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Porto is building a culture of data focused on openness, privacy and agility

The city of Porto is building a culture of data that is open, focused on improving agility in the delivery of services to citizens and privacy-centered. We talked to its Data Protection Officer, Luiza Roseira, to learn all about how they are doing it and to find some best practices that can be implemented in other municipalities.

The digital field is constantly evolving and brings new technological changes and opportunities both for cities and their city councils. What are the projects that the city of Porto is currently working on in relation to digital rights?

Porto’s public wifi network

For some years now, the city of Porto has been focusing on the most central area and the historical part of the city with the aim of creating a public wifi network. The current objective is to grow and take this network to the rest of the areas of the city so that all citizens have access. Since its launch, the network has supported more than 4 million connected devices and almost 120 million sessions. The data generated by the network is worthy for the city management, but it also represents a demanding challenge in terms of citizens' privacy -which is the city's major priority. By exploring this type of data, Porto municipality is able to provide insights to the city’s operation teams, such as identifying high-pressure areas for the waste management units. Nevertheless, being able to extract this type of value from the collected data and be fully compliant with the data protection best practices is a huge endeavor.

Data privacy policy

Another key project is the data privacy policy, which was initiated in 2017. As a municipal entity it is important to ensure that the data collected by suppliers is transferred to the municipality.

The present data privacy document describes all the rights, projects and systems applied in the city with regard to data policy. Furthermore, it makes explicit the relevant data protection regulations to which citizens are subjected. This is a key step in Porto’s goal of making data accessible to all citizens, regardless of their technological knowledge. 

Responding fast to citizen inquiries related to data

In terms of KPIs for our data policy and for complying with GDPR, one key element is our response time to those providers and individuals who raise concerns. Even if the law allows the municipality to respond within 30 days, the average response time of the department is 2.4 days. This agility in responding to requests is also being implemented at an internal level within the city administration.

As the second largest municipality in Portugal, the municipality provides a wide range of services. Data protection is spread across different areas of the municipality, such as transport, education or health. In each of these, there is a direct relationship with the Data Protection Office through a series of good practices and even a designated collaborator responsible for interacting directly with our department. This creates cohesion between the different departments and facilitates our work in getting data to citizens.

Being to be open about data

In April last year we launched the open data portal,¨Porto, Portal de dados¨. This is one of our main projects at the moment. In the databases provided by the different departments, this data is anonymised so that no citizen can be identified. Our department is responsible for ensuring that privacy is respected and it becomes a key tool for the municipality in safeguarding data sharing.

In terms of content, we are working on developing a culture in which public and private entities are able and active in sharing data. For Porto Digital this is a complicated task, however, very positive experiences such as Data for COVID-19 are appearing. We want this learning opportunity to become a constant process with all kinds of entities.

Another key element in the portal is the aim to be as transparent and accountable as possible so that anyone can understand what data is understood and open an opportunity to interact. As well as Helsinki, we are looking for citizens to be a key stakeholder and to express their opinions about the portal. 

Fostering digital literacy and entrepreneurship among young people

Lastly, with regards to digital literacy, we currently have this project called the entrepreneurial act, dedicated to promoting the activity of young people in new technologies and their application to the entrepreneurial and business world. Invest Porto has also developed different projects related to youth and technology.

While there are some difficulties in generating a culture of data sharing with public and private entities, how are you bringing these projects closer to citizens? How does the communication process work to encourage their participation?

Getting closer to citizens is the next step in our strategy. Although it has always been a key element, our current task is to generate and collect data, ensuring that the portal is robust and that citizens' privacy is respected. There are different modes of interaction, such as the email form, but this is something we would like to accelerate. 

Digitalisation is a relatively new process and many cities have yet to join it. What experiences would you like to share with the coalition or with those cities that are taking their first steps?

As far as Open Data is concerned, we are a modest team, so we are in a learning process. That is why our strong intentions become a key element to share. Our projects have commonalities with other cities, so sharing experiences with other cities in the Coalition is essential.

A fact we would like to highlight and share is the figure of the Data Protection Officer not only as a watchdog for the departments, but also as the main person in charge of developing a collective working environment. 

In this, providing daily support to these teams is a fundamental task for the culture that we seek to foster. Something that our team has reinforced is the constant offer of training to all those who work in the city council. There are currently around 2000 civil servants in the council, with all kinds of digital experience. Workshops and webinars occur on a recurring basis, and every new member of staff in the municipality receives training on data protection legislation and our working methods.

How is this training being received by the officers?

Fortunately, they are very positive. Our human resources team actively promotes these courses, and its practical nature means that many are interested in participating. Many of our officers have taken the initiative and have asked for these training workshops themselves.

Now, given the digital nature of the pandemic, we all agree that data is a fundamental tool for the day-to-day running of the municipality. To this end, making data privacy a tool at the service of all is one of our main responsibilities.

What would you say are the most pressing challenges for the city of Porto in terms of digital rights?

On a regular basis, one of the main challenges is to be more and more transparent with citizens.

Another challenge is to achieve an open data platform that is able to grow in a stable way, with a higher technological level but also with respect for data privacy.

What are the future plans for the city of Porto? 

In Porto, we are committed to the technological development and integration of citizenship. This digital transition is also a great commitment developed by the City Council, without which this development would not be possible, and even more so as far as Porto Digital is concerned as the main actor.

Digital literacy is one of the major issues to be addressed in Porto, especially among young people. Making them aware of the challenges and dangers that the digital world entails is a concern as a city council, but also as citizens.

In the next few years, Porto will go digital and foster innovation according to these main goals defined by the Mayor in his “Manifesto Eleitoral”:

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