The team at the startup Hawa Dawa is convinced that the world can be made more than a little bit better with the help of data. The young company is therefore dedicated to a part of the city that tends to be overlooked: the air. Sales Manager Martin Montag tells us how Hawa Dawa helps cities and municipalities to make an invisible part of urban space visible, why more data is also worth more thanks to data platforms, and why inter-municipal collaboration provides the best basis for small, rapid progress.

Hawa Dawa’s employees are united by the goal of wanting to make a difference in the world. This is the impression you get immediately when you talk to Martin Montag. He has been working as a consultant for the public sector for 15 years, and has been with Hawa Dawa for just over a year. His mission is to use digital tools to help improve the quality of air and life in cities and communities. With Hawa Dawa, he provides the public sector with the necessary technology to obtain and visualize data on urban air quality and to easily evaluate it for improvement measures.

Hawa Dawa was founded by a small group around Karim Tarraf. As the son two pulmonary doctors and the brother of an asthmatic, Tarraf had long been interested in the question of how to improve air quality in cities, even for particularly sensitive individuals. A first step in doing so seemed logical: first get an overview of the situation in order to draw the right conclusions. With an elusive topic like air, that requires the appropriate technology – and the data it collects. This is how the idea for Hawa Dawa was born, which has since evolved into a technology provider for air quality measurement with a highly motivated team of ten.

Air data for visibility – more data for more added value

The necessity of the offered solution becomes clear just from current examples in the field of urban traffic planning. “Especially in the field of air management, after all, a lot is assumed. For example, if you want to reduce pollution – and automatically conclude that individual traffic has to get out of the city,” says Montag. Such assumptions are not always correct, he says – and in cases of doubt lead to wrong decisions and investments, which are all the more annoying when taxpayers’ money is involved. “There are cases where you can prove that pollution levels don’t have that much to do with individual traffic. And these are precisely the exciting steps: to get away from an almost arbitrary planning of measures that is currently taking place in some cities.” Even though in many places, of course, individual transport plays a major role in air pollution and deterioration.

Through Hawa Dawa, cities can either collect and visualize air quality data themselves using sensor technology or incorporate the data collected into an urban data platform to supplement data from other areas of the smart city for new applications. This provides a solid basis for decision-making and versatile further possibilities. A higher diversity of data enormously increases the potential for high-quality conclusions and thus sustainable measures. Therefore, ideally, different data are networked and put to use via a data platform such as the DKSR OUP.

The added value for the common good is the first priority in every project.

Martin MontagHawa Dawa

Within the municipalities, the startup therefore collaborates with various departments beyond traffic planning: these include smart city areas, environmental departments and also civil engineering offices. Before the project begins, the only question for deciding to collaborate is: What should be the goal of the implementation? “And I actually ask that,” Montag admits. “In the short term, maybe not a business-building approach: However, an apparent added value for the common good is the first priority in any project.”

Against tough processes for area-wide change

Sometimes, however, even with a shared sense of the common good, collaboration doesn’t turn out to be so easy. Like other companies dedicated to digitization and data use for the public sector, Hawa Dawa is struggling with three challenges at once that are severely slowing down its innovation potential. These include the outdated office structure, which makes it difficult to clearly allocate responsibilities for the overarching topic of ‘digital sustainability’. “If no one wears the hat, no project will get off the ground,” Montag points out – but who, per se, takes care of digital technology for clean air in a municipality? The transportation department? The digitalization department? The department for environmental protection and climate? Depending on the city and the goal, that first has to be found out.

Then there is the lack of resources within the administration, both in terms of personnel and time – and the issues of culture and organization. The use of cloud solutions is quickly rejected under the pretext of data protection, even though personal data is neither accessed nor stored abroad for the applications used. Many offices still find it difficult to go down new and unfamiliar paths. Yet cities and municipalities could save costs in many areas by using data. “If I reroute traffic on the Munich ring road, the new signage alone is estimated to cost 250,000 euros. For that amount, I can equip the entire Munich ring road and bypasses with sensors to monitor developments and counteract misdirection,” explains Montag, who is putting a lot of energy into educational work with local authorities.

New digital spirit for (inter)municipal innovation

He would like to see more openness to topics that perhaps no one even knows are coming to cities and municipalities: because without the ability to react flexibly to new things, it is difficult to prepare for the changes over which one has little influence.

If I focus on open, scalable solutions, it’s no problem to start first and achieve small successes.

Martin MontagHawa Dawa

In the context of digitization and the smart city, this includes looking at the big picture – and thus cooperation at the intermunicipal level as well. “Whenever we talk about infrastructure, it doesn’t stop at the city limits,” adds Montag. “I should always get an area-wide picture so that everyone can pull together. Going into the exchange to first find the lowest common denominator – that can save a lot of time and energy.” The openness of the technology also plays a role in this. “If I rely on open, scalable solutions, it’s no problem to start first and generate small successes.” After that, applications can be expanded or rolled out across the board.

Hawa Dawa and DKSR are already pulling together on this strand: the connection to bring data from Hawa Dawa into application via the DKSR platform has already been built. The use of Hawa Dawa data via the DKSR platform is thus possible quickly and at low cost. More information is also available on Square!

DKSR and Hawa Dawa are looking for you – to bring data into use as municipal data heroes for sustainable and resilient cities & regions! For example, to increase data-driven air quality in cities for citizens* and make urban life more than a little healthier for everyone. For more information on deployment opportunities, visit Square – or just hit us up!

Sustainable Cities & Regions: Shaping better together with data.