More than half of the world population is living in cities and the number is growing everywhere. Cities are suffering from an acute crisis that hinders their capacity to develop sound policy and provide much-needed services to their residents: a crisis of accurate, useful information. Lacking detailed knowledge and information on the demographic, economic, cultural, physical and environmental dynamics in their cities, many planners and decision-makers are operating in an environment of uncertainty, allocating resources to immediate and pressing issues rather than investing in progressive change over the long term.

Information is knowledge and knowledge is the key for any development as well as policy formulation. Informed policy is crucial for any city or country as it make the city more livable for the dwellers. It is important to have a mechanism to develop and collect data on locally relevant indicators, citizens and decision-makers acquire the knowledge they need to effect positive change. Doing so requires a concerted effort to institutionalize urban development monitoring systems. This guide describes the urban observatory model for urban data collection and analysis, developed by UN-HABITAT’s Global Urban Observatory in partnership with cities around the world, and provides systematic guidance on set up an Urban Observatory, proactive coordination and effective urban monitoring system.