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Data ecosystems for protecting
European citizens’digital rights
Urban Transformations ESRC and Future of Cities Programmes, University of
Oxford, Oxford, UK and Centre for Advanced Studies and Digital Economy Unit,
European Commission Joint Research Centre Ispra Sector, Ispra, Italy, and
Department of Operations, ESADE Business School, Barcelona, Spain
Purpose –This paper aims to spark a debate by presenting the need for developing data ecosystems in
Europe that meet the social and public good while committing to democratic and ethical standards;
suggesting a taxonomy of data infrastructures and institutions to support this need; using the case study of
Barcelona as the ﬂagship city trailblazing a critical policy agenda of smart cities to show the limitations and
contradictions of the current state of affairs; and ultimately, proposing a preliminary roadmap for institutional
and governance empowerment that could enable effective data ecosystems in Europe.
Design/methodology/approach –This paper draws on lessons learned in previous publications
available in the sustainability (Calzada, 2018), regions (Calzada and Cowie, 2017; Calzada, 2019), Zenodo
(Calzada and Almirall, 2019), RSA Journal (Calzada, 2019) and IJIS (Calzada, 2020) journals and ongoing and
updated ﬁeldwork about the Barcelona case study stemming from an intensive ﬁeldwork action research that
started in 2017. The methodology used in these publications was based on the mixed-method technique of
triangulation via action research encompassing in-depth interviews, direct participation in policy events and
desk research. The case study was identiﬁed as the most effective methodology.
Findings –This paper, drawing from lessons learned from the Barcelona case study, elucidates on the need
to establish pan-European data infrastructures and institutions –collectively data ecosystems –to protect
citizens’digital rights in European cities and regions. The paper reveals three main priorities proposing a
preliminary roadmap for local and regional governments, namely, advocacy, suggesting the need for city and
regional networks; governance, requiring guidance and applied, neutral and non-partisan research in policy;
and pan-European agencies, leading and mobilising data infrastructures and institutions at the European
Research limitations/implications –From the very beginning, this paper acknowledges its ambition,
and thus its limitations and clariﬁes its attempt to provide just an overview rather than a deep research
analysis. This paper presents several research limitations and implications regarding the scope. The paper
starts by presenting the need for data ecosystems, then structures this need through two taxonomies, all
illustrated through the Barcelona case study and ﬁnally, concludes with a roadmap consisting of three
priorities. The paper uses previous published and ongoing ﬁeldwork ﬁndings in Barcelona as a way to lead,
and thus encourage the proliferation of more cases through Cities Coalition for Digital Rights (CCDR).
Funding statement: Dr. Calzada’s work was supported by the ESRC under Grant Urban
Transformations Award ref. ES/M010996/1; the RSA under Grant “Smart City-Regional Governance
for Sustainability”Research Network; and the European Commission under the Grant H2020-SCC-
691735-REPLICATE. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision
to publish or preparation of the manuscript.
Data availability statement: The data that support the ﬁndings of this study are openly available in
Zenodo at https://zenodo.org/record/2604618#.XTRqxlB7nxj/DOI 10.5281/zenodo.2604618.
Conﬂict of interest: The authors have no conﬂicts of interest to declare.
Received 25 March2020
Revised 28 March 2020
Accepted 28 March2020
People, Process and Policy
Vol. 14 No. 2, 2020
© Emerald Publishing Limited
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Practical implications –This paper presents practical implications for local and regional authorities
oftheCCDRnetwork.Assuch,themainthreepriorities of the preliminary roadmap could help those
European cities and regions already part of the CCDR network to establish and build operational data
ecosystems by establishing a comprehensive pan-European policy from the bottom-up that aligns with
the timely policy developments advocated by the European Commission. This paper can inspire
policymakers by providing guidelines to better coordinate among a diverse set of cities and regions in
Social implications –The leading data governance models worldwide from China and the USA and
theadventofBigDataaredramatically reshaping citizens’relationship with data. Against this
backdrop and directly inﬂuenced by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Europe has,
perhaps, for the ﬁrst time, spoken with its own voice by blending data and smart city research and
policy formulations. Inquiries and emerging insights into the potential urban experiments on data
ecosystems, consisting of data infrastructures and institutions operating in European cities and regions,
become increasingly crucial. Thus, the main social implications are for those multi-stakeholder policy
schemes already operating in European cities and regions.
Originality/value –In previous research, data ecosystems were not directly related to digital rights
amidst the global digital geopolitical context and, more speciﬁcally, were not connected to the two taxonomies
(on data infrastructures and institutions) that could be directly applied to a case study, like the one presented
about Barcelona. Thus, this paper shows novelty and originality by also opening up (based on previous
ﬁeldwork action research) a way to take strategic action to establish a pan-European strategy among cities
and regions through three speciﬁc priorities. This paper can ultimately support practice and lead to new
research and policy avenues.
Keywords Data ecosystems, Digital rights, GDPR, Smart cities, Data infrastructures,
Data institutions, Barcelona, Data commons, Fieldwork, Action research
Paper type Viewpoint
The 21st century can be characterised as the century of data (Friis-Christensen and Triaille,
2019;Kitchin et al.,2018). While data itself has long existed, the current capacity to
transform data into action is new (Bigo et al.,2019). Big Data originated with the
increasingly advanced data collection capabilities of the internet, social networks, the
internet of things (IoT) and sensors. Artiﬁcial intelligence (AI) and information technologies
(IT) are not only allowed for translating code into routines that could previously only be
procured by humans but also injected new, previously unthinkable ones such as massive
search (Almirall, 2019;Calzada, 2019a). Finally, the cloud democratised these transformations,
converting capital costs into variable costs, providing practically inﬁnite scalability and the
ability to package even the most sophisticated routines such as face recognition and individual
proﬁling, into easy-to-use pre-trained models (Armbrust et al., 2009).
This phenomenon has led to new consequences –such as hyper-targeting through
data analytics, facial recognition and individual proﬁling –received by many with
both helplessness and threat and resulting in not-so-desirable outcomes such as
massive manipulation and control via a surveillance capitalism push in the USA
(Zuboff, 2019)andthesocialcreditsystemsinChina(Ahmed, 2018;Creemers, 2018;
Kotska, 2019). In contrast, these societal concerns raised a debate in Europe that
crystalised into the general data protection regulation (GDPR) coming into force in
May 2018 after four years of debate. The emergence of this new phenomenon has
spurred a call to action for cities and regions in the European Union (EU), establishing
the need to map out the techno-political debate on dataﬁcation or dataism (Calzada,
2019b). Moreover, the phenomenon has also ultimately highlighted the potential
requirements for establishing regulatory frameworks to protect digital rights. Such
frameworks cover demands on privacy, ownership (Calzada,2018a, 2018b), trust
(Mendoza-Tello et al., 2019), access, ethics, transparency (Brunswicker et al., 2019),
algorithmic automatisation (Chiodo, 2019) and ultimately, democratic accountability
(Mair et al., 2019;Mora et al., 2019b;Wong, 2019).
Alongside this phenomenon, data and data technologies alter not only the corpus of
citizens¨ rights but also the way in which cities and regions conceive and deliver public
policy and services (Vesnic-Alujevic et al., 2019). This digital transformation
pervasively encompasses all angles of policy, namely, the provision of services, the
assignment of resources, the approach to solving social problems and even the complex
decision making process increasingly shifting to software algorithms and evolving
towards considering citizens as merely data-providers rather than decision makers
This transformational process stemming from a black-boxed algorithmic momentum
often gets perceived as a mechanism that increases the efﬁciency of existing approaches
or as simply a process of policy adjustment. Nevertheless, this paper argues that data
requires and creates data infrastructures and institutions (Ducuing, 2019;Gray et al.,
2018;Kotsev et al., 2020) that empower data and both should be endowed with ethical and
democratic governance (Cardullo et al., 2019;Ruppert et al., 2017). This paper presents
and develops both data infrastructures and institutions, collectively deﬁning them as
data ecosystems (Calzada, 2019a;European Commission,2018a, 2018b;Janssen and Kuk,
2016;Lnenicka and Komarkova, 2019;Oliveira et al., 2019). Data ecosystems are thereby
not only the data infrastructures and institutions but also the related analytics and data
capture systems used to take data and relay it to the system owners, who can then alter
their provision of goods, services and marketing accordingly. Currently, some data
infrastructures and institutions conﬁguring data ecosystems are either already
established or in an embryonic state, namely the following data ecosystems:
Data commons with open data;
Code commons with institutions such as Code for America (2019) and the failed
Code for Europe (2019); and
Projects such as Ckan (2019) or Decode (2018).
This paper –stemming eminently from the ﬁeldwork action research carried out for
previous publications (Calzada, 2018a) and recent updates and ﬁndings (Calzada, 2020)
about the Barcelona case study –argues that the data commons model (Calzada and
Almirall, 2019a), as initiated and preliminarily implemented during the institutional
period 2015-2019 by Barcelona City Council (2019a), has exempliﬁed and contributed to
opening up a new policy-data interaction through grassroots-led urban experimentation
in Europe (Calzada and Almirall, 2019b). A direct outcome of this period is the declaration
of the CCDR (2019) manifesto, which is ready to be translated into data policy by building
networked data infrastructures and institutions. Despite its embryonic and still ideologic
status, this broad movement has gradually expanded under the leadership of Barcelona,
Amsterdam and New York City (NYC). The movement is now extending into additional
cities –including Athens, Berlin, Bordeaux, Bratislava, Cluj-Napoca, Dublin, Glasgow,
Grenoble, Helsinki, La Coruña, Liverpool, London, Lyon, Milan, Moscow, München,
Porto, Rennes, Roma, Tirana, Turin, Vienna and Zaragoza in Europe; Amman in the
Middle East; and Atlanta, Austin, Cary, Chicago, Guadalajara, Kansas, Long Beach, Los
Angeles, Philadelphia, Portland, San Antonio, San José and Toronto in the Americas; and
Sydney in Australia.
Hence, this paper addresses three main aims:
(1) to present the urgent need to align and develop these data ecosystems in Europe
with the social and public good and democratic choice, unlike the global digital
governance paradigms in China and the USA;
(2) to elaborate around the case study of Barcelona as the ﬂagship city alongside NYC
and Amsterdam, trailblazing the post-GDPR data institution for the function of
advocacy called the CCDR; and
(3) and consequently, to explore a strategic roadmap for developing effective
European data ecosystems.
Accordingly, this paper is structured in three main sections based on these aims. By
acknowledging its ambition, and thus its limitations, Section 2 clariﬁes its attempt to
provide just an overview rather than a deep research analysis.
2. Context and rationale: data ecosystems through data infrastructures and
institutions in Europe
In the global context, three main clearly distinguished paradigms on data governance,
algorithmic and AI disruption currently coexist (Just, 2018). Firstly, China is super-rich in data
and determined to maximise that advantage with systems such as social credit systems (Kotska,
2019) or what is known as technological nationalism (Jiang and Fu, 2018), whereby large
technology companies and the state embrace a mutually beneﬁcial symbiotic relationship, in
many cases orchestrated by the state in a regime of limited internal competition. Secondly, in the
USA, the so-called Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple (GAFA) is driven by large
technological private multinationals who collect massive amounts of data from global citizens
without any informed consent. Both models are engaged in a sort of competition with the
support of large national technological infrastructures and nationally aligned research agendas.
Thirdly, in contrast, Europe is focussing on the attempt to start from the bottom-up to build a
truly European model –one, that is sustainable, locally driven, regionally rooted and inclusive –
while trying to maintain its lead. The European post-GDPR context is attempting to solve this
conundrum of addressing citizens’rights in a way generative to societal good while maintaining
a competitive lead with comparatively larger, more focussed and possibly more determined
players (Warnke et al.,2019). Indeed, the European Commission (2019) is developing an
expanded network of digital innovation hubs, which could be central to developing local and
regional data ecosystems; these hubs will bring AI training, data, computing and local
partnerships together to develop AI solutions adapted to local and regional issues.
Particularly, as the profound implications of algorithmic disruption in European cities
and regions begin to surface, the considerable fears regarding the hidden power of Big Data
evil geniuses –GAFA –operating in porous regulatory systems have also emerged (Crémer
et al., 2019). The perspective of an increase in the already remarkable amount of data being
controlled by AI tools and devices owned by multinational corporations has raised concerns
in some European cities such as Barcelona, which is presented as the core case study in this
paper, particularly due to apprehension that the corporations may further exacerbate
already-pervasive social inequalities and further marginalise the most vulnerable people
(Calzada and Cobo, 2015;Eubanks, 2017). These concerns have aggravated the criticism
about the already-controversial technocratic European smart city model initially advocated
by the European Commission through its H2020-Smart Cities and Communities policy
scheme, raising questions about data privacy and ownership (Borsboom-van Beurden et al.,
2019;Cardullo et al.,2019;Kempin Reuter, 2019).
Hence, although the global digital governance context and the considerably different
values of AI among the three global paradigms (China, USA and Europe), in light of the
newly released European data strategy, in the post-GDPR context, Europe seems
determined to lead the debate on the digital rights of citizens by experimenting with data
ecosystems (European Commission, 2020). According to Kotsev et al. (2020), this strategy
not only establishes an ambitious agenda that aims to leverage the favourable technological
and political context but also empowers European citizens, businesses and the public
authorities through a data-agile approach, which:
aligns with European values; and
reﬂects the needs of a multitude of stakeholders.
Thus, the rationale behind data ecosystems in Europe is to deconstruct data complexity and
visualise a multi-stakeholder techno-political process, producing truly inclusive urban
spaces that fulﬁl the right to smart cities (Bigo et al., 2019;Cardullo et al., 2019;Dziembala,
2019;Visvizi and Lytras,2018, 2019). The lack of opaque politics concerning the most
sophisticated technology such as deep learning and its increasing use in cities, particularly
in very visible tasks such as facial recognition, has resulted in a push for more regulation
and algorithmic transparency.
Against this European backdrop, data ecosystems are operationally deﬁned in this paper
as the overarching data policy framework that comprises:
four types of data infrastructures (political artefact, asset, process and network) that
need to be enabled through; and
four functions (guidance, advocacy, operationalisation and exploitation)
accomplished by data institutions that create dynamics, which mobilise these
infrastructures to become a real and transformative driver of change.
Regarding data infrastructures (Table 1), data can be considered:
a political artefact that infuses societal values into public opinion;
an asset that has value on its own;
Political artefact Digital rights GDPR
Manifesto in favour of technological sovereignty and
digital rights for cities
Barcelona ethical digital policy toolkit
Asset Data commons
Public-sector open source (e.g. Ckan)
Process Public cloud
AWS GovCloud in the US
Network Moonshot projects
Civic tech accelerators
Open data projects
Barcelona civic tech house
Open data hackathons
Civic tech London meetup
a process where data is collected, cleaned and analysed; and
a network where organisations around data trigger public good by overcoming
Speciﬁcally, data as a political artefact, as an instrument that enables the emergence of
individual and collective rights, has attracted signiﬁcantattentioninEuropeinthe
form of legislation on digital rights (Calzada,2018b, 2019b). GDPR is a good example of
this incarnation. Similarly, data as an asset is at stake and is arguably the most widely
developed area where data commons is well-represented by open data, but where code
commons and model commons are also urgently needed (Calzada and Almirall, 2019a).
The public sharing of code and AI models will not only spur innovation but also focus
development into fewer and better solutions to the beneﬁt of multi-stakeholder policy
schemes in European cities and regions. Accordingly, a pressing necessity in Europe
exists for a public cloud, public analytics and public AI workﬂow processes with ethical
and social considerations and standards. Finally, a network comprising moonshot
projects, civic tech accelerators, grassroots projects and open data projects with many
similarities to the entrepreneurial/innovation ecosystem is also essential for achieving a
strong digital European policy in the public sector (Mazzucato, 2017).
Consequently, this paper differentiates four functions of data institutions (Table 2)in
operationalising the related data infrastructures (previously presented through Table 1):
(1) those devoted to providing guidance in the governance and policy such as Open
Data Institute (2019) and GovTechLab (2019);
(2) those focussed on advocacy such as the CCDR (2019);
(3) those that operationalise the infrastructure such as the data commons policy
scheme through the open data ecosystem, city data analytics ofﬁce, the open
software ecosystem through cityOS and the DECODE-DECIDIM-
METADECIDIM experimental and strategic triad of initiatives (Arag
on et al.,
2017;Barandiaran et al., 2017;Barcelona City Council,2018, 2019b;Bass et al.,
2018;Calzada, 2018a;Calzada and Almirall, 2019b;Marras et al., 2018); and
(4) those devoted to exploiting the commons such as organisations that use open-
source data together with those who have the political intent to reverse post-
capitalistic logics through new grassroots-led urban experimentation such as
platform co-operatives (Borkin, 2019;Calzada and Almirall, 2019a;Scholz,
2016) and data co-operatives (Hardjono and Pentland, 2019).
A platform co-operative is a co-operatively owned democratically governed business
model that establishes a computing platform and uses a website and/or mobile
application to facilitate the sale of goods and delivery of services. Examples of platform
co-operatives include Fairbnb, Denver’s Green Taxi Co-operative and Resonate. Data
co-operatives may help rebalance the relationship between those who create data
(citizens as data providers) and those who seek to exploit that data while also creating
an environment for fair and democratic exchange. Data co-operatives with ﬁduciary
obligations to members provide a promising direction for the democratic empowerment
of citizens through their personal data. Examples of data co-operatives are ﬂourishing
around credit unions. As not-for-proﬁt institutions owned by their members, credit
unions are already chartered to securely manage their members’digital data and to
represent them in a wide variety of ﬁnancial transactions.
In Section 3, this paper brieﬂy presents several elements to illustrate the relevance of data
ecosystems through the case study of Barcelona, researched in-depth since 2017 by the authors
(Calzada,2018a, 2019b;Calzada and Almirall, 2019a, 2019b). Barcelona ultimately illustrates
that Europe may be speaking with its own voice. In Section 4, this paper proposes a
preliminary roadmap to make data policy effective for European local and regional authorities.
3. Methodology and discussion: the case study of Barcelona
In the contours of this paper, the case study of Barcelona illustrates the leading role that this
city has played since 2015 by shifting the smart city policy agenda and starting to construct
data ecosystems from scratch in not only Barcelona but also in Europe by leading the CCDR.
In fact, during the policy period starting in May 2015, Barcelona attempted to cover the four
techno-political types of data infrastructures (Table 1) and the four functions of data
Four functions Cases Analysis
Guidance Open Data Institute (ODI)
The ODI, based in the UK and founded by Sir Tim Berners-
Lee, is a non-proﬁt private company that aims to connect,
equip and inspire people around the world to innovate with
The purpose of GovTechLab is to facilitate the discussion,
adoption and exploration of new digital technologies (AI, IoT,
big data and blockchain) with the view to support the
adoption of these technologies in the public sector (Mora et al.,
Advocacy CCDR The CCDR cities –already encompassing 41 cities worldwide
(Europe, America, Australia and the Middle East), with the
support of the United Nations Human Settlements
Programme (UN-Habitat) –share best practices, learn from
each other’s challenges and successes and coordinate
common initiatives and actions
Operationalise Data commons policy
Open data ecosystem
City-data analytics ofﬁce
Open software ecosystem
strategic triad of
According to previous research by the authors (Calzada,
2018a;Calzada and Almirall, 2019a), the data commons policy
scheme could be deﬁned as a way to negotiate the techno-
politics of the smart cities as a contentious and dynamic
process among several stakeholders, reconﬁguring socio-
political and power interrelations through conﬂicting trade-
offs, of the ownership of the data and ultimately, of the
Exploitation Companies and
organisations using the
data infrastructures (e.g.
According to Scholz (2016, p. 16), “platform co-operative is a
term that describes technological, cultural, political and social
Complementarily, according to Borkin (2019, p. 5), “platform
co-operatives are digital platforms that are designed to
provide a service or sell a product –and are collectively
owned and governed by the people who depend on and
participate in them”
And according to Hardjono and Pentland (2019, p. 2), “data
co-operatives refer to the voluntary collaborative pooling by
individuals of their personal data for the beneﬁt of the
collective group or community membership”
institutions (Table 2). Accordingly, this paper reveals that the intensity of the outcomes for
the four types and four functions differ considerably, requiring further nuanced ﬁeldwork
research to produce conclusive results. Obviously, regarding data infrastructures, the
political artefact deﬁned through the manifesto in favour of technological sovereignty and
digital rights for cities and the Barcelona ethical digital policy toolkit was the main driver of
the data ecosystems in Barcelona. Regarding data institutions, the advocacy function
facilitated through the CCDR was remarkable but so, too, was the way in which the city-data
analytics ofﬁce was operationalised to be strategically supported through the efforts to
create a pan-European data infrastructural asset such as code commons. In this endeavour,
contributions made by participants of the DECODE-DECIDIM-METADECIDIM
experimental and strategic initiative triad clearly operationalised a solid digital policy
ground for establishing pan-European data institutions. In addition, there were several
attempts to nurture platform co-operatives (Scholz, 2016) and data co-operatives (Hardjono
and Pentland, 2019) such as Som Energia (Calzada and Almirall, 2019a) as a social and
ethical alternative to existing commercial platforms (Just, 2018).
Methodologically speaking, the authors’previous research spanned September 2017 to
March 2019 by putting into practice a ﬁeldwork action research methodological approach
(Forester et al., 2019) in two gradual and complementary steps. Preliminarily, one author of
this paper actively participated in the CCDR and the subsequent actions aimed at
establishing data commons and code commons. In parallel, the other author actively carried
out direct participation in three core events and conducted 20 in-depth interviews with a
diverse set of strategic stakeholders –following the Penta Helix multi-stakeholder
framework –including the private sector, the public sector, academia, civic society and
(social) entrepreneurs/activists (Calzada and Cowie, 2017). Thus, the previous ﬁeldwork
revealed several key ﬁndings already published (Calzada, 2018a) in the special issue of the
journal Sustainability entitled Big Data research for social sciences and social impact, which
could be considered the point of departure for this broader paper.
From a strategic standpoint, the governmental period in Barcelona starting in May 2015
could be examined as follows: the team led by the former Chief Technology and Digital
Innovation Ofﬁcer of Barcelona City Council, Francesca Bria, largely supplanted the role of
several data institutions by accomplishing core strategic functions. Clearly, this approach
may present abundant hindrances (Bria, 2019), despite the fact that the signiﬁcant impact is
worth considering and highlights the main beneﬁt of this paper: to suggest a roadmap for
governance and institutional empowerment to allow for creating effective and democratic
data ecosystems in Europe. Barcelona (alongside the leading cities of the CCDR such as
Amsterdam and NYC) presented what can be described as an embrionic version of a set of
data ecosystems for the European city-regional realm, particularly on its institutional side.
Hence, in this section, this paper brieﬂy examines Barcelona’s data institutions as structured
in Table 2.
In guidance, all 20 interviewed stakeholders (stemming from previous ﬁeldwork
research; Calzada, 2018a) agreed upon the large impact of the accomplishments, exempliﬁed
through two main data infrastructures under the GDPR umbrella (Table 1), namely, the
manifesto and the toolkit. There was, however, also a consensus on the lack of diversity in
the guidance, based on the unilateral ideological vision of the given data infrastructures –
the political artefact.
Advocacy is probably the more fertile data institution’s function in this policy analysis
during the period 2015-2019. Despite the fact that directly promoting this approach on
digital rights (also known as technological sovereignty; Calzada, 2019b) from local
authorities is rather unconventional, it is equally true that CCDR proved to be very effective,
particularly in terms of already mobilising 41 cities worldwide and creating techno-political
Operationalisation took four different directions under the policy programme data
commons: the ﬁrst operationalisation involved updating the open data ecosystem with an
open-source portal (CKan) while fostering its adoption. The second involved creating the
city-data analytics ofﬁce. The third involved the code-sharing effort via the open software
ecosystem through cityOS through the CCDR to identify and encorage software to share.
Then ﬁnally, the fourth involved three experimental and strategically intertwined
(1) cutting-edge, innovative EU-funded projects such as DECODE led by Barcelona
(2) the DECIDIM grassroots-led deliberative platform; and
(3) the METADECIDIM process for reﬂecting upon DECIDIM’s operation and future
development through a meta-lab of open debate.
However, the exploitation of the data institutions has materialised bolder and more
innovative projects around two new organisational forms for data, namely, platform co-
operatives and data co-operatives. Alongside the launch of the CCDR in 2018 –jointly
led by Barcelona, Amsterdam and NYC –updated and ongoing ﬁeldwork research
revealed (Calzada and Almirall,2019a, 2019b) a tension between two different business
models on data governance as follows: platform capitalism exempliﬁed with the conﬂict
betweenCabifyandUberandthelocaltaxi association, Elite Taxi BCN and platform
co-operativism exempliﬁed by the successful case of Som Energia, a co-operative in the
energy ﬁeld that is actively supported by city hall. While it is much too soon to
accurately appraise the initiative, it certainly extends beyond what has been attempted
by city halls so far, raising the bar for local politics in general and digital policy, in
particular, and opening up new and promising data policy pathways.
Updated and ongoing ﬁeldwork research also surfaced the underlying tension
between a government that tries to push the limits of what a local administration can
achieve and what it should achieve given its inherent internal restrictions (Purwanto
et al., 2020). The will to push the boundaries of the digital competences in local
authorities is highly visible in advocacy, particularly in the construction of the
coalitions in 41 cities worldwide pushing to establish digital rights (and technological
sovereignty) and primarily gaining momentum from the European post-GDPR realm.
Furthermore, this push not only explicitly expresses techno-political will but also
introduces the novel ambition in local governments aiming to redeﬁne modes of
production by creating platform and data co-operatives.
However, the tension, which often turns into frustration due to limitations, has
mostly surfaced in uncommon and unexpected data policy areas. One of them is code
commons. Certainly, sharing code developed with public money among cities, on the
surface, seems unproblematic. There are, however, many details in the implementation
that create insurmountable barriers. Among them is the lack of incentives for cities to
start a collective process that hypothetically will ultimately beneﬁt all despite the
complexities involved in prioritising this process as a pressing matter for local
authorities. Likewise, the same occurs with analytics as follows: data scientists are
expensive to hire and not eager to work for bureaucracies such as city councils,
particularly if the scientists have not already established leadership in the ﬁeld that
ensures the progression through a career path.
Hence, looking past these tensions and returning to the assessment of guidance, this
paper discovered the main issue, namely, the lack of external validation and guidance
for governance –while the need to continuously invent its model –without the
endorsement and advice that external organisations such as GovTechLab (2019),could
The conclusion of this paper revolves around the evidence that local digital policies are no
longer local, in neither their objectives nor their instruments for implementing data
infrastructures and institutions. The interpellation of global actors that interdependently
shapes the digital governance realm cannot be understood from an extremely local
perspective of each city council. This paper, therefore, suggests data ecosystems as a need
for a pan-European post-GDPR digital policy (Kotsev et al., 2020). Thus, currently, the
embryo of data ecosystems consists of several forms of cooperation with universities
serving the CCDR in a broader Penta Helix multi-stakeholder policy scheme (Calzada and
Cowie, 2017;Olsen and Welke, 2019).
In the contours of the previously published and further ongoing and updated
ﬁeldwork action research carried out in Barcelona and brieﬂy presented in this paper,
the authors conclude by proposing a preliminary roadmap for data ecosystems among
European cities and regions. Fieldwork research overall clearly shows that code
sharing cannot be established from a local perspective with pressing only local interest.
Rather, it needs neutral agencies driven by incentives to create common ground. Code
development also needs the guidance and common motivation that non-proﬁt
foundations such as Apache or Numfocus brought to open source. Previous attempts
witnessed a tentative translation of these efforts done by Code for America or the failed
Code for Europe, but they lacked the breadth and necessary inﬂuence to trigger the
movement effectively, among other things because of the lack of perspective of future
growth, ﬁnance capabilities and a feasible vision that European cities and regions will
ﬁrmly adopt their contributions (Ulo et al., 2019).
After previous and ongoing ﬁeldwork research, a clear ﬁnal remark emerged: it is highly
unlikely that these new European data ecosystems appear with the present digital policy
scheme. Cities acting independently will have neither the opportunity nor the sense of
urgency to establish a set of commons in terms of data infrastructures and institutions, nor
the resources and the power of inﬂuence to develop pan-European collaborations among
cities and regions. There is certainly a need to pursue a different approach through a
European roadmap for digital policy and the emergence of data ecosystems.
Three main priorities stand out from the previous and ongoing ﬁeldwork action research
and could constitute a preliminary roadmap for local and regional governments that aim to
establish post-GDPR data ecosystems for protecting citizens’digital rights in Europe:
(1) Advocacy. There are already organisations where cities and regions can collate
their points of view such as Eurocities or intensive knowledge exchange activities
such as the city-to-city-learning programme in the replicate EU project (Replicate
EU, 2019). However, the rise of other networks with a substantial critical approach
to the techno-politics of data science such as CCDR shows the need for further
critical policy approaches for data. Cities and regions in Europe need arenas where
they can speak louder among a set of diverse voices, arenas that should be better
connected to European policymakers.
(2) Governance. There is a lack, particularly in continental Europe, of guidance and
applied research in policy, especially in modern areas such as AI, data spaces,
behavioural analytics and digital transformations. Much of the problem lies not in
the existing capacities but in the ﬁnancing of these activities with a neutral non-
(3) Pan-European agencies. Probably the most stringent problem is one of mobilising
capacities in AI, analytics and modern software development by putting them at
the service of European cities and regions. Without such mobilisation, the data
infrastructures and institutions will not happen and the beneﬁts of AI will not be
reaped. Among all potential solutions, pan-European agencies –either public,
private or in the form of a partnership through the Penta Helix framework (Calzada
and Cowie, 2017)–that promote open source code, model sharing and
standardisation look like the best possible solution.
Cities and regions have, so far, followed a bottom-up approach with limitations, as
uncovered by the current research. In parallel with that, the rise of new needs surfaced the
increasing limitations of this approach. European local and regional governments are still
endowed with old governance structures that clearly cannot overcome 21st-century
challenges. These challenges ultimately boil down to protecting citizens’digital rights while
relying on the capacity of European cities and regions to deal with self-governing and
interdependent data policies as the only possible way to ensure fairer European
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About the authors
Dr Igor Calzada, MBA, FeRSA, is a Senior Scientist at the European Commission’s DG Joint Research
Centre, Centre for Advanced Studies and Digital Economy Unit. In addition, he is a Lecturer,
Research Fellow and Policy Advisor in the Urban Transformations ESRC and in the Future of Cities
programmes at the University of Oxford. His main research interest investigates how digital
transformational processes, driven by AI disruption in the current post-GDPR context, are altering
techno-political and democratic conditions of data governance that result in the emergence of new
algorithmic citizenship regimes in European (smart) cities and regions. www.igorcalzada.com/about
Igor Calzada is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Esteve Almirall, serves as Associate Professor at Esade and Dtr. of the Centre for Innovation in
Cities. He lectured in several universities, among them UC Berkeley, UPF, UPC and EPFL. He has a
mixed background both in AI and Management Science, particularly Innovation. However, Esteve
spent a previous life in the business IT sector with a career in consulting and banking were for many
years. Esteve was the youngest CTO of the Spanish banking industry, being the ﬁrst in online
transactions and the second in online banking.
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