Open Data is an initiative that has emerged from researchers working at the Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) in Galway, Ireland in combination with members of the Open Data Ireland Google Group. It is designed to help individuals, developers and other interested parties access datasets that have been generated by the Irish Government and its offices of State, departments and regulatory bodies.
The Open Data website is a place where people that are interested in open data, and Irish open data in particular, can go and learn what kind of data, tools and applications are available to help them have a better understanding of the decision-making processes of government that can and do affect all aspects of their lives.
The main goal of the Open Data project is to make it easy for people to have access to Irish government data via an innovative platform that takes a grassroots approach to get people involved in achieving a more transparent and accountable government in Ireland.
The project aims to do this by helping Irish citizens to get access to high value, machine readable data sets that have been created by the Irish government sector authorities in the normal course of their business.
By having this data available in a meaningful form we can help enhance government services and open up accountability.
The Irish government, like many governments, has been a little slow in coming forward and fully embracing the idea of transparency. Rather than waiting to see what happens the members of Open Data have taken the initiative and decided to demonstrate the virtues of open data and the great applications that can be built using readily available technologies.
Dr. Michael Hausenblas, Coordinator of the Linked Data Research Centre at DERI and a team member of the project says, “The government does have other priorities at the moment but there should be contemplation to look at all the possibilities that they have at hand.
“One of the possibilities is using the data the government agencies already have out there in html and pdf format and put it out in a machine readable format.
“Open data can help on cutting down with costs by seeing where the money goes and we at Open Data can help lead the way.”
Developers can combine visualisations and data aggregations into mashups. A mashup can combine data from two or more sources to present data in a more readily accessible format beyond what was originally envisaged by the original producers of the data.
The real innovation of these mashups is to make already existing data more useful and easily understandable by the those untrained or unskilled in interpreting the data in its original format.
There are a great variety of free tools for developers and citizens to use available on the Open Data website. Three worth investigating and playing with are:
A good example of how this technology can work comes from Vancouver, Canada. Vantrash came out of an idea blogged in a post called “How Open Data even makes Garbage collection sexier, easier and cheaper” by David Eaves. In the post he laments that while the data for collection times and routes was available it wasn’t in a form that was of much use to anyone.
Subsequently, the idea was taken up at a hackathon by Luke Closs and Kevin Jones and a mashup was created that reminded people by email to take their garbage out for collection.
Simple stuff but very useful and highly effective. More garbage gets collected more efficiently. Everyone benefits both in cost and in not having uncollected trash lying around the place.
Some of the applications that are using Irish government data now are:
Michael says, “The hope is that through this grassroots movement Open Data is providing an incentive for the government to put out the data to make the data publicly available.”
Information flows in more than one direction. A vital aspect of the Open Data initiative that Michael identifies is the feedback from citizens who could use this information but otherwise find it inaccessible even if available.
“Engineers are in general very good at solving problems but they might not be solving the right problems. They have the tools but as engineers they don’t always know what people need.
“People telling us what kind of application they want or need would be the most valuable input to the Open Data initiative.”
The possibilities for Open data are immense but depends on the Irish government making data available in a meaningful way.
Many of the apps that will emerge from the Open Data initiative will serve to empower local and national governments while at the same time give greater voice to individuals in their local community.
People can engage in the movement by registering data sets and by building applications that use Irish government data. Joining the Open Data Ireland mailing list will introduce you to other people involved in the project.