Building cooperation around data on the metropolis level
Towards the end of 2019, we started to work on conceiving Rudi, a data sharing platform project led by Rennes Métropole and 10 partners and supported by the European Union. After one year of work and the development of initial collaborations between the partners of the project, two major challenges remain: demonstrate the usefulness of the platform and succeed in further involving the various stakeholders and citizens.
This article was originally published in French. Click here to access the original link.
Rudi is a data sharing platform led by Rennes Metropole and 10 partners and supported by the European Union. Its objective is to go beyond the metropolis’ Open Data policy and allow everyone to share and use quality data, while guaranteeing transparency on the use of the data, the security of transactions and respect for private life.
The project includes, from its conception, residents, companies, researchers and associations in a participatory manner that will go on for three years.
How do we support the use of data that respect privacy and the general interest?
What role can residents play within the framework of this platform?
How do we operate such a platform that includes a wide variety of partners? Who finances it and who controls it? And who benefits from it?
How do we guarantee trust between different users of the platform?
From Rudi, a long-standing relationship
Great projects give birth to great encounters. And great encounters bear fruit over time. We met the teams of Rennes Metropole for the first time in 2017, during Season 1 of DataCités, an exploration of the Ouishare Lab x Chronos which studied territorial strategies relating to data. Rennes is joining the exploration as their Service Public Métropolitain de la Donnée (SPMD), is launched, a first in France. Rennes already has a reputation as a community that is sensitive to digital technology, citizen use and participatory approaches. It is renowned in France as a pioneer in Open Data with the opening up and experimentation of numerous data, including the transport data of the delegate Keolis, from 2009.
Towards the end of 2018, at the Salon des Maires and Collectivites Locales, there were new exchanges that took place with between Marion Glatron, head of the Service Public Métropolitain de la Donnée (SPMD), and Taoufik Vallipuram (Ouishare), around an application by the metropolis for a European innovation programme. This programme, Urban Innovative Action (UIA) supports cities and their local partners in digital projects through high societal impact. The project Rennes Urban Data Interface (RUDI) was born at this very moment. It is rooted in the SPMD experience although was put together only a matter of few weeks, and a decision had to be made on the involvement of Ouishare. Rudi is not simply a technical project of a platform that collects local data. It promises to harness cooperation with residents, with the civil society, academic actors and companies - and this is where Ouishare would fit in. Because we mentioned in our manifesto that we would play a role as an intermediary body. We are also at a point in the life of Ouishare where the desire to link theory to practice is very strong. The opportunity is to work freely with an existing ecosystem, powered by the experiences of Open Data and SPMD.
A group of four people was set up to take up the challenge of large-scale territorial cooperation on the territory of the Rennes metropolis. The existing links and cooperation with multiple partners (Rennes Metropole, Fing and Grdf in the first place) give us confidence in our capacity and ability to contribute to the ecosystem that supports RUDI. One of the roles we have been asked to play is that of a voice for organisations and individuals who do not normally find a place for themselves in these processes. Hence, we are launching multiple roles and objectives in the project: involve residents and civil society, reflect on what Rudi can be as a platform, push for the Platform Design Toolkit approach, run a Call for Projects that is as collaborative as possible and design annual events.
The result: an application of 11 partners endorsed and funded by Urban Innovative Action (UIA) until 2022, with work starting in towards the end of 2019.
The first year of getting to know each other and working together
Roles that are difficult to establish
The UIA considered that the pre-existing ecosystem around the SPMD (Metropolitan Public Data Service) was an essential asset to make it a European pilot for a collaborative territorial platform. This ecosystem was widely represented in the official consortium presented to the UIA: 11 signatory partners that includes local authority, research laboratories, associations and major public groups. Not to mention the many local players, involved in various ways in the process, who are not strictly speaking partners in the consortium but who play an active role. The UIA warned us that in their eyes this quality of our candidacy was also one of the challenges we had to overcome.
In practice, Rudi's partners are heterogeneous in terms of structures, means, organisation, culture and level of commitment to the project. The first level of complexity is a classic one, we had to adjust to the consequences of 2020. Taking into account a second level of complexity related to the role, responsibilities and level of involvement of each actor in Rudi, including the funded intervention budget. Rennes Métropole, as leader and initiator, has naturally taken a special place in the scheme: contributors from different departments are involved in almost all the work packages, and therefore occupy a predominant place in the project management and decision-making processes. The UIA system is, moreover, centred on the local authority which initiates the project. Other partners (including Ouishare), have significant contributions on one or more work packages, over the entire duration of Rudi, so that they have a broad vision of the various activities carried out, with several people directly involved in the project daily. Finally, other partners are active and involved in many work packages, with an overall lower budget and often only one person to contact.
At Rudi, we recognise the legitimacy and importance of each partner and their contributions. Therefore, we need to implement ways of working on a daily basis that allows everyone to play their part, regardless of the asymmetries of information, means or engagement on a given issue. It is not that simple in practice: we entered Rudi on the basis of shared ideas and general orientations. But the way of working and the role of each partner was not predetermined. When we first presented our understanding of our role and how we would like to work to the other partners, there was a lot of surprise. We had to adapt, revise some of our objectives and even deal with our frustration. Certainly the feeling was mutual.
The role of Rennes Metropole is not that simple. Their place is predominantly in the project (amount of funding, role of agent, initiator of the process, accountability to its citizens), but they have chosen a collaborative approach from the start. This raises a few questions: is it possible not to impose the mode of operation of the community, its own processes, its temporalities on all the partners? How can we ensure that Rennes Métropole's partners do not limit themselves to a role of service provider or public relations?
A last question, on a larger scale, that is very important for us and our future: what is a partner of Rudi? The criterion is numerous: member of the UIA consortium, project leader of the call for projects; developers of the technical platform; persons providing or consuming Rudi data; provider of complementary services; Rudi users and contributors, etc. It is important to understand the value of each partner, and the manner in which they are contributing.
A working method that adjusts gradually
A collaborative style of work is fundamental to the Rudi partnership. What does this mean in this context? This first year has been one of trial and error and collective learning.
One community, associations, big companies, an international community (Ouishare) all have different definitions and practices of collaboration. This had to be taken into account in the first few months. The confinement of March 2020 came at a time when each member started to find their place, when a balance was being made between decision-making bodies (the Steering Committee) and operational bodies (Operational Committee) with autonomous functioning of the thematic working groups. Tools of documentation (wiki, intranet, framapad) and exchange (framateam) were put into place by Tiriad, one of the partners of the consortium.
In practice, the impossibility of meeting on a daily basis has further insisted on the inevitable friction between thematic groups that are trying to move forward and have autonomy, the coordination of a number of partners, the internal functioning of the community that associates several departments and elected officials, the individualities that need to express themselves, and the collective expectation of seeing something concrete emerge. Under what conditions can we talk about the project to local Rennes actors, inhabitants and other stakeholders? When there was no website, no official graphic charter or a well-defined presentation of the programme, we were met with reluctance.
In a general manner, communities are used to presenting 'finished products', projects because they perceive the risk of being attacked if they are caught out on the quality of the information, the progress or the success of the project. This consists of a difficulty to conduct open, iterative and exploratory approaches. We had to deal with this difficulty when it came to organising citizen workshops, issuing invitations to the first event without a finalised programme, or sharing an exploratory questionnaire on the relationship between RUDI and all the local actors in the territory.
Conversely, the desire to involve everyone on each subject of work can clash against the difficulty of numbers. A glossary project of the main words used in the context of Rudi and more generally of the territorial platforms resulted in dozens of terms to be defined. The lack of a clear process to sort them out and provide them with a common definition has led to the initiative being put aside for now. We share a word definition repository that allows us to work together, without at this stage offering this glossary to the general public or a wider circle of partners.
If we do not follow a stable and uniform method to make advancements with the themes at hand, we would indirectly be stating that everybody can work in their own manner. For some of them, elected representatives are closely involved (e.g. annual events). Others borrow from research and standardisation methods and go through the elaboration of a common text on a specific subject (e.g. anonymisation, Platform Design Toolkit method), presentation and collection of comments, publication of a stable reference version. Finally, thematic groups take partnership initiatives (e.g. involving university training courses in the design and evaluation phases), the method and results of which are shared by all, before creating a snowball effect that leads to requests to deepen relationships and initiate new ones.
The practice of the project and the reflective attitude of Ouishare
At Ouishare, we have the habit of exploring new practices, innovations and alternative models. This manner of functioning is accompanied by a critical and reflective posture: we like to question the status quo as much as the fashions to which we ourselves have adhered (a famous example at Ouishare on the collaborative economy). It is difficult for us to dive into a project without combining action with critical reflection and openness to alternatives! This may legitimately appear counterproductive. More precisely, within the framework of Rudi, the communication events on the project are in our eyes as much an opportunity to question, open and create as to show the process and the results of the project. Another example: the work on the specifications of the Rudi portal should be an open sprint in our opinion, the first iterations and feedback from users and partners opening up new possibilities. However, the project lasts three years and it is necessary to quickly converge and make developments which will structure the future.
Ouishare owes its place in Rudi, among other things, to its experience, its reflective bias and its fresh outlook on the local context and the organizations involved. For all these reasons, playing our role and contributing to the effective advancement of the project is not always easy.
We would like to point out the parallels between the difficulty and the phenomenon of the innovation learning curve, popularized by Gartner, an American advanced technology research and consulting company, as the "hype cycle." When we got to the Rudi project, we had very high expectations and lots of ideas. The reality of the life of the project and the field of possibilities created a form of disillusion. Disillusionment probably shared by our partners in their expectations vis-à-vis the role of Ouishare. We are used to living this cycle in other cooperations that have marked the life of Ouishare (with organizations such as MAIF, Grdf or the Rexel Foundation), and we know that the maturation curve that follows, the result of common efforts, is the bearer of achievements and tangible results that even exceed our initial expectations. This maturation curve generally leads to a mutually satisfactory long-term cooperation.
The challenges of 2021: proving the usefulness of the Rudi platform
The middle of this year determines what we will achieve through Rudi, in terms of the tools developed, the projects that were implemented, cooperation established, learning achieved. According to us, there are three challenges that lie ahead of us.
Rudi, a citizen project
A central promise for Rudi was its place it gave to citizens and residents in its process. The circumstances of 2020 have made this challenge more acute: no meetings possible, and everyone's attention focused on other, more urgent matters.
The cooperation that has been underway for a few months with university and civil society actors should produce visible fruits this year, with varied contributions, and some relatively unexpected.
The call for projects is in the process of bringing out tools and services that will directly benefit citizens in various fields: pollution, mobility, environment, social services. Beyond the involvement of the beneficiaries in the work, the visible results of these projects within a year should prove the interest of the approach.
Finally, we are counting on the resumption of social life in the middle of the year to organise more meetings, demonstrations and exchanges. This should make it possible to combine two complementary approaches. One, geared towards the territories, will consist of organising local meetings in different municipalities of the metropolis, with inhabitants. The other is aimed at students as citizens and future designers, decision-makers and users of these platforms.
However, we do not overshadow the real difficulty of involving residents in a process that concerns them but does not directly affect their daily lives in the same way as the municipal services available on the city portal. We start from this observation, which is shared by many professionals, and we experiment with methods of engagement. Can a portal like Rudi, a technical object, become a citizen project, under what conditions, and what does this mean in concrete terms?
Rudi, a useful tool
Rennes has been promoting the idea, in the recent years, along with few other collectives/communities in France (notably Lyon, La Rochelle, several regions including Brittany) that the territory's public actors were legitimate and relevant to get actively involved in the management. and cooperation around data. Not only public Open Data, but more widely all those, public, private or personal, which can be qualified as "data of territorial interest". The Banque des Territoires has come to share this conviction, and has just published a white paper with a view to publish practices and models, and to supporting this movement. The European Commission also supports many initiatives of this type.
However, platforms like Rudi have to prove their contribution and position. If there is no debate on the usefulness of Open Data platforms and tools for urban services such as mobility, energy and public space (pompously called "Smart City"), to what extent is the territory entitled to act as a trusted third party and to carry out the governance of much broader cooperation between a wide variety of actors, for projects that are not solely public services that the local authority is responsible for or that it delegates?
Since Rudi is one of the most ambitious exploratory projects of its kind in France, its results will be observed. Can we achieve anything concrete in this area? Is it possible to make these approaches permanent? What do they bring that different, often private and closed, systems do not? How can it be evaluated and then valorised?
These questions will be addressed in work packages on economic models, governance, legal issues, etc. But this work will only be completed if there is enough material to build the model, if we succeed in proving experimentally that public, private and citizen players derive concrete benefit from the portal, and that the role of the Rudi consortium, particularly as a trusted third party, makes a difference. And that this model can be integrated into a much broader data and consent ecosystem, both at European and national level.
A collaborative approach
A third challenge was a condition set to solve the first two: the collaboration and the way of working must allow to better include and serve the citizens, and to find a sustainable model for the portal. In other words, the official partners of Rudi, with their multiple actors involved in the ecosystem of data of territorial interest locally, must bring collaborative practices to fruition in order for the project to succeed. Practices that could nourish into the reflection on governance and economic models, in order to predict the future. Otherwise, it would be a matter of theorising models that are not rooted in experience.
We know one another well now, we have made our marks, created initial relations of trust. All of this sums up a lot of any “collaborative project” of the European consortium type. Going further means putting in place operating methods that are no longer just those of a one-off, time-limited project, but which are transferable to a long-term operation. At the end of the UIA funding, it is not only the possibility of financing the development of the portal that will determine the future of Rudi, but the desire, interest and maturity of an ecosystem to support it.
We are sharing with Rennes Métropole a particular responsibility in this challenge, since we will enforce the Platform Design Toolkit (PDT) methodology to strengthen cooperation, create new ones, and structure the understanding of the ecosystem, its actors and their aspirations, and the way Rudi works with them.
See you in a year's time for an in-depth review. In the meantime, contact the team if you wish to learn more, contribute or open a debate.
- For future events and highlights: Maïwenn de Villepin
- For cooperation with civil society, schools and universities, and citizen involvement: Yann Bergamaschi
- For the reflective and critical vision and the practical application of the Platform Design Toolkit approach: Taoufik Vallipuram
- For cooperation within the ecosystem, with external partners, and the animation of the Call for Projects: Ghislain Delabie