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Nordic Smart Cities: Using data to improve population health

When the Covid-19 pandemic forced us to collectively think more deeply about population health, tracking the ‘health’ of areas via maps and frequent updates quickly became part of the global landscape, whether that be at country, county, or ward level – or non-geographical groupings such as age, occupation or ethnicity. This data – often collected via positive Covid-19 test results, self-report surveys or hospital capacity – has been used to identify prevalence and transmission patterns of the disease, in some countries leading to localised lockdowns or tiered systems as a measure to prevent spread, often with some success.

Despite some clear resistance from some groups to the measures, on the whole populations have quite quickly adjusted to a level of sacrifice of their personal data and freedom on whereabouts and health for the sake of the collective good of their community’s health. But what if, in a similar vein – importantly being non-invasive and anonymised – population data could be aggregated and mapped to help address alternative health concerns, improving wellbeing and equality outcomes for populations?

The Nordic Smart City Network (NSCN) is a collaboration between 20 Nordic cities across five countries seeking to do just that: create liveable, healthy, and sustainable cities by collecting and utilising population-level data.

Some of the projects involved in the Nordic Healthy Cities initiative include:

Health Data – Tampere, Syddjurs, Vejle

This project looks to introduce data, automation and digital support to address the strains on state healthcare systems caused by longer life expectancies and changing age distributions. The project aims to get a holistic view of lifelong health data and the interactions between behaviours and health, all the way from childhood to self-sustainability for elderly people, by obtaining a range of public and private data sources. This data can then be employed to create predictive and prescriptive preventative healthcare measures which can be fed back to citizens and local government as areas to work on. Pilots will be run across the three participating cities, where anonymised data will be collected from trial groups.Every individual will have control over their data to allow or deny the use as well as understand where and how it is used.

Crowdsensed Data – Stavanger, Århus, Helsinki, Vejle and Copenhagen

A community project where city residents provide non-sensitive environmental and health data to help boost the overall health and liveability of cities. Data is already being gathered in large amounts by citizens but is locked in separate devices and rarely used in urban decision making, so the project seeks to develop the crowdsensing field and use data such as on activity levels, popular routes, air quality, noise pollution and other sensors to improve public health. The project will look to distribute environmental sensors to members of the community and launch partnerships with wearable tech companies such as FitBit and Polar. The collected crowdsensing data is hoped to inform better places, urban planning and better urban health projects. The project will be trialled across 1-3 pilots in the partner cities, with an eye to scale successful pilots to other cities.

Reduction in Pollution – Tórshavn, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Reykjavík, Stavanger

This project aims to use data to reduce pollution and exposure to pollution while improving traffic flows and public access to transport information. The project specifically looks to create a working model for measuring and reducing pollution while enabling better traffic flow through data and urban planning. The project will initially focus on three main transport areas: Parking, Traffic (vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians) and Bus Travel. Radar technology will be employed across all three sections of the project. GDPR-approved radar systems will provide transportation data (providing more privacy than video streams) and will be coupled with pollution measurements to provide an environmental lens to transport decision making. The data set should provide a basis for decision making, improving issues such as traffic flow and cyclist and pedestrian circumstances, but simultaneously opening up market discussions and agile piloting to get input from stakeholders will improve the process and innovation. A detailed plan will be worked out after proof of concept and a test run with participating cities.

More information on the various projects can be found here: https://nscn.eu/NordicHealthyCities

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