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Empowering people with open data

How open data enables citizens to make more informed decisions and engage with governments

Increased access to open data

There is more open data available now than ever before. With the launch of the European Data Portal in 2015 and national open data portals (i.e. data.gov.ie and data.gov.be), thousands of datasets have become publicly accessible. The core aim of these open data initiatives is that anyone can access, use, and share the data. From citizens to data-driven journalists, entrepreneurs, researchers and businesses; anyone can access and re-use open data for any reason.

From data to insights

Access to open data enables multiple parties to analyse the same datasets and uncover new insights from them. Depending on the user, the purpose and the user's activity with the data, different insights can be derived from open data. For example, open data can be analysed and visualised in a way that it can reveal certain patterns within the dataset or multiple datasets can be aggregated to gain a multi-faceted view on an issue. With open data, translating data into insights is no longer restricted to the provider of the data. Instead, anyone who can access data can gain insights.

From insights to decision-making

Insights derived from open data, can be distributed, communicated or shared with a broader public and can serve as an input for citizens to make informed decisions. Open data on parking spots, for example, can be used in an application to inform users on average waiting time or to send notifications when a specific parking spot opens. Based on these insights, users can decide where to park their car or to go by train instead. Decision-making, based on insights derived from open data, is not restricted to applications that make daily life easier, such as an application for parking. Open data can be used to increase citizens' understanding about different subjects such as health, urban planning and education or to answer different social, economic, and political challenges society is facing.

Examples of open data that improve decision-making

Open data has the power to inform citizens and to improve their decision-making capacity. The following three open data applications, eHealth Ireland, TheyWorkForYou, and Waze, exemplify this.

In 2017, eHealth Ireland - a platform that brings together open data from the Irish Health Sector - was launched. The platform uses, amongst others, open data from the Department of Health and from the National Healthlink Project. This includes data on available health services, statistics on hospital cases, national waiting lists, key trends on new digital initiatives, and prices for medical treatments. eHealth uses this open data to facilitate transparency in the healthcare sector and to provide citizens, care providers, and researchers with the information they need to make better decisions, spur for new innovations, and identify efficiency opportunities. In conclusion, eHealth uses open data to provide insights into the health sector, which, in turn, enables citizens to make better-informed decisions, e.g. to decide which hospital to go to for a specific medical treatment or the best quality-price ratio.

Another example of open data usage is the website TheyWorkForYou, that takes data from official parliamentary sources in the United Kingdom. To enhance usability, the website offers additional features that make the data easier to understand. For example, users can discover who represents them, how their representants voted and what they have said in debates. In conclusion, TheyWorkForYou uses open data to provide insights into government processes and behaviour of representants, which in turn enables citizens to make better-informed decisions, e.g. who to vote for during election times.

Besides healthcare and governments, open data can give insight into logistics. Waze, for example, is a free, crowdsourced traffic and navigation application that was launched in 2008 and is available in 40 languages. The app uses open data such as data from the National Data Warehouse for Traffic Information to provide users with real-time traffic and road information. Users can enter their destination and then let the app navigate them there. By doing that, users passively contribute their traffic and other road data to the application. Users can also take a more active role by sharing road reports on accidents or hazards along the way. In conclusion, Waze uses open data to provide insights into traffic and road conditions which, in turn, enables citizens to make better-informed decisions e.g. which route to take or which route to avoid.

The potential of open data to engage citizens in policy making and link citizens and governments

The examples above show that open data has the power to improve informed decision-making. Citizen empowered with insights from open data can, in turn, provide governments with feedback. In the case of Waze, for example, municipalities and governments also have access to real-time information on road conditions and traffic that is provided by the citizen. This information can be used to make data-driven decisions on infrastructure an urban planning. Furthermore, since open data has the power to inform citizens, and well-informed citizens are a key to a functioning democracy, open data indirectly supports democracy.

To conclude, open data does not only enable citizens to make better-informed decisions but more importantly, empowers citizens to contribute to policies that are better designed to their needs and to a more engaging relationship with their governments.