How open data can help cities become smart

Over the past few years, many governments have started looking into open data, what it is and the benefits it can bring to their citizens. Open (Government) data is information collected, produced or paid for by public bodies and made freely available for re-use. This data is published with an open licence governing its reuse.

From citizens to businesses, pretty much everyone produces data collected by a number of departments dealing with a variety of domains such as tax, housing, health, education and so on. Data is collected and parts are then published not only for the sake of publishing but for people, businesses and governments to use for their benefit. If transparency and accountability are two fundamental benefits open data can yield, then governments also have a vested interest to encourage the reuse of it.


The economic benefits of using open data have been underlined by a number of studies. According to a study conducted in 2015 by Capgemini Consulting for the European Commission, the direct market size of open data for 2016 would represent €55.3bn (£50bn) for the EU 28+. This market size is also expected to increase by 36.9%, to a value of €75.7bn (£70bn) by 2020. Whichever way we look at these numbers, one thing is certain: there are clear and tangible economic benefits to publishing open data.

Going beyond quantifiable benefits, open data also yields a range of societal benefits. The number of apps using open data is growing. Most of the time, users ignore the fact these apps actually use open data. The development of apps in the field of health is increasingly growing, for example, through the provision of evidence as to where defibrillators should be positioned in a city and creating an application plotting these on a map, such as that developed by Trafford Council. Other health related applications built upon open data consist in providing preventive information to citizens around diabetes, obesity, smart healthcare and nutrition.


Mobility is another aspect to have been benefited by open data. For exampling, helping users save time when they commute or drive around their city or region and even help find parking spots in cities. On average each average person wastes around 2,549 hours searching for a parking spot and this is. Not only would this save time and in turn money, it also contributes to creating a sustainable environment. Applications such as RE:CYCLE, Plume Labs, Päästö help citizens find recycling houses, information on air quality or better monitor their energy consumption.

What’s interesting is that many of these applications address global concerns but actually start with local issues. Using data at a local level can sometimes be easier to solve issues and challenges over bigger and grander projects at a bigger level due to its smaller and more agile nature.

Many regions are co-operating as they share common challenges, sometimes even across borders. This is particularly well illustrated by the example of the regions of Trentino and South Tyrol, working together with a number of local actors via the Open Data Spaghetti Community whilst aligning their activities with ongoing national Italian initiatives.

Smart cities

Looking at smart cities in particular though, many use technology for a number of reasons. First of all, technology that uses open data can enhance the quality and performance of public and urban services. A second aspect is to reduce costs and lead to more efficient resource consumption. Finally, technology can also be used to improve contacts and overall interactions between citizens and the government.

Cities have a lot to gain from opening up their data. Urban planning and transportation are important themes specifically at the local government level, but there are a number of additional areas of interest that are growing. In studying eight cities across Europe, the top five data sets being used the most are parking related information, real time traffic conditions, employment, health and wellbeing and, interestingly enough, street trees. Today, a number of cities are launching hackathons or events, bringing together citizens, civil society, and entrepreneurs to understand how to make the best use of the data they have to benefit their local area.

Leveraging the data

How can cities further leverage the value of open data? Cities can start by mapping the data they currently have and publishing some of it at events such as hackathons organised around a particular challenge a city is facing. This can drive interest in the data, support its curation and overall re-use. Cities also need to develop the right infrastructure to handle the data they collect. This implies adopting standards and structuring the data, driving consistency and comparability of data over time. Digitising data processing and integrating data management across different services can also lead to further efficiency gains within the cities administrations.

In addition, data can provide new sources for evidence based decision making in areas that may have been developing in silos. As technology advances, the world is becoming more open and producing more data every hour of every day. For cities to take advantage, they need to embrace the use of open data and the increasing benefits it can bring.

Wendy Carrara, Capgemini Consulting, Project Manager European Data Portal