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Power to the people

Francesca Bria, Chief Technology and Digital Innovation Officer, Barcelona is leading a backlash against technology vendors and big tech as she seeks to give citizens a right to control their data. Richard Forster reports from Barcelona on why one of the world’s so-called smartest cities is moving in a very different direction
Francesca Bria, CTO, Barcelona
Photo: Ajuntament de Barcelona

Against a backdrop of revolution and protests on Barcelona’s streets over the last 18 months, Francesca Bria has been conducting her own battle to tear up the strategy of her predecessors and put citizens at the head of the Catalan capital’s new ‘smart city’ strategy. It is a fight not only about rights to privacy but also to protect the jobs of her fellow citizens in the new digital economy.

Before she became the city’s Chief Technology Officer, Bria had been a long-term advocate of what she calls e-democracy. Having completed a PhD in Innovation Economics at Imperial College London, she worked for the UK’s innovation foundation Nesta and led the EU’s D-CENT project, to show how data needs to be protected for citizens and used for their benefit.

She had laid out the benefits of such a strategy in a special briefing for the city government of Madrid only for it to fall on to the desk of the new mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, who promptly hired the Italian to develop a new digital strategy for her city. Not for the first time, the Catalans’ foreign stars had outplayed their closest rivals.

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‘Data is a public right’ Barcelona’s CTO explains why cities must get tough on tech companies