ISO certification could be a key to understand the challenges and responsibilities of dealing with rapid Indian urban growth, says Matthew Lynch, Vice President, Global Partnerships & Initiatives, World Council on City Data.
Is ensuring ISO certification goes the whole hog a challenge area?
It's important to understand that the standards that we are talking about are quite different from some of the other ISO standards, like ISO 9000 and system process management standards. The ISO 37120 standard is essentially a list of indicators. It's a list of indicators that have been identified as the key indicators for cities to report their performance - for sustainability, quality and performance management. We have defined standard methodologies for how that area should be reported.
So that means you can have standardised data across the cities that apply the standards. What we are doing is verifying that the data has been reported in the standardised methodology with supporting documentation.
That would mean supporting documents to know the veracity and authenticity of the data..
For example, an educator is looking at primary school completion rights. So the city will provide the data from the local district education board. They will provide the data and the evidence which says that it supports the reported indicator. Unless the city provides that, we can't say that the indicator has been greatly reported. So when we say that cities are 'certified', we are not evaluating their performance. We are not saying that they are doing good, or doing bad. All we are saying is this is the level of data that they can report, and the number of indicators. So it's a measure of some of the maturity and capability of a few cities around reporting data.
Could municipal bonds for financing infrastructure get some traction through ISO certification for cities that have it?
It's very interesting that you identify that, because that's one of the things that we are looking at now. We have spent a lot of effort in the last couple of years getting the certification process in place and getting cities reporting it. Now we are focusing quite strongly on how cities benefit from being certified. One of the key opportunities is how having open certified data improves your attractiveness to investors, which includes cities and municipal bond issues. So we have actually had some conversations with some of the key credit rating agencies.
Credit rating agencies would have been very gung-ho about this because it makes their job easier as well...
Obviously, if you are looking at credit rating, there is a whole bunch of minutes about evaluating data of financial metrics. The ISO indicators give you a broader picture of some of the key economic, social and environmental parameters. They form the economic future of the city. That sort of information is also a part of credit assessment when credit rating agencies do the assessment. It's the data of the financials that are a broader understanding of how the city is doing. So we feel that the ISO standards can play an important role in that, and especially because it has this additional trip through WCCD, the third party verification. It gives you more confidence in the quality of the data.
In terms of rating agencies, there are so many that have been marking different Indian agencies based on their parameters. How does the WCCD compliment this process?
Rating agencies have their own processes, often internally confidential, about how they make those decisions. What we are trying to understand is the role that they could play, informing their decision making. Most rating agencies do publish at the high level, the things that they take into consideration.
So one of your parameters has got to do with data and honest dissemination of the same. Is that going to inspire confidence in the investors as well as the rating agencies?
I think the big thing for us now is making the credit rating agencies aware that this data is available. We first have our communication task of building awareness within the industry of what we are doing. So we are working on that at the moment.
Are there are aspects of inclusiveness that need to address the lowest strata of society, like slum pockets?
Inclusiveness can be a difficult thing to measure comprehensively. There are seven indicators that relate to that. This conversation has got to a detailed discussion on indicators; it's more the overall conceptual role that is combined. Hopefully in the next 6-12 months, the answer is conversation.
So when you talk about 'resilient' cities, are they those that have been able to come out of something like the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and are able to carry on with life?
I think that is a part of when people talk about various aspects of public safety and security. What we do is try and provide some basic metrics that can be used. So it's just a part of building that picture. We have done an initial evaluation, and around 60 of the 100 indicators have a strong relevance to resilience. So if these indicators are looking at vulnerability, the number of homeless people, it will indicate slums. These people are normally more vulnerable to natural disasters in particular. Then we look at the performance of key CV systems like how many electrical interruptions and the duration and mode of interruption, the emergency response capabilities, some key checks are on the financial health of the municipality.
Examples are outcome metrics, like the number of disasters per 100 or 1000 (of population) in the past four months. This is a full swing of indicators that can be used. They are not going to tell you everything; some of the things are quite complex, but they give you a baseline set of information.
How did this association between Tata's and WCCD come about?
I could sum up the process... from our side. Our primary constituency was to work with these cities, but what we really found was that it's important for us to work with other partners as well. So we have partnership with UN agencies, with national governments, with the private sector and also now with foundations, from organisations like the Tata Trust. The value doing that is that it often allows us to work with groups of cities at once in a particular national context or on a particular mission where there is real value in doing it with multiple cities at once. That's because the learning and efficiencies from that part is there and that's actually this opportunity. Obviously we are very happy, in the Indian context we are working with such important and well-regarded organisations.
So it gets taken very seriously, the whole process...
Absolutely... India is such an important country in terms of the discussion on urbanisation. Its urbanising so quickly and ISO certification could be a key to understand the challenges and responsibilities of dealing with that rapid growth.
About the interviewee:
The WCCD is located at the Global Cities Institute at the University of Toronto and is a global network of cities.
Lynch's role is to establish the WCCD as a global hub for creative and impactful partnerships across cities, international organisations, corporate partners and academia.