Analyst opinion: Cities hold the keys to open data
The second edition of the World Wide Web Foundation’s Open Data Barometer, published this month, highlights the role that cities could play in countries’ open data strategies. This is about more than just transparency: opening up city data provides the raw material for a whole range of new services.
Governments should help poor cities to build their own platforms
The new edition of Open Data Barometer has once again ranked the UK as number one for openness, but finds that with the exception of a few leading countries, most are falling behind on their stated plans. The report also observes that the presence of city-level open data initiatives correlates with a higher social impact of open data, and argues that opening up city-level data will help to complement national initiatives.
The most popular open-data-based tools come out of city-level data, because such data is relevant to citizens’ daily lives. It is being used to build navigation apps that incorporate real-time public transport information, to map out the cost of renting a house, and to show availability at city bike-sharing terminals. The potential social value of city-level data deserves special attention from policymakers.
However, as the report highlights, clear presentation is important. What might be accessible to a machine or long-in-the-tooth city bureaucrat could look like gibberish to anyone else, even a well-heeled data analyst. Unintentional misuse of incomprehensible – or worse, unreliable – data could carry social costs: nobody wants a navigation app that makes them miss their train or catch the wrong bus. Open data doesn’t just mean pushing data onto the Internet; it means investing in making sure that others can reuse it with confidence.
This is a problem for cash-strapped municipalities. Some countries have national platforms for local government data, but they are generally unimpressive, even in leading countries. The best examples of city-level open data around the world are locally controlled. Ovum recommends that instead of spending money on trying to open up cities’ data for them, national governments should help poorer cities’ attempts to develop their own platforms.