For a lot of local governments open data is still far away

Beyond DataGaby Sadowski, strategic advisor of the city of Eindhoven is almost one of the open data ambassadors in the Netherlands. She is convinced of the added value of open data for the public and private sector and for the society.
,,A lot of local governments are a bit scared to start working with open data. That is a pity, if we work together we can learn so much. At events I often see a lot of the same people, who share every time their successful projects. It would be so good to see more new faces. They will ask new questions and force us to think and to learn. Eindhoven may look like a front-runner, but it was a long way. We didn’t came this far without obstacles. It was a bumpy road with a lot of trials and errors.

Are the expectations around open data not too high?

No, I do not think so. The possibilities are big. It started maybe with a hype, but it starts to settle now. It is not about making easy money. But local governments can’t ignore this development. Open data, sensors are already everywhere. We just don’t realize it. With open data and sensors we can for example predict when a streetlamp will get broken. We can change the lamp, before people start to complain. I am also very impressed by the open finance initiatives. They make it easy to see how the government spend money it’s money. Very useful. In Asia there is already an application to detect fraud.
Most import is the change of mentality within the local government. That will take time. It  is not easy. We are talking about new technologies, mostly not the subject of expertise of the local governments. And there are enough consultants out there who will be very happy to recommend some systems. It’s not easy to decide which one suits best. That is one of the reasons why cooperation in the public sector is so important.
The conference is called beyond open data. Making data accessible is just the start. You have to formulate the right question. Which problem exactly you want to solve? This is maybe the most difficult task. In Eindhoven we have organised different hackathons, that was very helpful. We wanted to do something around the maintenance of our playgrounds. The department itself couldn’t imagine how open data would help. But later they realized that with putting sensors on the toys in the playground we learn when a toy is broken and  anofficial does not have to go to check to the toys all the time.

What about companies? Are they interested?

Sure, cause the added value of open data can only grow when we start sharing data. Also with the companies in our city. For example the telecom companies. When we know that a specific time there a mostly women in our city centre, then the local shoe shops can work with specific discounts. When we enrich information, we can achieve really interesting things.
Companies as Bol.com and Albert Heijn supermarket with the bonus card are using this kind of technologies much langer. Local governments should learn from them. If we get to know our citizens much better, we can also provide better services.

Advice?

Local governments who are at the starting point I would first advice to come to our event. We want to inspire, to connect. That is for us the mean reason to organise the congress.  We want people to be active during the event. Stewards at the congress will actively introduce people.
Officials should just go to people. Ask help. They do not have to start from the beginning. They can come to Eindhoven, not to listen to a success story but to learn from our mistakes. A little village may not need a lot of sensors, but there are other useful applications.
Some time ago at a ICT-congres in Amsterdam I spoke with an official of a small city. Open data was still far away for them, they are more worried and struggling with pig farms and smell circles.  I told him also with this kind of problems open data can help. Farmers are already working for years with data, with sensors in the barns. They know how much they have to feed their cows and as a resulut how much milk they will produce. Just common sense. Open data is an instrument, just as a measuring cup for baking a cake.

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