Integrating citizens’ collective intelligence into the policy and decision-making process is absolutely central to rethinking the future city that should be more innovative, inclusive, sustainable and democratic.

What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2019?

We are very interested to pilot and scale decentralised and privacy-enhancing technologies and data infrastructures. We think there is a great potential in distributed ledgers and cryptography that can power civic goods, decentralise the digital economy, and preserve data sovereignty of citizens. We are also really interested in the power of artificial intelligence and how cities can put in place ethical standards to make sure automated decision-making will preserve citizens’ fundamental rights.

What are your priorities for 2019?

My priority is to make sure all the projects initiated in this mandate with the Barcelona Digital Plan are properly implemented, and scale and deliver real impact to citizens. We are also working a lot to network with other cites.

What is one skill that has helped you the most throughout the course of your career?

The most important skill is being able to listen to others and to work in collaborative ways. Making the most out of our collective intelligence is what really matters.

What advancements do you predict will happen in your field in the next ten years?

The digital revolution should benefit the many for a few. For this, we need to transform governments to make it more open, collaborative and transparent. I predict we will see lots of transformations happening in the public sector, starting from the need to rethink the relationship between citizens and public institutions to devolve more power to the people. Digital participatory democracy and data sovereignty will be absolutely key.

Coffee, yoga, music… what powers you through your day?

I used to be a professional gymnast and dancer. These days I spend many more hours in front of a computer and in meetings, but I cannot live without sport and yoga. I also love Opera, so I often go to theatres to listen to classical music and watch some contemporary dance shows.