Open Data is a theme that EI that pursuing actively in 2012, due to the opportunities that it holds for our client companies. This article was originally published in EI’s Technology Quarterly Magazine.
Public sector bodies within the EU are sitting on a potential treasure trove of data worth up to €27 billion. John Cradden looks at the international movement pushing for governments to open up this data and get it working for businesses and society.
The term ‘open data’ might not mean a whole lot to most people, but a movement that aims to make public data more freely available and free to re-use online has been growing in strength here and overseas. The logic behind the movement is simple enough: governments collects and creates huge amounts of information and data relating to public administration, such as in transport, infrastructure, health, crime, and the environment. Why not make that information, which we pay for with our taxes, more freely available to individuals, developers, businesses and communities?
What kind of information? In Ireland, good examples could include data on polling stations and election turnouts, school enrolments, bathing water quality, noise maps, street lighting, cycle routes, bring banks, traffic cameras, vehicle licensing and zoned land for commercial, green or residential use.
“This information is already attainable via Freedom of Information requests, but releasing it as open data means it is easier to find and free to reuse”
says Deirdre Lee, an e-government researcher for the Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI), based at NUI Galway. Much of the focus of the open data movement is on improving transparency and accountability in the public sector, and removing inefficiencies by generating more “two-way” discussions on public data, but there is now a strong incentive for entrepreneurs to get involved.
It is estimated that public sector bodies within the EU are sitting on a potential treasure trove of data worth up to €27 billion. “Firms and entrepreneurs should see open data as a resource that they can incorporate into existing or new products,” said Lee. “Each business could identify what kind of open data would be most valuable for them, for example public-transport data, Co2 emission data, grants data, etc, and then lobby their local or national authority to release this data under an open data license. This will create a demand for open data, which in turn will encourage greater amounts of it to be released.”
According to Lee, there are over 195 open data ‘catalogues’ available, including at global sites such as data.worldbank.org, and UK sites like data.gov.uk. In Ireland, local authorities are leading the way with initiatives like Fingal Open Data and Dublinked.ie, which is run from NUI Maynooth and supported by all the four Dublin local authorities. Other open data sets are available from CKAN, a community based open-data catalogue.
At the recent launch of Dublinked.ie, the site’s co-ordinator, Dr Ronan Farrell of NUI Maynooth, told businesses and entrepreneurs of the potential to use public data to develop innovative and interesting business ideas that would drive job growth while also enhancing city living.
“We have seen fantastic examples in other cities of new user interfaces for public transport information, the property market or healthcare data. One of the unique benefits of open data is that applications developed here can easily be adapted for other cities around the world,”
Lee cites a few examples of UK businesses already using open data: Placr.co.uk offers access to timetables and live-running information on all of London’s public transport; and TubeTap.co.uk is a mobile app that enables users to claim refunds from London’s tube services if they are late because of service disruptions.
In both Ireland and Europe, a head of steam appears to be building under the open data movement in terms of interest from both the public and private sectors. A recent seminar in Galway organised by DERI on opening up government data was attended by over 50 people, including representatives from 13 local authorities and a number of Irish SMEs.
In addition, the National Cross-Industry Working Group on Open Data, coordinated by Enterprise Ireland, is working to lobby central government for a national open data initiative. As well as being involved in this group, DERI is also participating in European initiatives, such as “Linked Open Data Around-The-Clock” (LATC), an EU-funded project.