At the Microsoft Center, developers are experimenting with the Microsoft hololens. "Via these glasses you can see the whole world and its corresponding data just in front of your eyes."

How linked data can support decisive policy-making

May 20, 2022
Microsoft Technology Center Zaventem

Data is the new gold. A saying which holds a definite truth. That’s why we at Sirus strongly support the sharing of valuable linked data so we can all gain extra knowledge and grow even further due to our combined insights and inexhaustible sources of information.

In 2021 the cities Brugge, Roeselare and Leuven made clear they also believe in the richness and advantages of data sharing. By launching a tender, these three cities spread the message of wanting to work together on a big scale and they looked for a partner ready to develop a Smart City Platform where they could bundle all the linked data gathered from smart meters in their cities. As you can read in our blog post about the Urban Sense project, Sirus won this project and started building this platform in close partnership with Cegeka. The Microsoft-based platform will be deployed on a large scale and will be fed with linked data from smart apps and tools developed by Crowdscan and Citymesh.

These previously named partners (Sirus – Cegeka – Microsoft – Crowdscan and CityMesh) came together at the Microsoft Center for the Urban Sense event on the 20th of May 2022 to share their knowledge about how data can support decisive policy-making. A summary of their advice can be found in this blog post.

Gert De Tant (CEO Sirus): “We wish to evolve towards a city that is very livable and technology can be a strong tool in pursuing this goal”

Gert De Tant (CEO Sirus): “We wish to evolve towards a city that is very livable and technology can be a strong tool in pursuing this goal”

According to Gert De Tant technology and its associated linked data can be a very strong nudging tool. He is therefore referring to the Use Case of the City of Leuven, which is being onboarded on the Smart City Platform. “The City of Leuven has been coping with some noise nuisance from the city’s vibrant nightlife. By changing the intensity of the street lights we can test whether reduced lightning has a nudging effect on the noise production of nightly passersby.”

Technology and their associated data can be a very strong nudging tool

SIrus CEO Gert De Tant at Urban Sense event

“This test data is all gathered on the Smart City Platform where it will be visualized in order to make evaluations based on this data. Furthermore, this data is shared with other cities on the platform so they can all gain new insights based on the conclusions from this Use Case. In this way, linked data can strongly support policy-making and help with the communication and the adoption of important policy decisions by the city’s inhabitants.”

Johan Torfs (Microsoft): “Digital Twins, Augmented Reality, robots and the metaverse form the solution for public safety and a green & modern city”

Johan Torfs at Urban Sense event

According to Johan Torfs cities are facing quite a lot of challenges these days. “Cities have to shift to being more green, the streets have to be filled with electrical cars, but cities also have to invest further in infrastructure, water and public safety. These investments and changes can be made easier thanks to new technological innovations, think of fully autonomic shuttles on the airport, Volocopters and drones. These new and exciting innovations do, however, pose a difficult challenge for public authorities.”

Hyperconnected cities

“That’s exactly why the Urban Sense Data Platform can be a good investment. The platform helps cities to quickly adapt to new situations. Cities and their according authorities can work together with industries, research organizations and universities and can then make this cross-sectoral knowledge available for citizens, companies and other cities. This trend is the tale of hyperconnected cities and will be a very important aspect in the future of cities.”

Johan Torfs at Urban Sense event
Visualization of data

This cross-sectoral knowledge is visualized on the Urban Sense Platform in order to get a clear view on important data implications.“By visualizing traffic data on a clear city map for example, you can easily identify which crossroads are dangerous and adjust your policy to these observations so kids can travel to school safely again. And I think that’s one possible answer for how cities can use linked data for decision making.”

Technology for an easier life

Johan Torfs also adds in another – according to him – fundamental new development for the cities of tomorrow. “New technological trends like augmented reality, robots and the metaverse can also help policy makers in the future. Augmented reality cannot only help visualize linked data (e.g. in Finland, where the city of Kiruna is visualizing its entire city structure with AI), it can also be used in tourism (e.g. in the church of Leuven) or in public transport (e.g. having all onboarding information available on 1 platform).

The sharing of cross-sectoral knowledge combined with technological excellence creates a city of endless possibilities

A terrific example of how these new technologies can help public forces is the roboverse by Reply. Reply develops robots which can be used when there’s a fire in the city for example. When the building is no longer accessible for humans, these robots can go in and see if there are still victims inside. Furthermore a remote rendering of the building can give a clear view of the cause of the fire, in just a few moments. This way public forces can work on public safety in a more efficient way.

At the Microsoft Center, developers are experimenting with the Microsoft hololens. "Via these glasses you can see the whole world and its corresponding data just in front of your eyes."
At the Microsoft Center, developers are experimenting with the Microsoft hololens. "Via these glasses you can see the whole world and its corresponding data just in front of your eyes."

Joeri Tranchet (Citymesh): “Measuring & visualizing the amount of people on the streets helps to implement a safer traffic policy”

Joeri Tranchet at Urban Sense event

Joeri Tranchet came to talk about the VLOED case of the cities Gent and Brugge. “With the VLOED case we measure how busy certain areas are in a city and combine this data on one platform in order to find correlations and causes”. By applying multiple linked data measurement devices in the two cities they can measure how many objects and people are present in specific areas during different times of the day.

By knowing how many people are on the streets, policies can be adapted and queues can be averted

“By visualizing the specific amounts of people in different streets, we can see several trends and find the causes for these trends. Especially during the covid pandemic, this turned out to be very helpful. If there were for example long waiting cues in front of the test centers, public forces could easily see which zones were too busy and close off these streets temporarily. An adapted policy could then be implemented to limit the waiting line at the test centers.”

Ben Bellekens (Crowdscan): “Crowd management data in combination with other linked data constitutes an objective answer to important ‘why’ questions”

Ben Bellekens elaborated further on this tale of busy cities. Crowdscan is counting people – with or without a phone or electronical device in their pockets – on the streets of Gent and Brugge (as part of the VLOED project) with the help of radio waves. Little gray boxes all over the city are communicating with each other in order to transmit signals every 50 milliseconds. Next, the flow en flux are measured: when do people relocate to another zone? “By sending this data to the cloud it can be visualized and insights can be gained on how to manage the city’s crowds.”

Ben Bellekens at Urban Sense event
‘Why’ questions

“After all, it’s very important to provide context for this measured data. Data is interesting, but only when you combine it with other linked data (traffic data, weather data, Proximus data…) and visualize the evolutions of this data over time. These visualizations then trigger several ‘why’ questions. Why are there more people on this location? Why are there more people on the metro during this time of the day? That’s where the Urban Sense Data platform comes into effect. The combination of different sources of linked data on one platform makes finding correlations easier. As a result, you can then formulate conclusions such as: it was extremely busy in street De Lange Munt, why? Because a new Dunkin Donuts just opened there.”

Data is interesting, but only when you combine it with other data and visualize its evolutions over time

Evaluate new policies based on linked data

Moreover, this linked data can also be used to evaluate and formulate new policies. “The shopping streets are very busy several weeks in a row? Then public policy is working great, the economy is thriving. All the different data streams visualized on the Smart City Platform thus are important for citizens, passengers, public safety and policy makers in order to formulate objective answers to important ‘why’ questions.

Partners (Sirus – Cegeka – Microsoft – Crowdscan and CityMesh) came together at the Microsoft Center for the Urban Sense event on the 20th of May 2022 to share their knowledge about how data can support decisive policy-making.

Geert Sinnaeve (City of Roeselare): “Accurate and complete linked data can help our subjective observations gain the credibility they need”

Geert Sinnaeve at Urban Sense event

“Cities are facing a lot of challenges, but I think the biggest challenge of them all is how to gain correct data, how to control whether the data you are using is accurate.” Geert Sinnaeve, Director ICT Services at the City of Roeselare is thereby stating that a lot of local governments lack correct data. “That is exactly why we are using the Smart City Data platform, to combine all of our data from different sensors on one platform. We then possess all the linked data from our suppliers in the same format, on the same platform so we can gain an accurate and complete picture of the different data streams in our city.”

The Smart City Platform allows us to have a complete picture of the data streams in our city, in one format, one place

Data & gut feeling

This data is important for supporting policy decisions. “Policy and data are two completely different things. We mainly use data as a way to support our gut feeling. Our mayor could visit ten pubs in the weekend and know exactly what the most important issues are. We need linked data to address these issues and support our decisions in solving them.”

Tim Jacobs (Cegeka): “Digital Twins help to simulate traffic scenarios following or proceeding policy decisions”

Tim Jacobs at Urban Sense event

Tim Jacobs came to talk about Digital Twins at the event. “A Digital Twin is a digital copy of a physical system, for example a digital map of the city of Brugge. Apart from wanting to just show you the city and its data streams, you also want this Digital Twin to understand what it is capturing (e.g. how does traffic work?).

The digital & physical world in a constant feedback loop

Digital Twins can help cities to easily visualize the effects of a policy. What are the traffic implications when an event is organized? What are the effects of a new economic policy? “At Cegeka we care greatly about simulations, cause in a couple of minutes the effects of a certain decision are calculated and visualized. This prepares you for the consequences of a new policy and gives you a good overview of which course of action to take.” In doing so, these simulations in the Digital Twin and the policies implemented in the physical twin circulate in a constant feedback loop. The consequences of policies in the physical world are mapped out in the digital twin and create new scenarios for courses of action to take.”

In a couple of minutes you can digitally see the effect of a certain policy on the traffic streams in your city, which is absolutely amazing

Mobilize simulates traffic scenarios

Digital Twins turn into Use Cases on a Smart City Platform. In the tenure of the three cities (Brugge, Roeselare and Leuven), it was stated that safer traffic was an important issue that needed to be addressed. Policies supported by linked data from the Smart City Platform have to make sure traffic will become safer. Cegeka started to work on this project and developed Mobilize on the Microsoft Azure Platform. How can cities optimally understand the traffic streams in their city and how can they easily see the effects of certain policies?

Mobilize simulates traffic scenarios
What are the effects of cuts & one-way streets?

By adding demographics and points of interest to Mobilize, cities can simulate all kinds of scenarios. This way they can see what the impact might be from adding more local shops in a certain area, what happens to traffic when you attract a younger target group in your city or how the traffic routes change for example if you convert several routes into one-way-streets. Cegeka implemented this for the city of Brugge. There was a lot of congestion in a little street called De Vijversdreef. Via Mobilize all sorts of scenario’s (cuts, one-way streets) could be set up to see what solution would work best to limit this congestion and lead more cars towards using the main road. The best possible solution could then be chosen for implementation. Thus, combining all sorts of different data on the Smart City Data platform results in a lot of relevant insights which can be used to formulate a profound policy.

Lode Nulens (Brugge): “Every city can be a Smart City and every city can benefit from Smart Data Solutions”

Lode Nulens, ICT Manager at the City of Brugge explained why sharing data via a Data Platform can also be very relevant for smaller cities. “I believe smaller cities can choose a few subjects they consider most relevant for their city and give them priority, for example in Brugge we focus on mobility, climate, citizenship and culture first. There are a lot of aspects we could also be focusing on, but by choosing a few and fully dedicating a lot of efforts to these, I believe you can truly make an impact.”

Is the mayor’s neighbor on board?

“The most challenging aspect of building a Smart City, in my beliefs, is to get the mayor’s neighbor on board, the regular citizen has to understand our Smart City and has to believe in its advantages.” That’s why Brugge is investing in several smart solutions like digital meters for toilets, tellers to count the occupied spaces in a bicycle point and a tool that automatically handles the reservations of beach cabins. ”I believe being a Smart City isn’t always about gigantic and formidable technological inventions, smaller smart solutions can already have a great impact on a city”.

Lode Nulens at Urban Sense event

I believe in small changes to make our city smarter

How is linked data helping Brugge ameliorate its policy making?

“One trend we noticed were very busy streets during cycling races, but by combining this data with the low sales figures from the shops in these streets, we had to conclude that it was too busy for people to go shopping. These analytics definitely help us define better policies.

Justien De Roose at Urban Sense event

Justien De Roose from Sirus concluded with the saying: “It all starts with an idea. As a city it is foremost important to listen to your citizens and look at the problems your city is encountering today. Consequently, these burning topics can be transformed into concrete use cases in order to create real added value for the citizens of your city.”

How can linked data support decisive policy-making? We had the luck to have different stakeholders explaining the answers to this question. Ranging from Digital Twins, Use Cases, hyperconnected cities, crowd management and nudging, one thing’s clear: by combining forces and widely sharing data on one platform the subjective gut feeling driving new policies can be supported with accurate, clear and complete linked data.

Also interested in joining the Urban Sense Data Platform?

Contact us for more information.

Ken Casier form Cegeka
Ken Casier
Sirus Justien De Roose
Justien De Roose
Fred Heukels from Cegeka
Fred Heukels
Sirus CEO Gert De Tant
Gert De Tant
Jens Rappé from Sirus
Jens Rappé

Or read more in our blog about the Urban Sense project.

Not ready to take the plunge towards a Smart Data Platform, but interested in our other smart solutions like smart sensors, connectivity, applications, integration/consultation services, data engineering or visualization? Don’t hesitate to contact us.

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