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‘Digital Twins’: Making citizens part of the action

EU-funded researchers present their plan of action for data-driven, collaborative city decision-making.

Digital Economy
Society

Today’s cities face many challenges when it comes to putting their data to good use. Poor data quality, inaccurate, incomplete or outdated data, and low data literacy all make it difficult to interpret data in a meaningful way. Add to that a dearth of high-level computing power, excessive reliance on traditional analytics techniques and a lack of data ethics, and it becomes clear why progress towards data-driven, collaborative decision-making and policymaking is impeded. “Despite advances in data capture and management just 12% of city data is used for policy making,” state the authors of a White Paper titled ‘Change the way you see the city’. Published as part of the EU-funded DUET project, the White Paper outlines the barriers that hamper progress. It also presents the project’s three-pronged approach to the problem.

Digital Twins

The first goal described is providing access to the necessary computing power, for which the project team aims to promote a novel shared approach for the use of high-performance computing in policymaking and city management. This will be achieved using a Digital Twin, “a continuously learning digital copy of real-world assets, systems and processes that can be queried for specific outcomes.” Through its advanced technological capabilities, the Digital Twin will make safe policy experimentation possible in a replica city environment. As stated in the White Paper, it “provides a risk-free experimentation environment to inform stakeholders what they need to do with the assets in the real-word [sic] in order to both achieve the most effective long-term policy outcomes, and short-term operational decisions.”

Comprehensible data

The second goal outlined is making data easier to understand. For citizens to trust data used for democratic decision-making, the data must be presented in an easily understood format. However, this isn’t the case for most of today’s visualisation platforms. “DUET is different as it provides a 3D interface for its Digital Twins alongside a 2D offering,” the authors note. People from all walks of life will be able to see easily understood dynamic data readings from many different sources when walking through the project’s virtual 3D city neighbourhoods. “For example, users may see air quality through colours, traffic congestion as lines, incident sites as icons and so on. This simple, relatable way of viewing the city through multiple integrated data sources brings to life the tangible, systemic impacts of policy options, fueling ‘what if’ experimentation that unleashes creative and innovative qualities of all participants.” The final approach is establishing ethical principles for data-driven decisions. Since a Digital Twin enables users to explore how a policy will impact not only one or two neighbourhoods but an entire city, this will promote more responsible use of data. “[T]o illustrate the impacts of, for example road routing decisions on mobility, air quality and health, the Digital Twin provides one version/replica of the city for all to use as a trusted baseline for exploring systemic impact of decisions.” The DUET (Digital Urban European Twins for smarter decision making) project’s Digital Twins will be tested in three locations: Athens, the Flanders region, and Pilsen. The use of Digital Twins brings us a step closer to the project’s vision of “responsive cities” where all citizens take part in decision-making, as stated on the project website. For more information, please see: DUET project website

Keywords

DUET, city, data, Digital Twins, policymaking

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