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Digital Twins : a decision-making tool in Belgium?



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The Smart City Institute attended the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona from 7 to 9 November. To celebrate the release of an introductory report on digital twins and crisis management, our researcher Audrey Lebas organised a panel on the role of digital twins in decision-making. Here are the main takeaways of the discussions with Aude Robert (City of Brussels), Pieter-Jan Pauwels (Distrinct 09, City of Ghent) and Lieven Raes (Smart Vlaanderen).

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"A digital twin is a dynamic, self-evolving virtual model or simulation of a real subject or object representing the exact state of its physical twin at a given time via real-time data exchange and historical data curation. The digital twin does not only imitate its physical twin: any change in the digital twin is also imitated by the physical twin" (Singh & al, 2021).

Status quo

To begin the discussion, the panellists came back at the development of their digital twin projects in Belgium. The cities of Brussels and Ghent are still in the early stages of their initiatives, but their representatives both emphasised that defining a specific use case for the digital twin from the very start had been a decisive factor to be able to focus on the needs of the territory and on using the digital twin as an asset to achieve these objectives rather than an end in itself.

The Smart Vlaanderen representative praised the work done in Belgium on modelling and simulations. He believes that this high-quality work has real potential for developing digital twins that go beyond simple infrastructure management, that are intended to be inclusive and that move away from traditional thematic and administrative silos.

Data collection and governance

The panelists then went into more detail about their approach to what is both the backbone and the greatest challenge of digital twins: data.

They all stressed that there is no need to reinvent the wheel and overproduce data. A large percentage of it is already available within the territories, from regional authorities or private providers (e.g. telecoms services). Hence, territories need to consider the most appropriate way of exploiting these data and developing good data governance. Aude Robert explained that the City of Brussels has set up a department within the administration dedicated to implementing real data governance, including through the use of a Data Lake.

Regarding the new data to be collected, it is necessary to favour quality over quantity. This data must meet the needs of the digital twin use case. Lieven Raes mentioned in particular the role played by citizen data, which is a real asset in reflecting local reality, and scientific data, which guarantees quality.

Stakeholders

To conclude the discussion, the panel looked at the involvement of the various local stakeholders. The 3 representatives agreed that it is impossible to involve all 4 helices equally, particularly in the preparation and technical development phase of the project. For Ghent and Smart Vlaanderen, it is nonetheless essential to plan how to involve all the stakeholders from the start of the project to guarantee ownership by actors. Brussels explained that the construction of a mock-up had been very useful in bringing stakeholders together around the project and convincing some of them of the Digital Twin relevance. The city would also like to be able to develop its project further in collaboration with the regional authorities. Unfortunately, this desire is coming up against difficulties concerning budgets and priorities.

Want to know more ?

If you'd like to find out more about digital twins, and in particular their potential role in crisis management, feel free to download our introductory report.

Interested in learning even more? Register for our webinar (in French) on 28 November. It will review the key points of the report.

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