Urban Observatories

Leveraging urban data to shape cities

The growth of data within, about, and from cities has been one of the fundamental trends in contemporary urban governance. Yet who knows what about cities? A desire for urban knowledge based on the collection, analysis and interpretation of large, complex datasets innately requires platform(s) capable of performing these operations. Furthermore, data needs to become the basis for decisions about how cities are managed.

There are organisations that are designed to ‘bridge’ and navigate this ‘knowledge transition zone’ between research and decision-making. ‘Urban observatories’ – urban research organisations that work across policymaking and academia – have emerged as a visible, if broadly defined, class of institutions operating within this knowledge transition zone.

Produced jointly with UCL and UN-Habitat, this scoping study aims to understand the role of urban observatories, their institutional organisation, capacity and value proposition as drivers of more informed city leadership. The organisations studied are mapped below.

Urban Observatories Connected Cities Lab


Dickey, A., Washbourne, C. & Murray, K. (2021). Urban Observatories and COVID. Connected Cities podcast, S1, E3. Connected Cities Lab, University of Melbourne: Melbourne.

Dickey, A., Acuto, M., Washbourne, C (2021). Urban Observatories: A Comparative Review. Connected Cities Lab, University of Melbourne: Melbourne.

Dickey, A., Acuto, M., & Washbourne, C (2020). Urban Observatories in the Midst of COVID-19: Challenges & Responses. Connected Cities Lab, University of Melbourne: Melbourne.

Acuto, M. (2018). Global science for city policy. Science359 (6372), 165-166.

Acuto, M., Dickey, A., Butcher, S., & Washbourne, C. L. (2020). Mobilising urban knowledge in an infodemic: Urban observatories, sustainable development and the COVID-19 crisis. World Development, 105295.

Washbourne, C. L., Culwick, C., Acuto, M., Blackstock, J. J., & Moore, R. (2019). Mobilising knowledge for urban governance: the case of the Gauteng City-region observatory. Urban Research & Practice, 1-23.

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