Technology: From policy to people

For policy-makers, complex technical systems that output vast amounts of data can be suitable because of their ability to provide raw data on which further observations can be made, but for general public use, these devices, technologies and methodologies may be too overwhelming and not provide high-level functions that provide knowledge over information, or at the very least information over data, in terms of the information pyramid.
The public (in contrast to policymakers) tends to need more easy to understand applications, that allows them to make decisions more rapidly and within a few steps. In these applications, ease of use is prioritised, especially since some of these apps may be used when people are engaged in planning a trip or even more dangerously while driving their vehicles, in which case an incremental number of required steps may result in an increase in the risk of life-threatening situations.

Google Maps

Is an example of a popularly used, multi-featured application for instance, which is the famous mapping service developed by Google. It has more than a billion users and offers several features ranging from navigation, street view, satellite imagery, transit information, and as of March 2017, even live location sharing between users.

One of the frequently used services within the maps application gives it an ability to analyse real-time and historical traffic information. This allows the user to see real-time traffic data (based on proprietary technology using crowd-sourced data from people using Google products on the road) or to see typical traffic trends for every day and time of the week, allowing them to visually identify peak traffic timings to help them plan their route better.
The application can be helpful in planning journeys in advance with the aim of minimising congested roads, since users may also use the application for real-time turn by turn navigation while incorporating live data.
Most people don’t consciously contribute data towards Google Maps, but the act of owning google hardware and/or software (such as Android-based mobile phones) generates the information necessary for the whole system to function, in a “crowdsourced” way.

The Traffic Agent App

A unique example of using crowdsourced information to solve mobility risks is the “Traffic Agent app” from Oslo (Norway), where primary school students and their parents can contribute. Information about their school routes, along with uploaded pictures of risky patches in infrastructure is uploaded, which can then be repaired effectively by authorities.
More and more apps from different localities are entering app markets, which extract information from data generated by the vast amounts of sensors embedded in various locations in the city, and then provide mobility information to the public that helps them plan their movement, a trend I expect will rise, to the benefit of the public.

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