Open Call

How to stimulate growth using Open Data

Here, Matti Bugge shares some of his insights on open data in Denmark – achieved through writing his thesis on open data – including why open data innovation seems to have stagnated, and what might be done about it. Matti is a project assistant at OrganiCity, helping out with communications and general development of the project. He is also a former intern at Open Data Aarhus.

For years now, open data has been identified as an invoker of social change as well as an untapped economic resource of gigantic proportions. The release of Grunddataprogrammet (the Danish ‘basic data programme’) in 2012 promised a great start for the future of open data in Denmark.

Since then, however, innovation within the Danish open data environment seems to have stagnated; only a handful of companies utilize open data to drive forth innovation and local municipal open data portals struggle to release quality datasets.

The Danish public sector collects and produces huge amounts of data every day – data about healthcare, weather, pollution, transportation and so on. Since the success of Grunddataprogrammet, the release of a large amount of core public sector datasets, the public and private sectors have saved millions of Danish kroner. Both sectors have benefitted from better access to the data, low entry barriers for new companies, higher quality of data and the opportunity to create new business solutions – and thus from innovation.

Only a few companies use data
Since then several municipal and sector oriented open data portals have emerged, seeing the release of even more data. But capturing the economic value from these within the private sector seems to be lacking, with only a few companies utilizing public sector data to create new solutions. There are several reasons why this is the case.

One of the main issues is the lack of access to valuable datasets within the municipalities. Local data publishers lack the possibility to search through available data within the different sub-organizations of the municipal system, leading to a treasure hunt-like approach in search of data. Herein lies the additional challenge of convincing data owners within the municipality to release the data. Many data owners are reluctant to do so because it clashes with their traditional perception of having to protect and shelter access to their data.

Convincing data-owners can be hard. In order to convince them to release potentially valuable data, they need to see the value of how open access to data can create social or economic value to the rest of the society. This is difficult, as a lot of entrepreneurs and companies are unaware of what sort of data exists, and therefore cannot create relevant new applications to showcase the possibility of how to utilize the data. This, in turn, creates a tough barrier for the data publishers to overcome when trying to open up valuable datasets.

Another obstacle when using Open Data in a Danish business context seems to be the relative limited number of similar or standardized datasets available at the moment. The open data portals across the cities are not necessarily releasing the same types of data, and even if they do, the data is often not compatible with each other, whether in terms of formatting or lack of standardization in collection and registration methods.

Cooperate and coordinate
This ends up being more than a Danish problem: if Danish cities cannot even collect and publish the same sorts of potentially valuable datasets, it’s even more problematic in a European or even global context. Denmark, as well as other smaller European nations, simply has too few potential users to create a healthy, financially economically viable ecosystem around open data. A more regional or global approach to opening up data seems to be needed.

Open data can be used to create both social and economic value when creative minds explore the new potentials for connectivity and business models offered in this new data paradigm, but in order for it to flourish, the communities working within must continue to prove its worth to the rest of the world. At the same time the open data movement could benefit from a more cohesive and unified approach as found in initiatives such as the Open and Agile Smart Cities initiative, an initiative working towards the creation of a smart city marketplace, through which cities, companies and entrepreneurs using open data will be able to coordinate their needs and services, as well as showcase innovative use of public data in order to create sustainable and innovative smart city solutions.

In Denmark, however, the first steps must be to coordinate the release of more quality data, while at the same time to work towards an understanding of the economic and social potentials of open data when prioritized at a political and societal level.

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