If an open data enthusiast attempts to inspire others for the topic, he or she will soon be confronted with one tough question: What is the impact? Some may be able to convince with long monologues about transparency and potential for innovation, but often all one needs are some inspiring open data examples from the real world.
Before we jump to the impact of open data, let’s take a look at some of the most interesting datasets and use cases. One of the most visually appealing open datasets around is the Archives of the Planet by the Albert Kahn Museum. The French department Hauts-de-Seine decided to publish the archive of over 60,000 photos of places all around the world taken over a century ago. On the department’s open data portal users can browse through a gallery and click on a map to discover the pictures. Thanks to the dataset API, the museum was able to easily build a new website to expose this treasure in a user-friendly way - and to significantly increase the number of visitors to the museum’s site by tenfold.
As one of the earliest open data adopters in France, the city of Issy-Les-Moulineaux decided to publish its financial budget in 2011 to increase transparency. They pushed the data onto their portal and asked a web agency to build a dedicated website to present the data in a user-friendly way by simply embedding the graphs coming from the portal. In this way, they were free to provide great descriptive context to their budget data. Their trick: graphs are synchronized with each dataset, hence, when the data is updated each year, the graphs change as well. Thus, the city invested only once in the development of the page which they are able to replicate every year with the most up-to-date data.
When it comes to re-uses of open data (and more concretely, the ways in which it makes its impact), one often lists the many apps that are being developed from it all. Questions about data quality and licences deserve their own separate articles. But one fact that we know is that the easier it is for external developers to re-use data, the more likely it is that they will do so. One example is Rennes, a French city of around 200,000 inhabitants whose public transportation provider STAR, operated by Keolis, published the location of busses in real-time on its open data portal You can learn much more about their project in this case study, but to give a hint about the results, the company currently lists a total of seven transportation apps built by developers coming from the Rennes community.
In a similar way, the French electricity provider ENEDIS is making use of their open data portal for external open communication. The interactive visualisations presented on their main corporate website have been developed on top of the dataset APIs generated by their portal, saving the company major web development costs.
When the French Ministry of Agriculture looked for a simple search tool to display companies that sell chemical agriculture products to farmers and consumers, they had the choice between working with a pricy consulting firm or to rely on their portal. Thanks to the easy use of widgets, the Ministry built a dashboard that would list all companies, retail points and related info on a map. The project took them three days to set up - and is also being used as an internal reference point.
Publishing data requires organizations to rethink their internal data management strategy. Today, open data is still too often considered as “extra work” that one must do in order to tick off a box. Many imagine bulky portals with files to download instead of dynamic data that one can explore in interactive visualisations and access in different formats and through dataset APIs. Indexing the data records themselves (as opposed to files) and turning them into APIs enables organizations to work with their own data in a whole new way. Rather than sending files from one employee to another (or uploading them to a virtual drive), the data itself can be shared.
From a technical standpoint, it is possible to create one central access point for an organization, all while giving different users different levels of access, thus breaking down data silos. This ensures not only the access to the most recent data version within an organization, but also their easy re-use through APIs in dashboards or other web services. Therefore, it is the organizations themselves which benefit the most from an optimized data management strategy. And finally, opening such data to the rest of the world as open data often requires not much more than a simple mouse click.
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