Pourquoi Open Data?

Open data, especially open government data, is a tremendous resource that is as yet largely untapped. Many individuals and organisations collect a broad range of different types of data in order to perform their tasks. Government is particularly significant in this respect, both because of the quantity and centrality of the data it collects, but also because most of that government data is public data by law, and therefore could be made open and made available for others to use. Why is that of interest?

Il y a de nombreux domaines où nous pouvons nous attendre à ce que les données ouvertes soient de valeur, et où existent déjà des exemples. Il y a aussi beaucoup de groupes de personnes différents et d’organisations qui peuvent bénéficier de la disponibilité de données ouvertes, y compris le gouvernement lui-même. Dans le même temps, il est impossible de prédire avec précision comment et où la valeur sera créée. La nature de l’innovation et des nouvelles choses, c’est qu’elles vont provenir d’endroits improbables.

Il est déjà possible de désigner un grand nombre de domaines où les données gouvernementales ouvertes créent de la valeur, et il y en a probablement plus. Quelques-un de ces domaines sont:

  • Transparence et contrôle démocratique
  • Participation
  • Auto-émancipation
  • Des produits et services privés améliorés ou nouveaux
  • Innovation
  • Efficacité améliorée des services gouvernementaux
  • Amélioration de l’efficacité des services gouvernementaux
  • Mesure de l’impact des politiques
  • De nouvelles connaissances découlant de sources de données combinées et des modèles dans des volumes de données importants

Des exemples existent dans la plupart de ces domaines.

In terms of transparency, projects such as the Finnish ‘tax tree’ and British ‘where does my money go’ show how your tax money is being spent by the government. And there’s the example of how open data saved Canada $3.2 billion in charity tax fraud. Also various websites such as the Danish folketsting.dk track activity in parliament and the law making processes, so you can see what exactly is happening, and which parliamentarians are involved.

Open government data can also help you to make better decisions in your own life, or enable you to be more active in society. A woman in Denmark built findtoilet.dk, which showed all the Danish public toilets, so that people she knew with bladder problems can now trust themselves to go out more again. In the Netherlands a service, vervuilingsalarm.nl, is available which warns you with a message if the air-quality in your vicinity is going to reach a self-defined threshold tomorrow. In New York you can easily find out where you can walk your dog, as well as find other people who use the same parks. Services like ‘mapumental’ in the UK and ‘mapnificent’ in Germany allow you to find places to live, taking into account the duration of your commute to work, housing prices, and how beautiful an area is. All these examples use open government data.

Economically, open data is of great importance as well. Several studies have estimated the economic value of open data at several tens of billions of Euros annually in the EU alone. New products and companies are re-using open data. The Danish husetsweb.dk helps you to find ways of improving the energy efficiency of your home, including financial planning and finding builders who can do the work. It is based on re-using cadastral information and information about government subsidies, as well as the local trade register. Google Translate uses the enormous volume of EU documents that appear in all European languages to train the translation algorithms, thus improving its quality of service.

Open data is also of value for government itself. For example, it can increase government efficiency. The Dutch Ministry of Education has published all of their education-related data online for re-use. Since then, the number of questions they receive has dropped, reducing work-load and costs, and the remaining questions are now also easier for civil servants to answer, because it is clear where the relevant data can be found. Open data is also making government more effective, which ultimately also reduces costs. The Dutch department for cultural heritage is actively releasing their data and collaborating with amateur historical societies and groups such as the Wikimedia Foundation in order to execute their own tasks more effectively. This not only results in improvements to the quality of their data, but will also ultimately make the department smaller.

While there are numerous instances of the ways in which open data is already creating both social and economic value, we don’t yet know what new things will become possible. New combinations of data can create new knowledge and insights, which can lead to whole new fields of application. We have seen this in the past, for example when Dr. Snow discovered the relationship between drinking water pollution and cholera in London in the 19th century, by combining data about cholera deaths with the location of water wells. This led to the building of London’s sewage systems, and hugely improved the general health of the population. We are likely to see such developments happening again as unexpected insights flow from the combination of different open data sets.

Ce potentiel encore inexploité peut être révélé si l’on transforme les données gouvernementales en données ouvertes. Cependant, afin de le révéler, il faut qu’elle soient réellement ouvertes, c’est à dire qu’il n’y ait aucune restriction (légale, financière ou technologique) à leur réutilisation par le public. En effet, chaque restriction risque d’exclure des citoyens de la réutilisation des données publiques, ou de rendre difficile leur accès à ce moyen. Afin de réaliser pleinement leur potentiel, les données pbuliques doivent être ouvertes.