How it started

Cities continually invest in technology to improve the lives of people living and working within them, from London’s modern sewer system of the 19th Century to this week’s test of Crossrail’s central section. Our purpose at Diagonal is to build digital technology that helps cities evolve, as responsibly as we can, while recognising technology is a small part of any change.

Right now, we’re trying to make it easier to work with data about cities. We need data to understand and manage changes to cities, and also to formulate ideas for improvement. We need data to communicate those ideas to the people they impact, involving them in their evolution. We need data to monitor whether the implementation of an idea had the consequences expected, and influence the next cycle of improvement. Paying careful attention to governance, we can use data to enforce policy.

Cities are increasingly represented by data, from structured planning and licensing applications to live air quality measurements. The digitisation of services, and the falling cost of sensor technology, feeds this representation. We believe more good can come from this data, if we build better tools. Current tools use discrete datasets to inspect single systems. In reality, cities are a messy ballet of interconnected systems, from housing and transportation to wilderness, food supply and air quality. Current tools don’t help you think through the impact of changes to one system on another, separating layers by design. This limitation can result in narrow data being used to bring false confidence to predetermined solutions, rather than help those solutions evolve. At worst, the naive use of data comes at the unnecessary expense of equity and privacy. We’d like to help change this. We’re not sure how far we’ll get, but we’re excited to try.

Diagonal works with organisations changing cities, helping them embrace the scale and nuance of urban data, working together to evolve ideas. We build custom software tools necessary to turn complex urban data into insight. We fuse data into a single representation of a city’s systems, using privacy preserving technologies to safely unlock sensitive data. We believe these tools allow us to take on problems others can’t.

Change in cities takes time, and requires the involvement of the people within them. We designed our company to align ourselves with these needs. We’re steward-owned, backed by a small number of private investors. We generate revenue from consultancy work to sustainably build our own tools, and hope to evolve these tools into commercial products. We intend this model to allow us to make the long-term commitments necessary when working within the urban environment. We work with open data, and auditable technology we develop ourselves, allowing us to be transparent about our work. We design tools to make analysis results transparent and accessible to the people impacted by the projects we support. We draw inspiration from cities, and established Diagonal to repay that debt. If you’re interested the details, you can read our internal charter.

Our name, Diagonal, comes from crossings such as Shibuya’s. These crossings are small, but powerful, examples of how innovation can change how people experience a city while addressing equity in existing systems - in this case, car centricity. We hope to build technology that will similarly impact the experience individuals and communities have in cities.

We’ll write more about our work in future, in the meantime, if you’d like to talk or think we can help, we’re


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May 2021